Monday, January 12, 2015


Write them on the doorposts of your house

The Interfaith Logo
All the Abrahamic religions hold the central tenet of loving God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. But a few verses further down in Deuteronomy 6 we are told, “Write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.” The Rabbis of old and Biblical interpreters have always been puzzled by exactly what “them” refers to.  In Jewish understanding, a tradition developed to actually write these verses on parchment and roll them up in a special small container and affix this container (mezuzah) to the doorposts of every Jewish home. As a Jew enters or leaves their home they traditionally reach up and kiss the mezuzah, a kind of aide-mémoire to always carry God in your heart.

On Tuesday, January 7th, the medical and educational clinic in Patanatic, Guatemala unveiled and dedicated a large logo of Xavier’s Center for Interfaith Community Engagement above the front entrance to a clinic the community built with its own hands. For five years our Xavier pre-med, nursing and occupational students have traveled to Patanatic to bring medicines and medical healing to a community that has become like home to each student and to the medical faculty and staff that have accompanied them.

The Dedication Ceremony
But this Tuesday was a day unlike any other. The Pastor of the church in the village and the Director of the elementary school joined Jorge Coromac, the Vice-President for Programs at Woodland Charities, in a ceremony to mark Xavier’s contribution to Patanatic. Each of them spoke of how the small Mayan village could never repay our teams for what they have done to bring quality and sustainable heath care to their homes. Nothing could be further from the truth – it is we who have benefited the most. It is our students who have grown through their labor of love and their love of labor. It is our American health care system that will ultimately benefit from the pre-med training that our students received. It is our university that has been most enriched by the maturation and growth of each of our young students. It is WE who owe the Village of Patanatic and the people of Guatemala so very much.

Yet, we stood proudly and watched as the drape was removed from the logo. I was privileged to offer a few words and I spoke of the blessing this clinic represents in the life of our university. We joined the community in dreaming a dream together and in bringing that dream to a reality. Lives in Guatemala have been saved; lives in America have been enriched and changed. If this moment represented the first time that Xavier University’s name has been formally affixed to a building outside the United States then we are additionally blessed.

The Official Unveiling
The image on the logo represents a bridge of understanding and celebration between Cincinnati and Patantic - the very celebration at the core of our Center’s mission.  But like the Jesuits of old, and St. Francis Xavier in particular, we climbed the mountain to reach our village and struggled with the language and culture. In our perseverance, and with the support of hundreds of benefactors and in the name of our great university, we lived to see this day - only imagined six years ago.

I think if we could look behind the image on the logo we would see the names of each of our students and each member of our medical team. They number more than sixty beautiful souls but in 2015 it was Ralph, Shannon, Ashley, Megan, Dakota, Adam P., Cooper, Greg, Farwa, Adam S., Caroline and Cathy; Lauri, Richard, Eric, Stephanie Ibemere and Stephanie Renny. Each one of them has been written on the doorposts of this beautiful medical house 6,204 feet above sea level. I was privileged to lead them to this place to allow them to demonstrate their love of God with all their heart, all their soul and all their might. If I could reach to touch them, I would kiss each one of them. I carry each of them in my heart.

Rabbi Abie

Painting Our Hearts

The View from Patanatic
The past few days have left me speechless. Each person that I have met has been a flash of awakening, a new color added to my spectrum of life. It is so easy to stay within a comfort zone, the same dreary grey of routine; yet, when a moment snaps you out of it and paints your heart with a passionate red or a joyful yellow, that is when true "living" happens. There has been lots of "living" on this trip. Today, our last day at the clinic, allows us to sense our own change of heart. The way we speak with each patient, work with each other, and approach every situation reflects this.

Today, one of my flashes of color manifests in my friendship with our translator for the home visits that involved checking water filters for those in the community. Our translator, Miley, could speak English just as well as I could speak Spanish- not very well. Although we had this slight language barrier, we both tried very hard to help one another with each language. The day ended with the exchange of our Facebook contacts and her promise to write me as soon as possible. While saying goodbye, she called me her sister and said that God had intervened to have us be friends. Miley, just a year older than me, faces harsh living conditions every day of her life, yet remains a source of light- illuminating God's love and a steadfast hope in humanity. I am blessed to be able to call her my friend.

This encounter is only one of the many experiences that have been a blessing. For those of you who are reading these blogs, please do not hide from such colorful experiences. We have been told that this experience in Guatemala has "ruined our lives" because we can no longer use naivety to excuse our individualistic lifestyle. However, I challenge that way of thinking. I believe that this trip has healed us - cured us of a blind way of thinking. Without seeing the darkness, we cannot truly appreciate the light.

