Surreal is the only word I can think of that explains how it feels to come back to the United States. At work, I often feel these mixed emotions between relief at the efficiency, cleanliness and unlimited resources and an uneasy discomfort with the whole system. While a huge number of working people here in Toledo can afford no health care, the insured people have to merely ask for any test and it is done. If we have the most remote worry that something might be wrong, a full-scale exploration of that organ system is undertaken without any consideration of cost. Yes, while we often have the resources to treat the economically "poor" people, there are huge numbers of uninsured people who have no access to care.
So many times throughout each day, I'm just struck by the injustice of life. I'm sure that for any of you reading this, there are stories in your own hearts where despite your greatest efforts, you had to face a situation that you surely didn't "deserve". Some of those stories may indeed be heartbreaking. But for the people of the villages we work in, that injustice seems to pervade everything in their lives. They have no rights and everywhere there is no accountability or fairness. I can think of numerous examples. We saw at least 3 young pregnant women who had honestly tried not to become pregnant. Realizing they couldn't manage one more baby, they took the 3 mile walk to the government clinic to receive Depo Provera every 3 months. Yet, at that particular clinic, it's well known that the "injeccion" often doesn't work. Do the workers replace the medication with water? Does the medicine not work because it's been allowed to sit at too high a temperature? Was it not administered properly? As they often say......"Saber!!" (Who knows?) No sense asking questions because there's no law suits and no one to care.
The World Health Organization recommends that one way to reduce maternal deaths is to encourage women in rural villages to consider an emergency plan in case things go wrong while they're in labor. So I dutifully asked each pregnant woman what would happen if she suddenly started hemorrhaging after the baby was born. Every single woman seemed completely at ease and said "No problem, we just call the ambulance." I asked how much it cost? They unanimously said "free".
"Wow", I thought. I've been missing something. This government is much better than I thought! So at the end of the day, I asked Ismael where these ambulances were. He laughed and said there is one for all of Santa Ana and it could easily take 90 minutes for one to get to these village homes. The driver is often not even there so in reality, there really is no "emergency plan". Bad enough not to have one but even worse to think that one exists! I continue to be shocked at the number of women who DON"T die in labor! When I look at the filthy dirt floors, the complete of any medications or equipment and the meager training of the midwives, it truly is amazing that any babies are normal or any women survive!
More examples of injustice?? Probably 75% of the families in these villages don't have a father present. They have either been killed in the civil war, murdered by the gangs or they have left for the U.S. in search of money for their families. So not only do the people suffer from starvation, illiteracy, filthy water and poor health; they don't even have men to be fathers to their children. And we wonder why the gangs and the violence are growing exponentially???
The school teacher who joined us on this trip, Leigh Ann, was so struck by the thirst that the children and their parents had for knowledge and for any kind of mental stimulation. The Guatemala constitution guarantees a free education to all. Yet, there are no consequences if the teachers don't come to school and although they have a beautifully written curriculum, there are NO books with which to teach. Think of our own schools here and how there is often such little regard for the teachers who dedicate their lives to children and the resources that are everywhere. Where is the justice?
And then I think of Flori. Not enough that she's 28 and dying of a completely preventable cancer. Not enough that she was told her problem was appendicitis and she had a completely unnecessary operation. Not enough that despite 3 months of intensive difficult treatment, her cancer quickly returned. But now she is suffering desperately with no medical help and no medicine from the government. We were fortunately able to bring her morphine but it seems so inadequate. No hospice for the suffering there.
Yet, despite all the injustice, I surely saw so many signs of hope on this trip and I really do believe that if everyone would do a little, it could indeed be a much more equitable world where the great majority could be given the very basics that they are now denied. One of my favorite quotes is from Martin Luther King "In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends." For any of us who have visited these beautiful people, we know that they are indeed our friends. What a sin if we keep silent about what we have witnessed.
While I find it unpleasant to do this, I'm closing this trip blog with a plea to all of you.
