Monday, March 28, 2011

Nicole - poco a poco

“Poco a poco.” It means “little by little” and it’s a short Spanish phrase that I was introduced to on a cultural immersion trip to El Salvador three years ago. As I heard stories about the country’s civil war, I couldn’t help but notice how many people used this phrase. It was often used to refer to their belief that the war would end, and gradually things would get better. As I reflected, I realized how much this tiny phrase reminds me of my own beliefs and values. In fact, not only does it serve as a motto for many Salavadorans, “poco a poco” has become my own personal life motto. As I prepared for my second trip to Central America, I imagined this phrase would apply to many people and situations in Guatemala as well. As I sit and reflect on my recent trip to Guatemala, I am overwhelmed with happy memories and life changing experiences. It amazes me how my life has changed three different times, each from a service trip in another country. El Salvador and Jamaica both changed my perspective on a lot of things, but they can’t compare to how I have changed from Guatemala. My trip to Guatemala taught me the power of medicine, and it confirmed my desire to become a physician. I came home with so much new knowledge and a renewed feeling of empowerment to make a difference. The most powerful part of my experience came in the clinic. I have never seen such extraordinary examples of patience and gratitude. Each visitor to the clinic waited up to several hours to see a physician. Many of us got a bit restless as we felt sympathetic that they were waiting so long, but it didn’t take long for us to realize that the wait was the last of their worries. This was the opportunity of a lifetime for many of them, and not one patient showed a bit of concern or stress about waiting. They took the time to talk with their neighbors and laugh as they watched the children play in the clinic. As they saw the doctors, we were overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude from each patient. I think that we all heard the word “gracias” more than any other word the entire trip. These feelings of gratitude alone changed me. It made me realize what it truly is to be thankful, and how to express my feelings of gratitude to others. It made me appreciate my life and blessings so much more. Mostly, it made me appreciate the people and country of Guatemala. I am overwhelmed by how much beauty I encountered in each individual. They taught me the power of a smile, and that a smile is a universal form of communication that says enough. Working in the clinic helped me realize that the ultimate service I can provide to others in the future is through the practice of medicine. The prayer station was extremely powerful. I am Roman Catholic, but I have lost some of my religion as I came to school and found many reasons to put school work before attending Church. This trip brought me back to my faith and my belief in God. It encouraged me to make time to attend mass and remember to make God a part of my everyday life like the people in Guatemala. There was a particular instance that changed it all for me. A very old man, who had shingles, came to the prayer station where I was sitting. He asked to say his own prayer so I sat with him and listened. I couldn’t understand much until he put his arms in the air, started saying gracias repeatedly, and tears and sobs came from his body. They were tears of happiness and of gratitude, and this moment alone was the most powerful prayer I have ever experienced. It made me realize my belief in the goodness of humanity and how prayer and hope in God can change our world. My dream is to become a pediatrician, and if this dream comes true, I will owe it to the children of Guatemala and to a teacher I found in the trip, Dr. Lauri Pramuk. I have loved kids my entire life and have found so much love for working with kids as a swim team coach and a nanny. The happiness and innocence I see in children reminds me of the good things in our world. Interactions with children are an escape from all the violence, hatred, and jealousy that exists in the world. The children in Guatemala are some of the happiest kids I have seen despite their circumstances. They are filled with so much innocence and joy, and they have no idea that things might be a little better for kids in other parts of the world. Dr. Pramuk inspired me as she treated each child with love and patience. I see the act of working with children is an art, and it is something she has certainly perfected. I know that I will take much of what I learned from her with me in the future, and I hope to be as great as a doctor as her some day. I truly believe that my future holds many more mission trips to other countries as a pediatrician. I come home from this trip with many memories and many new friendships. This trip brought me peace, hope, and beauty. It opened my eyes to a new part of the world, and it paved the way for a future I believe possible. When I need an escape from the madness of school and graduation, I close my eyes and put myself back on the steps outside the clinic. Surrounded by mountains, a lake, and volcanoes, I have never felt so small and part of something so much bigger than myself. It is my place of solitude and my reminder of being united with “one world”. Right now, my trip to Guatemala is the biggest example of how “poco a poco” will play out in the world, for many reasons. I believe it really applies to the clinic that is opening. It has been a gradual process, and our group began something great that will continue to develop for the future. Little by little, this clinic will make a difference and become something crucial for the people in the village. Small steps are what the country needs, and I believe that our presence made this process possible and realistic. Also, little by little, each one of us can be inspired to make a difference. One of my favorite quotes is by Mother Theresa, and it says, “There are no great things. There are small things with great love”. If each one of us continues to take small steps out of love towards making a difference in the world, we can inspire others to do the same. We are all capable of change and we are instruments of hope to the people we encounter and serve. We must never forget the people we have met in Guatemala and the life lessons that we bring back with us. Guatemala has changed me in many ways, and the trip will continue to be a part of my daily life. Little by little, this new revolution of service and compassion for others will spread, and we each have a chance to play a key role. Gradual change is realistic, and "poco a poco" can inspire others to join in the movement.

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