These past few weeks have been dedicated to teaching the students in SewHope’s Education program the importance of washing their hands, brushing their teeth and making healthy choices. After seeing many cases of diabetes among the women in our clinic, “Doctora Ana” led an engaging discussion in the classroom about the importance of eating healthy and reducing soda intake. Students watched a video from the CDC about the importance of hand washing. They have also listened to their classmate read about the importance of brushing their teeth from a local newspaper article. A descriptive poster now hangs in the classroom for students to read when they wait in line for their toothpaste. Using this poster, I explained how the formation of plaque and cavities are created (which is new information to some of the students).
All 83 children in the SewHope program are provided with a toothbrush. Even though a toothbrush may not seem like much, I think the students like having something they can call their own at school. Before we go outside for snack, the children pick out their labeled toothbrush with their name printed on it. They then line up to excitedly wait and receive toothpaste. Brushing my teeth along side them, I demonstrate how to use toothpaste and water conservatively. It has become part of their routine to wash their hands, eat their snack and brush their teeth.
Despite cases seen at our clinic that may have been prevented in an environment with higher public health standards, SewHope’s classroom, attached to the clinic, offers a receptive learning environment where we can teach the next generation healthy habits. Through washing their hands every day, eating a healthy, nutritious snack, and brushing their teeth, students learn these healthy habits. It is our hope that these habits the children develop in SewHope’s Education program continue into their adulthood.
Here's two little stories of the little miracles that come with prayer.
The other morning our team came out to our waiting area and asked the patients to join us in prayer. Ismael acknowledged the goodness of our God, thanked Him and asked Him to bless our work, to give us guidance, to help us bring healing. He prayed for all the patients that were there. In my church at home, we have a time at every service where our Pastor asks if anyone has any special prayer of thanks or petition that they would like to share. Often, when those prayers are said, there may be someone or many in the congregation who may be able to be an answer to that person’s prayer. So I added at the end “Does anyone have any special prayer they would like to offer or say?”
I don’t think that kind of thing is customary here so Ismael quickly said “Any of you can pray with any of us when you come back.”
So my first patient came in – a 70 year old woman with many of the infirmities that come with the reality of getting older – diabetes, arthritis, lots of aches and pains. I did my exam, gave her a pap smear, offered some medications that might help and then she said “Would you pray for me now?”
Thinking she had some particular problem in her life that needed prayer, I asked “Is there anything special you would like to pray about?” She smiled broadly and said “No, I just think that if you would pray for me, I would feel so much better. I think it would take my pain away and make me feel less worried.”
“Wow”, I thought. “you must think I’m capable of a whole lot more than I do!” I wanted to tell her that I don’t have any closer connection to the Almighty than she does….that I’m just a flawed little person trying to find some purpose in this world. I felt like her request was one of the biggest things I’ve ever been asked to do. You’re saying that just ME praying might make you better!
I’m honestly not AT ALL one of those people who is good at praying out loud. You know how some people can just go from 0 to 90 in one second and invoke all this inspiration and feeling of God’s presence in their prayers. Well I am definitely not one of those. But I just felt so much responsibility….. like she was asking me, an unworthy person, to bring her healing in a way that was so much grander than any medication or surgery.
So I said ok and closed my eyes and held her hands. I paused for a minute (another hard thing for me to do!) and just really asked God to give me the right words (in Spanish, nonetheless!). I don’t even know what I said but whatever it was, she started crying and squeezing my hands so tight. Whoever God is, I could just totally feel Him in our presence – that Spirit that we talk about was just so right there.
The prayer didn’t last very long – maybe a minute or two. At the end, she just hugged me and said she wouldn’t forget this and she was so grateful.
Maybe she thinks some Gringa doctor has some connection with our God that the average person doesn’t have! All I know is that she believed in God and she believed in me. Perhaps God sent her to me to show me the power of prayer – of how when we humble ourselves and ask with a pure heart, anything can happen.
The next day, we had a group of women come for treatments for their precancerous lesions of the cervix. Some of these lesions are pretty significant and they need a procedure done that has some risks. I’ve done it here many, many times. Sometimes it is very easy and other times, there can be some complications that make it a bit more challenging. I had been emailing Randy just 30 minutes before and telling him how the day was going so well and all the procedures were going without a hitch. Don’t I know after all these years that you should never say anything like that!!! God will surely humble you in a second if you start to feel a bit cocky! Inevitably, as soon as you say that, problems start.
So I started this procedure on this woman. There were many reason why it was more complicated but without boring my non-medical audience here, suffice it to say that it was a challenge. The next thing I know, my “loop” (connected to electricity so that it should burn as it goes thus eliminating bleeding) must have hit what Dr. Phibbs used to call the “wandering vein of hemorrhage”!
