My time in Guatemala has been beyond amazing. Besides having the opportunity to experience breathtaking scenery previously seen only on postcards, I got to see patients and their families in their own homes and also in the clinic.
The first thing that surprised me was the hike that we had to make to each of these homes. Most of these people go up and down the hills every day with ease. It made me realize how comfortable and easy life is for us in the United States. In addition, no matter how small the houses were, all the people were welcoming and invited us into their homes with a smile. It made me consider that a simpler lifestyle is sometimes a happier lifestyle. I am hoping to get a better understanding of that concept as the week continues and to appreciate it.
One of our tasks was to evaluate the water filters previously installed in these homes to determine their usefulness. Initially, I was excited by the initiative to use filters to purify water so that diseases such as diarrhea can be prevented. However, I was disappointed when I saw that a good number of the homes we visited either no longer had their filters or were not taking care of them properly. Although I did not see any homes with two filters, I found out that some homes had received two filters. The only assumption I could make is that the homes with no filters did not understand the importance of a filtration system. That is especially important to me because, as a future public health professional, understanding the causes of behavior is vital to establishing effective public health intervention. It also reinforced my belief that one cannot just provide aid to people without educating them about the importance and value of the aid. In this case, it was clear from the dichotomy in the people’s use of the filters that education is important.
Another interesting phenomenon was the ability of people to have good knowledge of their neighbors and provide directions to their homes even though the houses were not numbered. It made me consider how many people in the United States and other developed countries know their neighbors personally and would be able to provide directions to their homes if the numbers were suddenly wiped away. Many of us would be unable to. I say ‘hi’ to my neighbors and know some of them by name but not to the extent these Guatemalans know theirs. Does this mean that I just have not cared enough to know more, or does American culture engender isolation in the name of privacy? Either way, I am hoping to change this when I return to the States and make a greater effort to engage a good number of my neighbors.
The biggest observation I noted during the clinic today was the endearing spirit of the Guatemalan people. They show patience and continual gratitude in situations where others may get frustrated or become impatient. The best explanation for their behavior, which resonates strongly with me, came from one of the physicians with us, Dr. Walter. He said people do not mind waiting if they know that they are waiting for something worthwhile. The patience, happiness and contentment that characterized most of these people have challenged me as a person and I hope will continue to challenge me even after I return to the U.S.
The more I engage with the Guatemalan people with their spirit, and with the Guatemalan culture, the more I will grow intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.