This is what I have learned from the people of Patanatic. With all the darkness that they have been served, they only exuberate the light - their faith in God's will, their love for their family, and their hope for humanity. From this source of light, they encompass an indescribable inner strength that is rooted in wisdom. All of this struggle is simply a search for happiness. I would argue that the most sincere form of happiness comes from those who face both the light and the dark and continue to choose a happiness that splatters an array of colors in everyone's life that they encounter. So as I walked out of the clinic on our last day, I said to myself: Do not ignore the darkness, do not take advantage of the light, and like the Patanatic people - always choose happiness in color.

Caroline Wehby

Sunday, January 11, 2015

I am a Scuba Diver

Adios to the wonderful Guatemalan souls we have encountered, and Hola to our New Perspectives

Where can I even begin? Here I am sitting on a plane to Cincinnati, leaving a place that forced me to take a critical look into my life and look deeply into my experiences with compassion and idealism, and entering back into a world focused on materialistic needs. This morning we had a meeting about acclimating ourselves back into our lives in school, and how it isn’t going to be easy. I have been mentally preparing myself for the return culture shock, but today while traveling I found myself not focused on what I expected. If You Don’t Believe in Miracles, then you haven’t heard our travel story to get on this flight today yet. We landed in Atlanta early to be welcomed by a customs line that seemed a mile long, followed by a security line that was just as stressful. We were hardly into the security line when our flight boarded at 9:15, and we weren’t sure if we would even get there in time.  As the negativity and stress of all the worried travelers surrounded us, a wonderful worker gave everyone a Smile and was cracking jokes and telling us “It is a wonderful day” to help calm some nerves. This may seem insignificant, but I have been preparing myself to know the negative differences in our culture. I found myself focusing on the optimism of this single man surrounded by upset travelers. The miracle comes when we Earned Our Wings as we SPRINTED from security in Terminal F to our already boarded and ready to leave flight at gate A26. One by one we thankfully made our way to our seats while still struggling to catch our breath.

This past week has been nothing but An Amazing Journey. Through House Calls, Influenza and Pneumonia, we discovered more about the Guatemalan way of life and medicine while also learning so much more about ourselves. Through the Words of Wisdom from our incredible staff we became pharmacists, optometrists, nurses, dentists, and doctors. We saw a total Number of 172 patients who all made an impact on our team. From the Holy Image of Manuel, to the contagious personality of little Christopher, to the joy and sadness when seeing Valentina, and to the connection Cooper felt to the asthmatic patient, our lives were changed forever. At first glance it seems that we are there to help the village of Patanatic, but with deeper Reflection it is clear they helped us discover more of ourselves and what we will strive to do as future medical professionals. It was A Beautiful Privilege for them to let us into the most personal parts of their lives.

This week I discovered I am a scuba diver as Dr. Laurie and Dr. Richard coined it, and that I never want to just be a snorkeler. I want to dig deep into everything I do with compassion. I don’t want to just skim the surface even though it may be easier, but I want to take the necessary Small Steps to truly better patients’ lives by working in an idealistic mindset and giving them all the time that they need. This trip may have me Ruined for Life, because the road as an idealistic medical professional isn’t easy. But it has reminded me to Dream Big, because without a dream there is no action to move forward.

It is experiences that bind people. I share a beautiful experience with my team and the people of Patanatic that no one else can truly understand. What We Bring Back is our new insight, experiences, and new family. Within the words of this blog I have intertwined the titles of my newfound family’s blogs in italics, because this trip would have been nothing without them, their support, compassion, words, or understanding. We got Up Close and Personal and bonded with our experiences in and unexpected way.

With A New Feeling within us from this mission, one thing I need to say is Gracias a Dios (thank you God) for drawing me toward this trip. I Give Thanks for my countless blessings and as we move forward toward second semester. We finished our medical mission in Guatemala, but my team’s mission to help others through compassionate medical care is just beginning. We’re Off to change the world in our own way, knowing that God is with Us every step of the journey.

