In my phone calls home on Christmas, I talked with my nephew Kevin. He had only one question: Did Santa make it to Guatemala? More importantly, Jesus definitely renewed his presence among us!
This is my first Christmas here, and I am not sure of the difference between tradition and random events. I would say that Christmas was an evening event somewhat like New Year's Eve back home. Once it was dark, streets closed to traffic, all churches were in session, fiestas and fireworks abounded late into the night and early morning! We were invited to share the evening with the family of the teachers in Purushila. It was an outdoor event under the metal roof of their newly constructed open pavilion. We arrived after 9:30 pm. The evening was a family celebration with all members able to share Christmas greetings and blessing with the whole family, pinata, family games, a nice meal and fireworks. To show how well respected Ismael is among the group, he was asked to lead the family in prayer at the beginning of the evening. We arrived back in San Benito at 1:30 am.
On Christmas morning everything was quiet. We went to the home in Santa Ana for a quiet morning. We ate tomales, A Christmas traditional meal that Orfe and actually most women, spent all day making on Christmas eve. To our surprise we saw Ismael's mother walking toward the house down the middle of the rocky backroad. She had taken a tuk-tuk and spent much of the day with us. In the afternoon, Orfe's family members wandered over for visiting on the porch.
Spontaneously, the group decided that we would all go to "the beach"! So two vehicles full of 21 people drove to San Jose which borders the same lake that we see in Flores. This beach was without sand and one had to descend steep steps to get into the water. Some enjoyed a swim and we ate a picnic of tamales and pizza and watermelon. The whole family, including Orfe's mom, played soccer in the dark, and then we all stopped for ice cream at Pollo Campero which was my Christmas present to the family. In our van we played a question game with various people yelling out questions and groups of people answering. This game was led by Orfe's mom. My favorite answer came from Francisco, a six-year old who was wedged in the front seat next to the driver. To the question, "Who were the three kings in the Christmas story?" he quickly responded for all to hear: Hanssel, Jesse and Franklin! We laughed and laughed. At one point, we had multiple photos taken of family members each trying to outdo the others in beauty in the shots.
But little did I know that the night was still young. Again, spontaneously, we decided that we would spend the night in Santa Ana, our first night there. It didn't matter that we had no working electricity (the wires are in place but we have not connected to the main line) or toilet facilities. And the family decided to have a sleep over on the porch of the house in Santa Ana. So, Orfe's mom had the hammock, her two sisters and a brother along with his wife and the boys and 6 other children spralled out on thin matresses on the cement porch after a bonfire with marshmallows and again lots of laughter. Everyone slept in their clothes, and it was actually a cold night in Guatemala so blankets were everywhere. It was a testimony to the wonderful family spirit of Christmas!
Few gifts were exchanged. The most presents that I saw either purhcased or given were for the exchange that took place at the party with the family in Purushila where everyone brought and exchanged a gift. Jesse and Franklin had brought back a few gifts for the family from the States, but overall it was not a day spent on expensive gifts. I received a lovely embroidered pillow cover from Orfe's mom who calls me "Hija" and whom I call "Mom" and one of her sisters gave me a coconut candy bar. Orfe looked out at the chickens in the yard and declared that the fat gray and white chicken was now mine! So, I need to figure out how to take care of Mis Gallina! Very, very simple. Several houses have small lights, and I saw a few small and simple Christmas trees in windows, but not many. I never saw a Christmas tree farm, and I believe that any tree I did happen to see was artificial. We had a few strings of lights at the house which delighted Anita. Stores had Christmas songs playing and some decor and sales, but much less hype than we would find in the USA.
So, did Santa stop in Guatemala? He did. He delivered a very simple and family oriented Christmas Day!
My hope and prayer is that each of you may feel the presences of Jesus in your hearts and in your families!