4 years ago, when I first visited Pueblo Nuevo, I wasn't sure where this work was headed. But I have seen with my eyes and felt with my heart, the incredible miracles that have already come because so many of you cared. I really believe that we can transform the lives of these people and give hope to the next generation by helping them realize what they can do. I already see them planting gardens, learning to read, seeking medical care, trying to find sources of clean water, looking for sources of income with fish farming and sewing projects. I see them standing up for their rights, wanting to learn about their history, and yearning for a better life for their children. They are beseeching us to help them with the basics; with a school with teachers who care; with a school to train midwives and nurses who can do much of what we are doing now, with microloans to expand their potential sources of income; with solar lighting; with clean water and decent food.
I really believe in what we are doing. I see the changes in the students in our high school program, the improved health in the children that receive the KAH food and vitamins, the hopeful expressions in the community leaders, the gradual change in many women to consider limiting their family sizes. The community leaders have worked with us over this last 3 years to come up with a plan. There is land that we can buy very cheaply and the people are so eager to do what they can to help us construct a school, expanded clinic and Community Center. To do this in a meaningful way and to employ the people we need will take an enormous amount of talent, wisdom, insight and yes, money. Somehow, God has always provided everything we have needed. So I'm ending this trip blog with, yes, a plea that each of you will consider how you might be able to share whatever riches God has given you with these people. While this is only one small area of great need, it is the one that God has put in our path.
Hope is a path on the mountainside.
At first there is no path.
But then there are people passing that way.
And there is a path."
How do you begin to put someone's mind in a place and time that is so foreign to them in just a few words? As I reflect on all the events, thoughts, triumphs, defeats of the last couple of days, I remember that the highlight for me today was when LeighAnn read us a beautiful bible passage that put so many of my thoughts into focus. As she had watched the exuming of the body of the man who was brutally murdered in that tranquil Guatemalan aldea in 1982 and the truth of what had occurred was being "unearthed" she was thinking of a bible verse that was so applicable.
John 3: 19-21 "This is the verdict; Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."
The little bit of the story of these men's deaths that I know was that one was protecting the other from being found and for that, they were both murdered. I interviewed his wife and she so innocently said that she had no idea why there even was a war. She doesn't know which side killed her beloved but she wept as she talked about the beautiful Guatemala she knew as a child and how it had all been destroyed by that war.
Yet, as the body was very slowly and reverently exumed, it seemed to us that yes, the light was being exposed as it should have been in God's good time. I watched the great hope in the faces of the young men who were doing the work. As they heard all the stories and realized how much their own parents were involved, they seemed to display a hope I hadn't seen before; a hope that will ultimately achieve the goal of our organization which is to no longer be needed there! One of the men who was killed had willingly risked his life for another doing what he knew was right in the eyes of God and man and now his goodness was being revealed to other generations and other nations for their greater good.
It was indeed a momentous day for Pueblo Nuevo. The level of hope and dreams has indeed skyrocketed to a level I could have never imagined. Yesterday, their school director once again locked them out of their own school where they have been having after school enrichment programs for the children and adult education. Our education team this week had great plans for evaluating the young children in order to learn best how to help them.
When the community realized that this had happened again, they decided to make a formal community protest. All the villagers gathered around the lock and Jose took a lock cutter and in a grand manner broke the lock. Massive applause from the crowd!! They had not been able to get to the Human Rights Commission yet because of the holiday and now because of an even more exciting event in their community which I'll describe below. So I took movies of the whole event. Jose gave a powerful speech and the children cheered. So then Orfe called the big newspaper here, the Prensa Libra and they were very interested. They sent a team out, interviewed the leaders and Orfe and took our videos. It should be in the newspaper tomorrow! They will also be going to the Human Rights Commission tomorrow.
Even more momentous was that one of the men from the community who died in the Civil War in 1982 had his body exumed today by an organization fighting to return these bodies to their rightful graves. It was incredibly professional and beautifully done. They sent 2 archaologists, 2 forensic scientists, a psychologist (to help the family get through this) and 8 police to keep the crowd under control. There were canopy tents and food for all! Deena and I were invited into the area of the actual burial site with the closest of the family members whom we know well. It felt like we were entering a sacred sight. We interviewed the wife of the man and his son and hope to use this short film to describe to anyone who will listen what it was like to suffer through 28 years of torture for something that no one even understood. Their stories were indeed shocking.
