Wednesday, March 15, 2017

There Are No Secondary Causes

We all have special people who come into our lives and leave lasting impressions.  Father Vince O'Flaherty was one of those people for me.  I lived with Father Vince, a Jesuit priest, in my senior year of college at Regis University in an intentional faith community in a low-income Latino barrio in Northwest Denver called Romero House.  At age 70, Father Vince was our leader, living amongst 20-something year old college students, learning to cook for the very first time in his life, leading us by his example of selflessness.  One of the things he would always say was, "There are no secondary causes."  The gentle hand of God was present in all things for Fr. Vince.  This is a very Jesuit concept and I am grateful I learned this from him.

This week in Guatemala I have been reminded of that sentiment over and over again.  This is our seventh year on this trip.  The community we first encountered 6 years ago went from having never had a physician in their village to having a fully functional, independent clinic in that time span.  This year that community has 17 groups coming to volunteer this year.  And in a little over a year one of their young men, whom we met as a community health worker 6 years ago, will graduate from medical school in Guatemala and come back home to serve that clinic year-round.  So we made the difficult decision last summer that when we were planning for this year's trip we would probably be of better service to move on from our old village and start anew with a community who did not have so much help.  It was difficult to think of not seeing our wonderful families of Patanatic again, but they had many helpers at this point.

In a random act of God's gentle hand last summer Rabbi Abie met a phenomenal couple named Jose Roland and Lisa Monterroso.  Lisa is a Xavier graduate of the OT program and had met Jose Roland when she traveled with a Xavier OT trip to Guatemala several years ago.  The two fell in love and are now living and raising their two young boys in Jose Roland's native Guatemala.  When Lisa and Jose Roland were visiting Lisa's alma matter of Xavier last summer they met Rabbi Abie and the conversations about the medical service trip to Guatemala began.  Jose Roland - also known as Roland, then became our Guatemalan contact.  He started the work of identifying two new communities in Guatemala who needed services.  We could not have met a more generous and loving human being.  He identified two communities for us to start a relationship with, in hopes of giving them a gentle lift up in the next few years so that they can in the mean time identify people in their communities who can train as health workers to sustain their own communities.  Our hope is that over the next 10 years or so these two new communities can, with some help from our trip, become self-sufficient in their own health promotion.

In January, Rabbi Abie, Eric Bertelsen (our pharmacist) and I traveled to Guatemala for 3 days to meet with Roland and community leaders in these two new villages to see how we may best serve them.  Our first community is in San Lucas and has a government medical clinic but there is little to no staff for it.  When we toured the clinic I became aware that this community has no access to economical, clean, filtered water.  Without clean water it doesn't really matter what we could do down here - it would be like putting our fingers in the holes of a dike.  Water filtration has to become universal.  I told Roland that we needed to see how to bring clean water to these people.  The next thing I knew, a few hours later we were touring the factory of a globally known and respected manufacturer of home water filters called Ecofiltro.  Roland knew the factory owner, had called him up and asked him if we could come meet him.  We learned all about Ecofiltro and he learned all about our trip ideals of building capacity in communities so that they may become self sufficient in taking care of themselves.  The next thing we knew, Ecofiltro was donating water filters to our two new clinic sites and their schools.  And Ecofiltro agreed to come into the new villages and sell water filters to all the families for a very affordable, subsidized price.  So, probably over the course of 2-3 years those homes will all have free filtered water in their homes.  Even if we do nothing else in those two villages that will dramatically change the trajectory of their health.

Each time we have presented Roland with a new problem, he works at it and solves it.  He knows pretty much everyone in Guatemala and has a heart for helping - especially for helping people feel empowered to help themselves.  We were waiting in the bus at a bank one afternoon after clinic so the Xavier students could exchange some of their money.  I saw Roland warmly greeting two beautiful adolescent Guatemalan girls in their pristine school uniforms, who were clearly delighted to see him.  When he joined us on the bus I asked him who they were and he told me he had known them since they were toddlers.  They were HIV orphans and he knew them from the group home in which they live.  So, literally we go from him knowing the CEO of a major international water filtration company to these two HIV orphans.

Roland and Lisa walking into Rabbi Abie's office that day this summer was definitely the work of the gentle hand of God.  There are no secondary causes.

Lauri Pramuk, MD

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