It has been a week now since departing Guatemala. It feels like 12 weeks. I found myself daily explaining the trip to patients and friends. Their typical reply would be that’s so great that you did that. I feel embarrassed at these compliments, for I left so enriched and have so many unanswered questions. Did I go for the “right” reasons? Did I provide good care for the patient’s needs? Did I give them answers they could understand and utilize? Will their needs worsen? Why do they have such poverty? Will this change in their generation or the next? What can I do to make a difference in such a society with political tethering throughout its past and recent history? As coach Wooden said, “Little things make big things happen”
God blessed me with a gift of Gladys who appeared in my office and connected my desire to do a medical mission with my daughter. This timely encounter resulted in leaving December 2nd with the following team members: Coral, Ed, Gary, Gladys, Ginny, Dennis, Dave, Pat and my daughter McKenzie. We were greeted with open arms by the SewHope home team Ismael, Orfelinda, Hanssel, Anita and Sr Pam. The details of the daily activities are well covered in Sr Pam’s blog. I had been on other missions in the past, these being mostly surgically oriented. My team members and I were not quite sure what my role would be as a podiatrist. Within minutes of our first day my niche began to evolve as I found plenty of overuse extremity pain, wounds from spina bifida and diabetes, congenital deformities requiring bracing, casting and splints, and a unusual amount of drop foot from CVA, seizure disorders, and a plethora of other limb disease. After full days of providing care we would finish up on the roof of our hotel and give testimony, some scripture, and prayer. This was the catalyst to an amazing bond of our team. Each member had a special talent that allowed us to serve the mission. I am eternally grateful for the week, and on a selfish note, my daughter McKenzie has been enriched in a very positive way.
Some of the most impactful memories I returned with were: 1. Coral explaining to the boy and his mother the reality of his muscular dystrophy and its course. 2. Gary’s informative insight on Guatemalan family dynamics and God’s “coincidences.’” 3. Sharing a treatment room with Dave and relying on Gladys for translation of two patients at a time!
The work we performed was brief, and a very small contribution. The many years of dedication by Anne, Coral, Gary, and many others throughout the years complimented by the faithful loving home team of Ismael, his family, and Sr Pam will for certain make a difference. I am thankful for being allowed the opportunity to serve, and look forward to future participation.
Dr. John Lane is a podiatrist serving patients in Toledo and Maumee. His daughter McKenzie is a senior at Bedford High School. If you have a medical specialty and have a desire to serve the mission of SewHope, please contact Dr. Anne Ruch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SewHope is attempting to establish two centers in Santa Ana to demonstrate organic farming and other health promotion projects. One center will be at the clinic in Santa Ana and the other at the house of Ismael and Orfe in Santa Ana. Children and adults from other communities where SewHope has a presence will be able to visit to see the work in action, to ask questions, and to seek advice and assistance.
Today, we welcomed Pastor Martin and his wife and three of his five children to the house in Santa Ana. This family is from La Libertad. Ismael explained to them in detail about how we planted the gardens, showed them the growing gardens, and explained why and how he plants differently than some others. SewHope will be assisting Pastor Martin and some of his parishes with the gardens and promotion of the tippy taps, stoves, solar lights, and water filters. Pastor Martin got to meet the children of the youth group and to see them at work in the garden.
SewHope met Pastor Martin because we use his facilities to store our KAH food. Pastor Martin became interested in the KAH food, and we shared some with his communities. He was also able to see Orfe at work with her agricultural project in Mango two years ago. Unfortunately, his own attempts at gardening have not been successful perhaps due to not preparing the soil. So, he came to learn more about the hows and whys of gardening carrots and celantro and other vegetables. This is exactly what SewHope was hoping for!
Many things are cycled here. The organic waste from food preparation or food spoilage is fed to the ducks, geese, turkeys or dogs. Their waste is used as fertilizer in the garden. We collect and eat the eggs from the ducks and chickens for breakfast. Today for lunch we had soup made from a plant in the garden, and we are killing a chicken to eat for supper. The corn grown on the land is used to feed the chidkens, ducks, turkeys and us when we turn it into tortillas. The dried corn stalks are used as kindling for the outdoor stove. I am hoping to be able to find the ingredients to make our own laundry soap which will be more environmentally friendly than what is currently purchased and used. We have reduced our need to purchase clean water as we are using the same water filter that we are promoting. We have only just begun. Today we sold our first all assembled water filter complete with two buckets as well as a solar light! We are also using the outdoor fuel efficient stove purchased from Rudy and Living to Serve.
Ismael is a marvelous teacher. Before the children do anything, he makes a great effort to explain in detail what we will be doing, how we will do it, and why we are doing it this way. He talks about how much it will cost so that they do not believe the myth that it is too expensive. Ismael demonstrates to the children how to complete a specific task and then they take over. Each child gets at least one turn. They love to participate. Today we succeeded in watering the soil and planting two of our raised gardens. In one we planted carrots and in the other cilantro.
