Thursday, January 12, 2012

Jen - Reflection on Shabbat and Mayan Culture Experience

I was raised in a Catholic home, have gone to private schools my whole life and was never exposed to any other religion or culture. I had never talked with or met anyone of a different religion until I was eighteen. As I have made my way through Xavier, I have spoken with people from all different walks of life. I have learned to accept other religions and cultures and have grown in my faith and spirituality through learning about others’ beliefs. Though I am still a practicing Catholic, I have found much more fulfillment in my life through the spiritual aspects of life in addition to traditional Catholic practices. I have formed my own unique faith by taking what I find true in the Church combined with beliefs I have learned from different religions and beliefs I have developed through deep conversations with people I am closest to.
On Friday night, we celebrated a Shabbat dinner. It was my first exposure to Judaism and I must say I loved it. For those of you who don’t know, Hebrew is read right to left, so the booklets we used to follow the prayers were reversed. I spent some time trying to figure out why all the pages were messed up, concluding they were simply printed wrong. Rabbi reminded us that Hebrew and Arabic are read right to left. As Rabbi recited the prayers in Hebrew, a sense of peace and happiness filled the room. Though I did not understand the language it was still very moving knowing that these exact words have been used for centuries throughout all of the world and in all walks of life. He blessed each of us as his daughters (or sons) and that in and of itself was a beautiful experience. We then gathered around the challah (bread). We broke bread by each placing a hand on it and pulling it apart. Coming from a Catholic home the host has always been very sacred, so pulling the bread apart was a bit of a surprise to me. Rabbi explained we do not use a knife because that is a symbol of violence. The pulling apart of the challah created a united family within the team because we all ate from the same source. It was a time of pure happiness, a time in which we shared and experienced the same exact thing at the same exact time (not to mention challah is delicious!). The breaking of the challah is just one of those things - it is so simple yet everyone gets excited for it. The candles were lit, prayers had been said, the challah was shared and memories were made. Our Jewish Shabbat dinner was celebrated in the heart of ancient Mayan culture and though Judaism and Mayan Spiritualism they became intertwined that weekend.
Last year, the two sisters that translate for us, Deanna and Michelle, were at the Shabbat dinner with their father, Miguel. Rabbi shared with us that he taught their father how to bless his daughters in the Jewish tradition and the father shared with Rabbi how to bless his [Rabbi’s] daughters in the Mayan tradition. He told us that it was something that he would never forget because here was a Jewish Rabbi and a Mayan spiritualist connecting at the source of the purest love there is, the love for their children.
On Saturday, we were able to experience Mayan culture. Miguel, Deanna and Michelle joined us at dinner and taught us about marimbas. Marimba is an instrument that has been used in Mayan tradition for centuries. Miguel taught us how they were made and the girls played beautiful songs unlike any music I had ever heard. He spoke about the Mayan calendar and this year in which it is supposed to end. He said that his grandfather spoke about 2012 many years ago when he was just a child. There are two parallel universes. We live in our own universe in which we create our own happiness; everything is based on our own lives. The second universe is the universe of reality. According to the Mayans, on the 21st of December 2012, our own individual universe will be judged. If we have lived a compassionate, selfless, respectful life, we will have help on the twelve steps to heaven. If we have lived selfish, disrespectful lives we will be sent to the core of the Earth (equivalent of hell in Christian belief) and will have no help in escaping. Without help is impossible to get out. To be honest, this scares me because I have a lot left in life I want to accomplish and twelve months is certainly not enough time to complete my goals. I am not going to listen to the media; whatever will come will come and nothing I do will change it. Therefore, I will continue leading a life full of compassion, respect, faith, hope, love and selflessness. Isn’t that how we should be living anyway, regardless of a fear of the end of the world (which in my belief is really a new beginning)? My New Year’s resolution is to turn any fear into pure love for all of humanity.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Team Guatemala 2012

Front row: Christian, Micayla, Jenn, Dr. Richard, David
Middle: Mouhamed, Carmen, JD, Annie, Mary, Megan, Michael
Back: Nurse Cathy, Rabbi Abie, Nurse Bonnie, Dr. Lauri, Anna, Lia

