The second day at the clinic, a couple of street dogs came wandering onto the property. Street dogs are everywhere in Guatemala and pretty much reviled by everyone. The dogs spend all day scavenging and scrounging whatever scraps of food they can find, sleep on the ground wherever they feel safe, are malnourished and flea/parasite infested, and often get run over because they don’t have the energy to move fast enough out of the way of speeding cars. Local people constantly harass and shoo them away with rocks, kicks, and hisses. The dogs are pretty skittish because of it. On the hierarchy of Guatemalan animals, street dogs hold a place just above rats. The pigs and chickens that also roam around are viewed more favorably. They can be eaten.
So these two street dogs came wandering onto our property and started nosing around. They were both males and one was pretty big, around 40 pounds, and the other was maybe 20 pounds soaking wet. They seemed to be buddies, but were going about their scavenging business separately. I watched them awhile and for kicks named the big one Taco and the small one Taquito. After awhile they left and I thought that would be the end of it, but a few hours later Taquito came back.
The truth is street dogs are a pretty good analogy for Guatemala and the poor who live here. A developing country like Guatemala has a long history of being kicked around and fending off rocks thrown by bigger, stronger, more developed countries including the United States. Minerals, timber, crops, etc. have been and still are illegally extracted, cut down, grown, and sold in highly unsustainable ways on the backs of laborers who have no unions, no safety and health protections, no real opportunities, basically just a life of hard work and exploitation. The wealthy who control this action get richer and richer and the poor barely survive. Like street dogs, the poor in Guatemala are at the bottom of society’s list.
Anyhow, Taquito must have liked what he saw and kept hanging around here. After a few days, some of our team members (OK, it was me) felt sorry for him and gave him some leftovers from dinner and breakfast. Of course after that we were best buddies, and he’d come when I called and enjoyed a good scratch and rub. The other team members got to know and love him just as much and now he sleeps every night on one of the doormats outside our rooms at the hostel. He doesn’t seem to prefer one over the other… he must be a socialist!! We (OK, me again) bought him a collar, gave him deworming medicine, and (with the help of one of the medical students) gave him a flea shampoo. The school kids and the other SewHope staff have gotten to know him and like him a lot. He enjoys meal time with them (and the many fallen bits of kids’ food).
So Taquito’s status has risen. I like to think he’s more hopeful that his life will be good, similar to the people we serve and the stories you’ve read in prior blog posts. I don’t know what will happen to Taquito after we leave. But I know I’m going to leave behind a big bag of dog food with his name on it. I hope he’ll have a better life for at least a little while, and I hope he’ll still be hanging around when I return.
It’s been a couple of days since I wrote the above and we’ve learned something about Taquito. One of the local people recognized him and said he was abandoned by a family that moved away. So Taquito’s an orphan, and I guess for now all of us at the clinic including the school kids, staff, and patients will get to be his adoption family. He’ll surely get lots of attention and love now. One of our night guards was talking to Anne about Taquito. She told the guard he now has a new friend. The guard replied that Taquito also has a new friend!
Randy Ruch is a founding member of SewHope. He joined us in Guatemala (for the umpteenth time) to lend a hand around the property (and make friends with the local dogs) while the medical team worked in the clinic.
Sunday was spent touring the Mayan city of Tikal with a few of the school children at SewHope. After a hot and sweaty hike through the jungle, hoping monkey caca wouldn't fall on our heads, and climbing nearly 200 steps, the jungle opened up as we approached the top of Temple IV. The site was breathtaking. And as the terrified kids pressed their bodies against the temple wall to avoid the edge, I just stood in wonder. This city flourished over a thousand years ago, and even after its abandonment, people have continued to gather at their temples from all around the world. The fame of the Mayan people will live on for many many many years to come.
As we are spending our last 24 hours in this beautiful country, I am left to wonder about the legacy of SewHope, and my own legacy as well. It is obvious the impact this clinic is making in the Peten region of Guatemala, but what will it look like in 10, 15, 20 years? Over this week I have heard the dreams of both the Guatemalan and American workers. They have so many wonderful, crazy and beautiful dreams for SewHope. While I say crazy, I don't mean crazy in the bad sense. To the outsider, it may seem impossible that the heartbreak of one young doctor was transformed into a permanent clinic. And a clinic that has performed over 6000 pap smears, treating numerous women for precancerous lesions and preventing death from cervical cancer! But here it is, nonetheless!