Megan Donaldson


On Friday, we visited the ancient Iximche and learned a ton of the important numbers of the ancient Mayans. For our trip, our number is 171, at least to me. The number 171 has a few different important reasons to me. This past week we saw 171 patients in Patanatic. We were given the privilege to be allowed to see 94 children in pediatrics and 77 adults in 4 1/2 days. From personal experience, that’s a lot of people, and I can’t thank these people enough for what they’ve done for me. I got to see the expression of a person really seeing from the first time after finding the perfect pair of glasses. "Clara!" (Or clear in English) could be heard down the hall from glasses on many occasions. I got to learn on the final day how to dispel the suspicious glares from toddlers, or as Lauri calls them "a different species", by letting them listen to my heartbeat with my stethoscope. I felt the strong faith of the people of Guatemala during our times in the prayer room while I butchered the Spanish during a prayer here and there. From them, I heard true gratitude from the bottom of their hearts after Richard figured out their specific issues and tried to solve them or saying a prayer for them wishing them for better health. Also, I received tremendous hospitality not only in our hotels but in their own homes while we trudged along in the heat down and up the massive hills during the filtration checks. With that, I saw their strength as well. They walk up and down these steep inclines carrying bags, food, and even children all day while living with swarms of flies and insects that seemed unbearable to me for even 5 minutes. It's incredible. Their patience was so long lasting even while I tried to explain something in some broken Spanish and would allow us to listen to their hearts and lungs, check their eyes and ears, look down their throats, and feel their pulses under their legs or on their feet while they probably have places they need to be. These people have shaped and taught me so much without them even being aware of it. I'm so truly thankful.

My other reason for 171 being important on this trip is the fact that 17+1=18 which was the size of our team. Everyone knows by now but we had 12 pre-med/nursing students, a triage nurse, a pediatrician, an internist, a pharmacist, our animal-loving planner/organizer, and of course a rabbi. None of this would have been possible without these guys. These people truly helped me and taught me so much in this past week. When I couldn't find a pulse on a patient, Greg was willing to take over for me. Stephanie I showed me the trick to doing respiration rates. The doctors taught me how to hear heart murmurs and the crackling in the lungs of pneumonia. There is so much more to list that I could go on for a while, but the most important I think I learned was how much I want to continue down this path towards medical school and onwards. They’re so inspirational. I’ve gotten to see people light up from the work that we’ve all done, and I hope that I can continue to make as much of a difference in the lives of so many more people as we did this past week down the path I’ve chosen. It’s crazy how numbers whether being a large group of 171 patients or just 18 people can make such a lasting impression into someone’s life and their future.

Adam Purvis

Small Steps

Note: This entry was scheduled to be posted earlier in the week, but due to an unstable internet connection, was not able to be uploaded until today.

One major piece I have taken from the trip so far is the small steps. With small steps a great outcome can be reached.

We had a great journey yesterday to arrive at our destination.  Loading up the busses and making the trek from Guatemala City to Pantanatic. Unloading all of the medical supplies at the clinic. And finally the step of setting up the clinic and beginning to see our first patients. I was assigned to glasses yesterday and in the beginning it was just tedious work of unloading all the wonderfully donated glasses and through my own bias deciding if they were strong, medium, or weak prescriptions. A headache started to form from altering my vision as our first patient arrived. We worked with a woman with 20/160 vision.  She tried on countless different glasses until finally her face lit up. We managed to find glasses to get her to 20/40 vision. Although it was not the best possible outcome, or the most successful case, our little steps: collecting glasses, bringing them here, organizing them, and finally putting countless pairs onto this woman, resulted in a change that will significantly impact her daily life.

Today even further the importance of small steps jumped out at me, and taking our time with each step. In the morning while shadowing Richard, the internist, he showed us how important every question that is asked is. To better the patient there are important step-by-step processes when assessing a patient.  One overlooked step could lead to misdiagnosis or missing something completely. He showed us how taking time for every single patient is so important regardless of how many were in line, because one extra minute could make all the difference. We saw one woman with asthma with wheezing in her breath. Richard took us through the process of the examination, and in the end a bit more confusing script was decided on. Knowing there were a bit more complicated directions of use for her medication, after her script was filled we brought her back in to assure she understood the directions. Cooper showed her how to use her new Advair inhaler and Michelle, the translator, assured that she knew what to do. Just another one of the few examples of the importance of every step.

It is shocking to think that only a few months ago some of us on this trip didn’t know each other at all.  Now I can say that the past couple of days we becoming our own family. We started off by calling ourselves Team Guatemala or even better Squademala, thanks to Ali (:D), to transitioning to being called Team Xavier. Looking back to when Abbie and Stephanie congratulations us on becoming a part of this team after being in that interview room with sweaty palms, extreme nerves, and possible panic attacks (or at least it was like that for me). Back in October we walked into the first weekly meeting with some strangers in the room, and today we walked out of dinner a family. Many steps led us to this point: weekly meetings, raking leaves in the cold, running a nearly naked race on the only week with snow all semester, traveling, and experiences together, but after today it was evident at our group and subgroup reflections that we are comfortable with each other and willing to work with and for each other like a family does.

Small steps have brought us here, and with time and compassion small steps will get us where we need to be.

Megan Donaldson
Xavier University Class of 2017
Chemistry Major/ University Scholar