Carmen Deloach – Decisions lead to opportunities

Carmen is the Program Assistant for Interfaith Community Engagement. She graduated from Xavier in 2009 with a Bachelor’s degree in Middle Childhood Education.
It’s amazing how one decision can open a door for an opportunity. When I decided to leave my job in Louisiana this past spring, I had no idea where God was placing me. Returning to my second hometown of Cincinnati made me anxious but I was confident it was the right decision. Somehow Rabbi and I crossed paths and given the chance to become a team. Everything that has been thrown at us over the past couple of months was in preparation for this trip. The ups and downs, the twists and turns, the laughs and cries….they were necessary. This trip to Guatemala was my first out-of-country experience. I consider it the ultimate blessing to have spent it with such wonderful people. Now I can’t imagine traveling any other way. Repeat experiences every time I hope!
Guatemala was…I can’t even place words on my experience…maybe one…AMAZING!
After all the fundraising and meetings, I was able to see the hard work come to fruition. I still had no idea what I was getting into. My role in the trip was a “behind the scenes” type of function. Planning, collecting paperwork, and executing certain aspects of the trip were all my responsibility. Under the guidance of Rabbi, who is the most organized person I know, I still felt a little overwhelmed and stressed that I was in over my head. Before our trip, Rabbi warned me that although I was hands-on with the students preceding the trip, things would change during the trip. The students’ true “rock stars” would become the doctors. Poor team “Rabcar” (failed attempt at combining Rabbi+Carmen) would be kicked to the curb.
Truthfully, no one was abandoned in any kind of way. Our team was very family-oriented. Compliments and praises were given every day, help was provided at every station in the clinic, and we rarely went out to eat or shopping without taking a large group.
I learned so much from every member on the trip and I am grateful for that. Our students showed wisdom beyond their years, the doctors brought compassion to their practice of medicine, the nurses brought such humor and grace to what they did, and Rabbi was a wonderful teacher as always. Each day was a learning and growing opportunity for me. Being in charge of directing the clinic and keeping track of patients and rotation of students became easier as the days passed because my team continually encouraged me. Although I did not have an opportunity to shadow the doctors, I now realize that I did not have to be part of an examination on a patient to see change. The joy I was able to experience when patients gave out hugs and kisses for the medical care they received still remains in my heart. It was quite overwhelming to see patients with aliments that, although not life-threatening, were taxing because they did not have the money to take care of them. For some, a simple prescription of Tums, Tylenol, athlete’s foot medication helped alleviate discomfort. Can you imagine running to hug and kiss someone because you received those meds? I can’t, or couldn’t before I went on this trip. It’s because I took for granted the easy access I have to many things in the USA.
We brought medical care to the Mayan community, but they brought us so much more. I am grateful for my experiences and for my family Team Guatemala.

Micayla McGinn – Finding Myself

Micayla is a senior majoring in Occupational Therapy with a minor in gender and diversity studies. She is from Plattsburgh, NY
Wow, this is hard to put it into words, but what an amazing day! I was exhausted, but felt so alive! I started my day with a gorgeous run down by the Lake Atitlan and up along the river toward Patanatic. The views were incredible. The people were friendly and greeted me with “buenos dias” or “hola” and a smile. I was surprised by how accepting the people were of us, they welcomed us into their community and their homes without reservation. I even had a warm shower. What a treat!
Friday, we headed across the lake to San Pedro to conduct more home visits. The sun was bright and the lake was calm. I felt like I was at home on Lake Champlain. It’s a tragedy that such a beautiful place has been polluted. We spent our day visiting homes to check water filters and provide medical care. Nurse Cathy and team 3 are fantastic, but so is our entire Team Xavier. I don’t think there could be a more passionate, patient, understanding, or fun group than ours. It was exciting and fulfilling to show up in individuals’ homes and help alleviate their pain. Everyone was extremely appreciative. We met a young man who, by the look on his face, was in agony with extreme leg pain, a woman with shoulder pain, and an elderly woman almost in tears with sciatic nerve pain. The pain, tiredness, and bodies aged beyond their years reflect the physically demanding life. We met a woman with an upper respiratory infection that had been going on for months. Sadly, this is reality for most within this community. A cold or pain that we in the United States would tolerate for only days, or hours, before turning to a pain killer or the doctor, often goes untreated and lingers for months or years here. Hopefully this will begin to change as the clinic continues to grow and establish itself within the community.
The children were adorable with their energy and smiles. We made eye contact and with the innocent, curious spark in their eyes they grabbed my heart. They have so little materially, yet are surrounded with so much love. The children were amazed by our cameras and soaked up our attention and touch. It was as if the language barrier dissolved as we played. They followed us from house to house and were welcomed in their neighbors’ homes as if they were their own children.
At times it was overwhelming and I felt like we were only skimming the surface, but I remind myself that if only for a moment, a day, or a month, we have been a positive influence in these individuals’ lives, and they have forever changed mine. The people have incredible resilience. I will always remember their smiles and “Gracias.” The people have broadened my perspective, reminded me that love, empathy, and respect are what are truly important, and have shown me that the giving of my time and talents can be powerful both in helping others and in finding myself.
We went to nine houses in record time and were disappointed when we were told that we had finished our list. We were on a roll and found it hard to accept since there are so many families which could have benefitted from our care that remained unseen. However, upon our return, the school became a makeshift clinic as the community teachers who had led us through their villages brought in their own families to be seen by Dr. Lauri and Dr. Richard.
We ended our day with shopping and a wonderful Shabbat dinner. Another amazing day in Guatemala!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Nurse Bonnie - Feliz ano nuevo y Gracias a Dios