God has been doing amazing things in Guatemala. The future may not look exactly like our dreams today, but that is simply because we can only dream so big. Our dreams are only a fraction of what God has in store. I'll be leaving a piece of my heart behind here as we return to the United States. I don't think I will ever get it back, and that's okay. I guess that just means I'll just have to keep coming back.
"Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"" -Isaiah 6:8
Christian Carwell is a medical student at the University of Toledo. She has been with us at the clinic in Guatemala this past week, along with Dr. Anne, Dr. Gary, Dr. Kim, and three other medical students.
It was Hippocrates that said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” I believe there is a lot of truth to that. Poor diets in America result in diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia. Poor diets in Peten result in anemia, neural tube defects, developmental delays, and a few cases of diabetes and hypertension. But food impacts more than just the physical body. It feeds the soul. In abundance, it can provide a feeling of comfort. In shortage, anxiety and fear.
This week, I have seen numerous families without adequate nutrition and numerous families with adequate nutrition. The difference is stark. Families without adequate nutrition have to face more obstacles in life. They may have a child that can’t speak or can’t walk. They may have more infections because of a poor functioning immune system. They may have rotting teeth, making it painful to eat the food they do have and leading to even less nutrition.
There is also a correlation between those that cannot afford food and other risk factors. Families with inadequate nutrition may have dirt floors and no beds. Or they may have many kids in one room or open flame stoves with poor ventilation. So addressing just nutrition is not going to be enough to change these families’ circumstances.
But by providing food and vitamins, I see hope. The kids in the after school program love snack time. The garden here feeds them with fresh fruits and vegetables that keep their minds sharp and their bodies strong. The number of families we have seen with adequate nutrition seem to be increasing. The public schools provide whole, nutritious lunches. Continuing to provide education, school lunches, and garden-grown veggies, I see how much of a positive impact it will have on the community of Santa Ana, Péten. Also, who doesn’t love good food?
Danielle Saevig is a medical student at the University of Toledo. She joined us at the clinic in Guatemala this past week, along with Dr. Anne, Dr. Gary, Dr. Kim, and three other medical students.
[Video: Chuck Hawk, a University of Toledo medical student, joins a group of Guatemalan schoolchildren for some game time at recess.]
I wanted to write my blog entry about hope. This Tuesday, Christian, Rachel and I went with Orfe [SewHope's social worker] to Mango to visit a local school. Our task was simply to distribute vitamins to the children and medications to the parents that were present at the school. As part of a new effort, we were also to apply fluoride to the children’s teeth. As the day progressed I noticed two things. First, many of the children were small for their age. Second I noticed that many of the kids were living with what appeared to be very painful cavities in the teeth. I felt sorrow for the fact that so many kids around in the world are living without food and are suffering from conditions that are preventable.
There were a few other things that about the kids that I noticed. The most apparent to me was the fact that children of the school were so joyful in spite of the circumstances. They insisted that we join them for recess. They were so full of energy and joy. I can’t help but think that they would get along perfectly with kids from back home. Another thing I noticed was how kind they were to one another. There were kids in the class with special needs and many of the students were very eager to help and embrace their peers.
So how is this post about about hope? The spirited and joyful nature of the children is what gives me hope for improvement. They don’t let their circumstances spoil their attitudes. They are constantly working to make the best of their situation. Above all, they are kind and joyful in the face of their struggle. I think that we all can learn so much from their excellent example.
Chuck Hawk is a medical student at the University of Toledo. He joined us at the clinic in Guatemala this week, along with Dr. Anne, Dr. Gary, Dr. Kim, and three other medical students.
No iPhones, no video games, no shiny, flashy, latest and greatest toys. Just laughter.
One of the most obvious contrasts to American culture that I’ve noted this week is the way in which Guatemalan children spend their time waiting. Some clinic days are busier than others, and the time in which they need to sit before seeing a doctor and then filling their medications can be well beyond an hour or two. The wild imaginations that these kids possess are so incredibly apparent, particularly because they cannot be distracted and muted by a hand-held screen. Sitting quietly is not an option, as one might expect under the circumstances. Naturally, these energizer bunnies resort to running around, playing make-believe with whoever will try to keep up, and giggling at whoever tries but can’t (mostly the medical students). Their energy is boundless, and they never seem to get bored with each other. Although it’s not universally the case among American youth, I can’t help but notice how much less creativity is employed when effortless forms of entertainment are available in the form of Youtube videos and iPhone apps. Little boys will be found racing each other by clicking buttons on their personal cellphones, and little girls will be putting makeup and pretty clothes on the animated princesses on theirs. If they can’t physically see the manifestation of their imagination, it’s as if it doesn’t exist and they mope until the internet connection is reestablished.
