What amazes me every single time I meet a new patient in our clinic is the fact that the people of Guatemala are so incredibly grateful for the service we provide for them. Even when I am limited by my limited clinical knowledge and a language barrier, the people appreciate what I can do. I remember one elderly lady in particular whose eyes lit up with appreciation when I brought her something so little—just a toothbrush and toothpaste. She took me by the arm, smiled, and genuinely thanked me. This level of appreciation was truly humbling.
This is such a stark contrast to what I see in America. For example, I’ve heard too many horror stories of individuals self-diagnosing on the internet and demanding their physicians to prescribe the drugs they think are appropriate or expecting that their healthcare to be as McDonaldized as a trip to the drive-thru. There simply is a difference between our American value system and that which I see in the culture of Guatemala.
I experienced one of the most telling examples of this today; and that was the children. The children we saw in clinic today were so eager to learn about maintaining their health. And time and time again, I met children who were one step ahead of me in the dental education room. It is so fulfilling to see such amazing children, and this shows that the educational mission of the clinic is working very well.
Amid all of this richness in the environment, the culture, and the environment, one cannot help not to notice the economic poverty that exists. As we went up the mountain, it was difficult to see so many houses that were just corrugated metal walls and a roof. However, what really broke my heart was the sight of so many young girls who have to sell trinkets and textiles for a living. They deserve to be in school instead of attending to tourists’ materialistic wants. This is a socioeconomic problem that only revolutionary change in infrastructure and government will bring, and I pray that someday these girls will have an equal chance at the solid education they deserve.