In one second, it was like I just put a hole in a major pipe and the blood came pouring out. Now at home, this is easy. The patient is asleep so you can manipulate things without them moving. You have great light, lots of assistants, any tool you want at your disposal. But here that is not the case. My heart started pounding thinking about what would happen if I couldn’t get this controlled quickly.
Now the patient had NO idea this was happening. There was a drape so she couldn’t see anything. I didn’t say a word. But a few seconds later she just started praying quietly out loud. And somehow I just knew everything would be OK. Somehow I was able to place sutures quickly in the midst of a stream of blood that blinded my visibility and everything was fine. Again, it was like the Spirit of God just swooped in, brought calm and gave me the ability to do something that was almost beyond my reach.
At home of course, the same thing would have brought a flurry of people and instruments and better light and better attention from everyone. Here, when those things don’t exist, you just invoke the power of God and prayers seem to be constantly answered.
Believe me, I’m not bashing modern technology in medicine – it is incredible. But maybe a little prayer and faith in God’s power would help a bit too! Maybe we should all offer more prayers to each other. Maybe when we say “I will pray for you…we should really do it.” That presence of the Spirit is an awfully nice thing to have around!
From my last visit here in May, I can see how students have progressed in their mathematical knowledge, reading fluency and reading comprehension. Eight months ago I remember working with a boy on basic subtraction and today he consistently answered challenging division facts. There is also a handful of seven and eight year olds who are accurately dividing and simplifying fractions. It is very impressive to watch them complete this mathematical process, sometimes even in their head. Frequently students will raise their hand to ask a teacher a question related to their mathematics on Khan Academy, only for their friend sitting next to them to eagerly explain the answer to them. By listening to how a student explains the answer to his/her classmate, it becomes evident just how well they know the material. This daily occurrence is just one example of how I can easily see the positive impact Sew Hope's education program has for all students.
SewHope certainly provides a nurturing environment for increasing literacy. Last May I remember assisting a five year old sound out words as she was learning to read. After listening to her classmates read the children's bible to close the end of the morning’s class day after day, she now reads aloud to her classmates. Although I am not an expert on grade standards in the United States, the book that this six year old girl fluently reads certainly surpasses the first grade level. Additionally, I asked one of the older students what she likes about the math program here. She explained that she likes how she can answer challenging questions she does not get asked at school. I am very thankful SewHope offers an opportunity for all students to grow academically and spiritually. If it were not for the support and resources SewHope provides to its students, many of these students would not be able to see how they can excel academically. Their evident academic growth and eagerness to continue learning inspires me every day.
Attached is a video of a girl reading her favorite page (upon my request), while another student summarizes the stories the class read. I believe this video is representative of SewHope’s positive impact.
I think this is about my 40th trip to Guatemala – every time my experiences here are so full of everything that God promises us in Galatians 5:22-23
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."
On these trips, I’m always surrounded by the most wonderful people – the beautiful Guatemalan people and of course, those who work with us here as well as those who come with us. The people suffer from things we could never imagine in the United States but through it all, they smile and praise God and take care of each other.
Two people came with me on this trip. Tim Kuhn is an engineer in Toledo. This is his fifth trip. Along with a few other great men, he has been responsible for getting all the electric work done in our clinic and now in our hostal. He’s a quiet, highly capable and resourceful person who spends the days working every minute to maximize his effort. In between seeing my patients, I see him zooming around, climbing ladders, digging ditches, laying electric wires, installing electric boxes and while doing it he is endlessly cheerful. He’s always looking for ways to improve our facilities and thus improve the lives of those who visit us.
Meridith Heckler is a third year student at Kenyon College. This is her second trip and she is here for 3 weeks. Her dream is to become a teacher and wow, did she ever find her calling! She spends long days with our children in the after-school program inspiring and loving them. When she was here last May, she only knew French but she was determined to be able to communicate with these children. Spending the last 10 months in an intensive language experience, she now she is actually quite conversant with them!!
I have never seen anyone with the patience and love for children that she has! She just marvels at the success of each child and makes each and every one feel that they are precious. They all flock to her now. And while she is only here for a few weeks, she is integral to our work because she is helping us find gaps in our program that can be made better and she’s surely helping us realize that indeed the students are thriving even more than we had imagined! Meridith honestly delights in the great advances she has seen in the children since her last visit here less than a year ago. Her blogpost is coming!
So I’m attaching a few photos of what's happening here! Thank you all for making this work possible.