All this in the midst of our usual clinic and now an outstanding growth in our child education program. The clinic was filled with the usual stories that would break your heart but it was a joy to hear the children laughing outside as LeighAnn and Sara came up with the coolest ways to measure their abilities while just having fun with them. In the most intriguing ways, LeighAnn was somehow able to quickly get these children involved and excited about all kinds of concepts - even the parents were showing extreme interest! Leigh Ann has so many great ideas for the future.
Laura jumped right in with interviewing patients and getting very complete histories. She was even starting to do OB ultrasounds by the end of the day. Then she snuck off and had the great fun of teaching the children ballet. There was great enthusiasm!! Jessi has branched out to glucose and hematocrit testing as well as blood pressure screening. He is outstanding and we are all vying to have him live with us!!
Deena is making connections everywhere as always. She is always the one who gets us in the door and makes the greatest collaborations. She's arranged for a woman who will be teaching the women how to loom so they can make the typical woven gifts that we often buy.
We also had the idea today of extending the distribution of the KAH food today to the young preschoolers and the pregnant and breastfeeding moms. We're working through the leaders in the communities
Well, I wish I had the fortitude to make this "blog" worthy of what actually went on today but that will have to come later. For now, off to bed....have to leave at 6:30 in the morn - large group of women coming on a chicken bus in the morning!!
With the best of intentions, it's hard to keep up with this communication. Sometimes I wonder if I write these things for myself and then I get some responses from many of you that make me realize how many of you have the deepest parts of your souls here.
I was feeling a little headachy and nauseated yesterday and then last night I got the full blown fever/diarrhea/feel like you're going-to-die thing. I crawled out of bed, took a cipro and by this morning, I'm well on the way again. I only mention this because it so strongly reminded me of how it must feel to really get sick, have no idea what's wrong with you and then have no where to turn; no medical workers, no meds, "no nada" as they say. I can't remember the last time I got sick at home but here, it's so easy. Despite all our precautions, there is so much filth and disease. What always amazes me most, is that these people are able to live at all - as Americans, our bodies are pretty shielded from the dangers of the microbial underworld!!
Well....mi esposo is safely back in the U.S. and now Laura, LeighAnn and Sara are here with all their enthusiasm and fresh faces! Saturday night, we went to the airport here in Flores to send Randy on his way to Guatemala City only to find out that they cancelled the flight due to rain. Randy's flight back to the U.S. was early the next morning which meant he would potentially miss that flight but the biggest problem was that that meant that Laura was stranded in Guatemala City! My maternal instincts flew to the surface and all I could think of was my baby wandering around helplessly being attacked by some unknown threat! Somehow, I frequently fail to remember that she is 21, almost finished college and has traveled all around the world without a hitch! Within minutes, she somehow got to a phone and reassured us that all was well and they were going to a hotel. Turned out that TACA airlines initially told them that they would have to fend for themselves but once a few vocal Americans cried foul, they were put up in a top-notch hotel with the best of accomodations. She arrived safely Sunday morning and LeighAnn and Sara came last night with only a little delay.
"Surreal" is about the only word I can use to describe the day at the beach with Flori and her 2 children yesterday. As we made the 5 hour drive, little Joselina mostly slept in my lap and Laura entertained William. Flori appeared so pale and I can see she is becoming more jaundiced each day. She doesn't look sad as much as dazed. Though we all know that day of reckoning will surely come one day, it's hard to imagine knowing that it's staring you in the face. I can barely look at her without my eyes welling up. I have come up with quick little chats with myself to send the tears back down their ducts as I know that those kind of displays of emotion will only make the situation worse right now. (Actually, I having to have one of those chats right now because the tears are making it hard to see....) I often wonder why God put Flori in our lives - she has this peculiar aura around her that somehow just exudes peace. When she smiles and especially when she laughs, it just fills you with this beautiful sense of all that is good with the world. The dignity that she has displayed through all this has been so inspiring.