I began my first day back from Guatemala standing in front of my home with two very happy and eager doggies anxious to begin their much-missed walks. I looked out at my privileged neighborhood – my privileged life – and could not help but see the stark contrast with where I had just come from. I thought of the many homes we had visited near Panajachel – where families lived in darkness and the floors were dirt, where the wood-burning stoves gave off the smell of smoldering ashes, where multiple children slept together in tiny beds. These were the homes in which we asked the occupants about their illnesses and medical needs, and when we left them with much-needed medicines, received in return so many hugs and the warmest of smiles. Whatever little we could give them, they gave us the gift of their graciousness – their gratitude for just being there and caring. Over and over we heard: “Feliz año Nuevo – Happy New Year” and “Gracias a Diós – Thank God.”
I’ve been thinking so much about the twelve Xavier University students that I’ve just come to know over the past week – come to know and love. We entered 2012 together, as we worked side by side every day. We were strangers at first, but felt closer and closer with each passing day. They are some of the finest young people I have ever known – JD, Mouhamed, Michael, David, Christian, Jen, Megan, Micayla, Mary, Lia, Anna and Annie.
We shed tears together.
We laughed together.
We learned together.
Twelve exceptional and extraordinarily kind and genuine people, sharing the experience of a lifetime that we will never forget.
Our medical team – Lauri Pramuk, Richard and Cathy Walter – never ceased to amaze me with their compassion and caring, but also with their teaching expertise, and especially by their love which was felt by each and every one of the students.
Of course, none of what we experienced, and nothing of what we were able to give, would have been possible without the knowledge and leadership of Rabbi Abie Ingber and the inexhaustible conscientiousness of his assistant Carmen Deloach. Abie has the ability and know-how to put it all together, to make everything happen, and to make it all run smoothly.
One day back home, after one short week in Guatemala, enriched by her people and humbled by their spirit that shines despite their desperate poverty, my own spirit is uplifted by the Xavier students, knowing the world will be a better place because of them.
Grateful for the walk I’m about to take with my dogs…
and grateful for this new year, made more hopeful by an inspiring beginning –

Feliz Año Nuevo
Gracias a Diós
Gracias a Diós
Gracias a Diós

Bonnie Herscher, RN

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Christian Alegria – The forging of future implements of good

Christian is a sophomore natural sciences major from Chatfield, OH.
When a blacksmith shapes a piece of metal, he shapes it with a hammer one strike at a time until it becomes something beautiful, useful, and meaningful. I often think our lives are the same way. We encounter significant experiences in our lives, each which change us and contribute towards making our lives more meaningful.
I have taken so much from our time here in Guatemala and helping the people here has just been amazing. We have seen so many different patients in Patanatic and across the lake in another city called San Pedro and have had the opportunity to make a difference. We were able to help with issues of pain, poor eyesight, gastritis, and conjunctivitis, among others. To be able to alleviate these people's pain felt great and working with the awesome doctors and nurses has been one of our best learning experiences. The relationships we have built with the people of Patanatic and each other have been like no other and I will be forever changed by this trip. I am thankful for all the members on the team and sad to leave Guatemala, but happy to bring back the memories and experiences I had.

Lia Westhafer - A Seed of Hope

Lia is a junior Occupational Therapy major from Akron, Ohio with minors in Gender Diversity Studies and Violin Performance
Hola! How blessed I am to be a member of Team Guatemala. It has been an incredible journey the past eight days living with wonderful and passionate individuals and working in a medical clinic which changed the lives of the Patantic people. I fully believe community was the key ingredient in our success this week. We formed strong life-lasting relationships with fellow students and life coaches, medical doctors, and ER nurses. Memories and laughter were shared between cobble-stone walks in Antigua on New Year’s, nightly tear-filled reflections, crammed bus rides up and down narrow streets, bargain street shopping, corn tortilla-making, cold showers, water-splashing boat rides, home medical visits, family breakfasts and dinners, language barriers, medical shadowing, prescription writing, blood pressure screening, eye examinations, teeth brushing, and hugs shared across cultures. It is truly amazing the amount of medical care that was thoroughly provided to the Guatemalan people in only a few days.
How remarkable it was to be a part of a group of eighteen beautiful individuals who healed a piece of our world. It can easily be concluded that as a collective group of story-filled individuals, we planted a seed of hope in Patanatic, Guatemala and the beautiful fruit that will grow from this nourished seed is yet to be revealed. I cannot wait to hear of the wonderful healing the members of Team Guatemala will continue to spread onto the world in their lives to come. I love so much everyone as part of the Heart-To-Heart volunteer team and may God continue to dwell in their hearts.