This isn’t to say that technology is malignant to children, but being temporarily immersed in a culture where playing doesn’t require expensive and extravagant tools is simply refreshing. Give a group of kids a ball and they’ll kick it around for hours on end. Give them paper and markers and they’ll draw on every last inch. Childhood is such an innocent time, and I truly believe it should be preserved as much as possible. As a future pediatrician, I hope to see outdoor play and creativity make a comeback because kids are meant to be unplugged.
Courtney Rusch is a medical student at the University of Toledo. She joined us at the clinic in Guatemala this week, along with Dr. Anne, Dr. Gary, Dr. Kim, and three other medical students.
Everything is the same, only different.
No matter how many times I visit Guatemala, I am struck by both the similarities and the differences between "us" and "them." Much of human behavior is universal, but growing up in poverty with poor health and limited education may affect life choices that individuals have to make.
Due to the "accident of birth," my soul was born into a middle class American family and not into the developing world. How can I relate to the life experiences of the people that I am trying to help? Do I have the right to judge the behaviors they exhibit and the life choices that they make? The best that I can hope to do is to watch, listen and learn.
When children come into our clinic with abdominal pain, cough, headaches and rash, we have consider factors in their environment such diet, parasites, dehydration and stress from poor school performance or family violence. We have no access to their prior medical history, which increases the challenge. We try to give them the health information that they need to deal with some of these issues, but changing habits here is as hard as it is at home.
The patience of people here is remarkable! On Sunday I waited in long lines for my three flights down and a seven hour layover in Guatemala City and I was not a happy camper. This week we have long lines of Guatemalans waiting so patiently in hopes of seeing a doctor. I don't know if this is because they live in the moment and accept what God gives them, or a learned sense of hopelessness makes them seem patient. I enjoyed the previous post from a medical student talking about the hopefulness of the younger girls compared with teenagers. Maybe if we can help and keep our promises with these kids, their hope won't die. Just by coming here, we show them that there is hope and they are loved and that their life has meaning.
Each trip presents new challenges and we learn so much! It is remarkable how much SewHope has progressed in the past ten years. With God's help, I can only imagine how much more we can accomplish in the next ten years.
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." 1 John 4:7-8 NIV
Dr. Gary Collins is a Toledo, OH-based pediatrician and a member of SewHope's Board of Directors. He has joined SewHope for numerous trips to Guatemala, and is at the Santa Ana clinic this week, helping to care for our youngest patients (and teaching some medical students along the way!).
Racquel Sohasky is a medical student currently with Dr. Coral Matus on a trip to Guatemala.
"This morning Darshana, Sammy, and I stayed behind at the clinic while Clay, Brent, and Dr. Matus went to the birthing center in El Chal. While at the clinic we spoke with two groups of girls about ourselves, our futures, and our aspirations. We shared with them where we were and where we saw ourselves going. Through this, we also were able to ask them about their lives and their hopes for the future. We spoke with twelve year olds who wanted to be archeologists and ten year olds aspiring to be physicians. We were inspired by these things and encouraged them to pursue their dreams. The girls are truly both intelligent and kind. They have great potential and purpose, and are in need of great role models guide them and to push them forward.
It was hard to see the stark difference between the first and second group we spoke with. The older girls in the second group were much more hesitant to be open with us. They were still curious, but many of them had already decided they wouldn’t go on to high school. It was difficult to even break the ice with them, and unfortunate to see their self confidence and motivation decreasing. Nonetheless, we enjoyed getting to know them and sharing some experiences. Maybe something we said will stick with a few of them, and that in itself would be worthwhile. Not every interaction is going to be easy, but each one is valuable and a learning experience on both ends."
Clayton is one of the medical students currently on a trip with Dr. Coral Matus
In the land of verdant green and sun,
In rolling hills and views that stun,
I came to help, or so was the goal
With my meager knowledge, mi poquito español.
Instead, it is I who benefits the most.
I learn from patients, I listen engrossed.
I see compassion and skill and drive
After which to emulate I ardently strive
In Dr Matus and all the staff here.
This, I think, this is what I want in a career.
This is a place where people are loved well,
Where needs are met, where empowerment excels.
It really ought not be surprising
That here esperanza is rising.