When she got in the bus, she gave me a warm hug and said "Doctora, tengo una pregunta. En mi condicion, es normal tener sangre en su popo, si?" (I have a question. In my condition, is it normal to have blood in your stool?) Of course, my immediate sense was what a terrible sign this was and you know that at home, we'd be rushing for help, but I reassured her that it was very normal. So she smiled and seemed very content that this was just part of the process.
She laid down throughout the trip without complaint and when we arrived, she sat right up and beamed when she heard that this was indeed the "mar". Honestly, it was not at all one of those beaches we have all basked in; no sandy beach, no waves. Ismael offered to drive another 30 minutes so we could go somewhere more beautiful but Flori insisted that this was beautiful and all that she needed to see. In reality, it turned out to be an incredible time. William and Joselina laughed and played, searching for tiny seashells and Ismael taught them to "skip" stones in the water. Flori sat peacefully and gazed at the water and even the dirty beach with a wistful gaze. We stayed about an hour and a half and then took the long drive back watching the movies we made on the beach and telling stories. As we dropped her off at her home, I struggled to hold back my tears wondering if I'd even get to see her again this week.
Well, we're off again - mor
Bus is waiting - not enough time to write the book that needs to be written! Things are awesome. Yesterday, was a govt holiday so the leaders can't go to the human rights commission until Monday. But they are indeed fired up! They ignored Concepcion and went into the school and set up a whole kitchen area to prepare food for the preschoolers. It is well organized; clean and they are so proud.
The farm co-op is incredible - over an acre of the finest tomatoes you'll see!
We've picked out land for the community center; the owner is giving us an incredible price.
We once again heard many tragic stories in the clinic yesterday that continue to give us the courage to continue the work.
In the midst of a biopsy on a man whom I suspect has some type of skin cancer, I had to get a piece of equipment and my heart almost stopped when I saw Flori lying in the other room. To say that seeing her decline was shocking surely doesn't describe my feeling. We talked and wept for a long time; much to tell. When I asked her if there was anything she wanted, she said that she's always dreamed of seeing the ocean and running her hands through the sand so we're headed there tomorrow.
She was in agony when she arrived ( a 3 hour bus trip!) but was so much better when she received the morphine we brought - it was really a blessing to see the relief on her face.
Randy is going strong campaigning for clean water and solar lights. The demand is growing and people are even stopping us in other villages as we drive toward the main road.
Randy had a geography lesson with the leaders yesterday - their enthusiasm was reminiscent of children at Christmas!.
Deena is of course everything to everyone; this trip would not be what it is without her. Everywhere she becomes everyone's best friend and she has an incredible gift of persuasion!
Oh, yes, the fish farm is unbelievable. I'll send pics later!
Love you and miss you all!
As the story unfolded today, I wondered how I would explain it given that it seemed like such a far-fetched tale from a tele-novella!
Up at 5:30 with the greatest of intentions of being "on-time", there was too much to do as always. Sending the final documentation for Jessi's visa has been a challenge (why was it so easy in the U.S??), getting the new clinic equipment that came on the container loaded up on the van, looking for buckets for the water filters (how can finding a decent bucket be so hard??), etc, etc. I'm constantly reminded of how difficult it is to do the simplest things here. Yes, they have some technologies but they function so inconsistently and haphazardly.
Anyway, as we finally drove up to Pueblo Nuevo around noon, we saw our infamous "maestro" speeding off on his moto. And so the story unfolds....