Rabbi Abie - The last day

Today was our last day in the clinic. We arrived at our usual time and already an adult patient was in the waiting room. This would be a good day. The morning went very quickly. The students began to have some nervous energy about leaving - you could tell it in their louder laughter in small groups. It would not be easy to leave.
I spent the first two hours teaching David, a local young student from Patanatic, how to run our eyeglasses area. First I trained him in using the wall eye chart and recording the results. Then we covered the distinct circumstances of elderly patients with very limited vision, adults who were illiterate and children age 7 or older who still could not identify traditional letters and figures. David was a quick learner and as each Xavier student entered to do a patient eye exam he paid very close attention. By 10:45 he had done his first eye exam and by 11:15 he had "prescribed" glasses from the recycled glasses we had received from Sam's Club and Xavier donors in Cincinnati. Within twenty minutes David had offered a pair of glasses to a middle-aged mother and corrected her poor vision to 20/20.
We are taught that if you give a man a loaf of bread you feed him for a day; if you teach him how to fish you feed him for a life.
We had come to Guatemala to feed the health of the community for a week. But on our last day, we taught a community how to fish.
Next week David will teach Sonia and so it will go. The clinic in Patanatic will continue to screen for eye problems and will give its own villagers glasses from Cincinnati.
Job well done Team Xavier!

David Miller - San Pedro Homes

David is a junior double majoring in biology and chemistry from Zionsville, IN.Yesterday we crossed the lake and did some home visits across Lake Atitlan in the town of San Pedro. I think I speak for all of us when I say that home visits were our favorite things to do on the trip. The people openly welcomed us into their homes and were quick to open up about their medical issues. I have been lucky to be in Nurse Bonnie's group. If any of you reading this out there are looking for Spanglish lessons, contact her because she is an absolute pro. A cool part about the home visits is that each group is completely self-sufficient and has to use limited resources to help the people we see along the way. Our group, for example, ran out of Tylenol, which is a key drug around here. Almost all of the elderly here complain of pain due to decades of extremely hard work farming on the mountain sides. So, we had to restock and went to buy it from a local pharmacy, which is an interesting experience let me tell you! There is nothing is more rewarding than seeing the smile on a patient’s face after leaving them medicine that they can't afford to buy themselves, but which will truly help them feel better.

Dr. Lauri - Things half finished

We spent yesterday traveling across Lake Atitlan by boat to the village of San Pedro at the foot of glorious San Pedro volcano. Our purpose was to assess the status of the water filters that Heart to Heart International installed in homes in the villages a few years ago. But we also came to do brief medical assessments on anyone in the homes who needed help. Thankfully my internal medicine skills were only called upon once - by a 77- year-old woman with pneumonia and a large hernia. I couldn't do anything about the hernia, but started her on some antibiotics for her pneumonia. Thankfully she didn't have hypertension or diabetes, because honestly this week the Xavier students have spent with our Internet, Richard has left them in a better position to those kind of conditions than I could.These visits into people's homes are priceless. We see how they actually live, what they sleep on, cook with, what they use to occupy their time. In many places you see evidence of things half finished; a wall half built, piles of brick, rebar, hardened cement that did not get fully utilized for whatever reason - lack of money, coffee beans needing harvesting, so lack of time. Who knows exactly what stops these steps toward progress before they can be finished.One home we went to I was asked by the family to see their 8-year-old son who had a cleft lip repaired in infancy and a cleft lip partially repaired. We were able to treat him for a sinus infection. I asked mom when he was going to have his last surgery. She told me she was nervous for him to have another operation. She wasn't sure she was going to do it. After I finished his exam and gave her his medication, I noticed a big bin of all kinds of colorful threads. I asked her if she was a weaver. She lit up and asked if she could take us to the downstairs of her home to see her shop. As a seamstress myself, you can only imagine my own delight in seeing her beautiful, old sewing machine. She showed us some of her tapestries and let us photograph her. As we were leaving she asked through my interpreter if I thought the boy should have his last surgery. I said, "Yes, of course. No need to leave things half finished."