Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Brenden and new friend William and Dr. Lauri

Brenden's view from the plane

Wow. Here I am back on a plane flying from Guatemala to Miami and eventually to Cincinnati. Our experience and our mission have concluded, much to my dismay. I can't believe our time here has already come and gone. It seems like just yesterday we were getting the call notifying us of our acceptance into this Medical Mission Trip. As I peer out the window, I can't help but look down and reflect on the week that was. And what a week it was...

My group arrived Saturday afternoon. We were greeted by the smiling faces of the rest of Team Guatemala. What a sight. From California and Indiana, to Nigeria and New York, our team descended upon Guatemala with a diverse, yet unified, group of unique individuals. Our mission was to heal and provide comfort to the villagers of Patanatic, while growing professionally, personally, and spiritually ourselves. Each day's experiences came with a multitude of emotions and reflections, but here are two highlights from the week that was.

Day 1: Setting up the Clinic and Personal Home Visits

Day 1 began with us breaking into groups of two. Each pair was placed with a local Guatemalan and walked to various homes to check on the water filtration systems that had been placed in the homes prior to our arrival. Within minutes, we were scaling death-defying mountains to reach these homes (we were over 4,000 feet above sea level). We jumped over valleys, held onto trees, climbed up dirt paths, and walked along one- foot ledges. Once arriving at the homes, I was taken aback. I saw one-room houses with all dirt floors. I never saw electricity, and most often, there was only one bed. Food was being boiled on a wood stove as flies buzzed all around. Children were running without shoes and drinking what looked like unclean water. Dogs were roaming in search of food and the men in the area were working hard. Never once have I thought that people thousands of miles away are living like this...in such suffering, poverty, and dismay.

Yet their smiles are contagious. They are infectious. The people seem to be just as happy as we Americans are, even without all the technology and luxuries that we possess. While they may not have iPads, iPods, GPSs, or Kindles, they truly understand family and community. No matter the suffering, they are one. They have taught me that simplicity can provide just as much happiness as complexity, and for that I am grateful.

Day 4: School and Home Visits to Cerro de Oro

Today marked our first day away from Patanatic and our health clinic there. To arrive in Cerro de Oro, we took a boat across Lake Atitlan, which is surrounded by 3 breathtakingly beautiful volcanoes. It was a sight to see, as fog slowly drifted up off the water and into the 3 volcanoes. After the 20 minute ride, we quickly trekked to the village school, where we were warmly greeted by the principal. Though she spoke no English, I clearly remember the interpreters continuing to interpret her as saying "give thanks to God for you people coming to our community and helping us out. While I do not know where you are from, thanks to God for your arrival." Hearing this truly softened my heart. These people have almost nothing, yet give so much thanks to God, for he has given them so, so much. It's an unbelievable sight to see these people believe in the power of prayer and in the power of giving thanks to God.

We administered anti-worming pills to over 200 children in the school and followed with home visits to determine the cleanliness of their water filtration systems. Once arriving back to the school, the kids were ready to have a good time, and that is just what we did. We took part in a relay race, and showed the kids new hand movements to look like animals (see the photo of Dr. Lauri Pramuk). The kids were in love, and so were we!

Words cannot express what a transformational experience this trip has been for me. I return to America with an altered view of life. We should recognize the harsh injustices occurring outside our borders and reflect on how fortunate each and every one of us truly is. We are a community at large.

Thanks to Rabbi Abie Ingber, Amy Wetterau, Richard Walter, Lauri Pramuk, Bonnie Herscher, Cathy Walter, and my colleagues of Team Guatemala for making this "the week that was." I'm so thankful I got to share this remarkable experience with each one of you!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sayo's thoughts

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.