As I mentioned in the last blog, Deena and I had had a lengthy meeting with the women 2 days ago. As she and I both have great dreams of inspiring these women to stand up for what they know is right, we laid it on!! While we were't sure if anyone was getting anything that we were saying, we kept blabbly about not only women's rights, but human rights. We pronounced that a right to education is in the Guatemala constitution - not just in the U.S. We reminded them that their children were being denied the KAH food every day that the school director failed to show up (which is more than half the time). Perhaps we made the biggest impact when we explained that their children's brains were being denied capacity for full development because of starvation at very young ages. At one point, I just asked "So are your little children ever hungry??" Their heads quickly snapped up as they looked at each other and quickly responded "all the time". They began almost crying that they have tried to get the school to give the food to the preschool children but they were told they could only have 12 bags per day and when there were leftovers, the teachers decided who would get it. Deena and I were incredulous. We reminded them that the teachers have nothing to do with this program and we have always wanted their youngest children to receive it. At this point, we noticed a lot of whispering amongst them. We then brought up the issues of the filthy water. I hesitated to say this but since we haven't always gotten the greatest participation in our public health efforts but I thought "Why not"? In my very broken Spanish, I said:
"Do you know what I hear in this clinic from many, many women????? I hear that your children are dying. And I hear you explaining to me that the reason is because God wants it; that God wants another angel with Him, that it is an act of the Almighty. Sometimes He causes an eclipse or an act of nature that is the cause." Deena reminded them that she often hears it is because of the "evil eye". Almost in tears, I said "It isn't true!!! God doesn't want this! They are dying because the water is filthy, because you don't have enough to eat, because you are being denied the most basic of health care! While I surely noticed some glances and a few women appeared to be considering this, I surely thought our little sermons were going on deaf ears. We asked them why they don't stand up when the teachers not only fail to come to school but fail to teach the material that is required not by us, but by the Guatemalan government. The parents have already heard from their high school students that they are struggling to keep up with children from better off villages.
While the women were becoming fairly more animated, little did we realize that they were hanging on all our words!! We had no idea that they actually came together after the meeting with a plan for change. On Thursday morning, they actually got up at 4AM and went to the school to prepare an area to cook and prepare the food for the preschoolers. They next thing they knew, Concepcion (our problem school director) arrived and yelled at them to get out and they had no right to be there. As they really didn't know their rights, they did leave but quickly turned to the male community leaders for help. Of course, their husbands were as angry as they were so they sent Jose (in his 60's), the "chief" of the community, and Mario, their upcoming leader (in his 20's) to the school to carry on with the preparation to do the same work!! At this point, Concepcion demanded that they leave and when they angrily told them this was THEIR school and not his, he went "loco"!! He actually left and locked the fence so they couldn't get out!!!! Apparently, unbeknownst to the community, he had changed the locks so no one could get them out!!! Both had to to actually climb this high fence!! You would have to see Jose to picture the absurdity of this!!
Well.....that was indeed the final straw!! In all of our past meetings with the leaders, we had talked ad nauseum about the need for teachers who actually come to school and who care. The community had previously gone to the Ministry of Education asking for replacements but were denied. Well now they are not going to take no for an answer. They had emgency meetings of COCODE (the formal structure for their local government) and have big plans for Friday morning. Seven of them (including one women who is the local midwife) are going to the office of the International Human Rights Commission. They will then have a representative from there travel with them to the Ministry of Education where they will make a formal complaint that they have been denied their rights!! If they don't get what they want, they are planning to call the newspapers! I wish you could all hear Ismael! He laughed when I told him last night that it's good his skin is brown or else it would be awfully red!!
As we drove home on the bus last night and heard all the details of this, I know that we all felt very mixed emotions including great joy and a little fear of what will happen next. For myself, this has been the greatest breakthrough I have seen yet. Yes, there have been many, many stories where the work we have all done has had remarkable results but to watch a previously desolate, desperate and apathetic community rise to this kind of action is the greatest hope for change that I have witnessed in all these years here. As the truck jostled along the bumpy stone road, I thought about you all; about those of you who have so generously contributed, who have believed in this effort. Some of you have spent an inordinate amount of time arranging food packing events, hauling boxes, working on accounting, coming to meetings, dreaming dreams, using your God given talents for something that has often been discouraging. I quietly thanked God for the great voice and vision of Deena that I know was largely responsible for inciting these women to action. I thanked Him for my ingenious husband who quietly works for all that is good and who stays awake at night wondering how he can find meaningful ways to make the lives of these people better.
I wish you could all be here to feel this palpable hope.
Oh, and on a little more mundane note. Yes, the water filters are being bought!! The solar lights are a huge success and the children are treasuring the books!
Please pray for safety today and that these people are not disappointed as they take this great step.