I learned much about our good God as I watched the children working today in the garden. Nothing was done randomly; ALL was done with GREAT CARE. To watch them meticulously draw a line for planting in a row and to carefully and slowly just put a bit of earth on top of the seeds. I was reminded of how much our God cares for each one of us with such tenderness. Just because it is a big garden or because there are lots and lots of people on earth, does not mean that each seed is tended with any less than total love and care.
Guatemala is a country of 15 million people, of which 38% are under 15 years
old. In this young country, we have no problem finding pediatric patients for
our medical group to see. When I return from a mission trip, I am often asked
what I do there and what kind of patients I see. Many are the special children
highlighted in other blogs. But we also see many other patients not featured and those are the patients that I would like to discuss.
There are primarily three settings in which we see patients. Most patients we see come to our clinic in a rented house in Santa Ana. We also usually make "jornadas," or day trips, to smaller villages where we use a school or house as the clinic for the day. These are always very busy days where we see children with even less access to care than in Santa Ana. Finally we make house-calls (yes, house-calls) to visit sick patients who are known to us who are unable to travel to visit us in the clinic. These are often the sickest patients, who we can better understand their needs by observing their living conditions.
Many of the children that we see are not "sick," but brought by their mother to have them checked by an American doctor. These "well" children are all short and thin due to malnutrition. Malnutrition makes them much more susceptible to infection from the germs so ubiquitous in their environment. Their skin is often covered with bug bites, scars from previous injury, frequently involving a machete, and may be infested with fungus or scabies. Their teeth are nearly always severely decayed. They have headaches from dehydration and stress. They complain of cough from colds, smoky houses, asthma or pneumonia. They have abdominal pain from various viral, bacterial and parasitic intestinal infections. Many show the effects of lack of prenatal care such as cerebral palsy, spinal bifida, and consequences of pre-term birth. The mental health issues are also profound due to family stress and violence, crime, and little hope for a better future.
We try to provide all of our patients with public health information to empower then to have some control of their health. We discuss clean drinking water by using filters, boiling water or adding bleach. We discuss proper nutrition, especially breastfeeding. We explain how good hand-washing and sanitation can reduce infectious disease. We encourage clean indoor air, vaccination, and injury prevention. We explain how improved nutrition and dental care may improve dental health. We plan to teach basic newborn infant resuscitation to ensure delivery by skilled birth attendants in a clean setting.
So what can we really do to help? Where do we even start? This is such an overwhelming problem, should we even try? If we were not trying to carry out God's mission, it would make little sense to attempt this. But with Jesus as our inspiration and the Holy Spirit within us, we can share our blessings and gifts with others, knowing that our work is just a part of God's plan. We can share our love and give hope to our friends in Guatemala, and show them that their lives have meaning.
But are we able to actually make a difference? How can a small group of people from Toledo, with their friends, really do anything significant? Margaret Meade once said: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. I believe that Sewhope is such a group and it has been an honor and privilege to work with this group.
Dr. Gary Collins is a pediatrician serving on the Sewhope board who would like to ease the suffering of Guatemalan children and help future generations escape the hopeless cycle of poverty and illness while sharing God's love. On several mission trips he has been accompanied by his daughter Kimberly who is in the final year of her pediatric residency.
Today we were in three teams. Once again there was a line at the Santa Ana clinic when the van pulled up at 8:30 am. All of our doctors and nurses and translators were on hand there today and they were busy until 5:30. Miguel, age 13, returned today with his parents. I am going to quote from an email of Dr. Coral Matus to tell you about Miguel and his family.
Another 13 yo boy was brought to the clinic by his aunt who is in town visiting the family. She has not seen him in about 2 years, but notices a major change in the way he walks. He thinks he has been slowly getting weaker in his legs for about 3 years. I watch him ambulate across the room and my heart sinks. It is the familiar gait of a muscle weakness disorder. I begin to ask more questions about the family, and they disclose that another brother, age 14, 'walks just like him now'. I explain that he likely has a disorder that is inherited in boys (x-linked muscular dystrophy or Duschenne's) and that often the weakness progresses to the point that they need a wheelchair. The aunt then says, "oh, his older brother (16) is in a wheelchair"! Although we did not have a lot to offer this sweet boy, Orfe vowed to be in touch with the family to see what sorts of things we could do to help support the family.
Dr. Coral was able to give him a walker from our storeroom. When leaning on it his gait is more sturdy.
The second team of Hanssel, Ed Matus and Dennis Daniels worked again on the stucco at the Birthing Center in El Chal. Both continued to learn from their 14 and 17 year old teachers! Carlos, the leader of El Chal also joined in today. This time they were up on the scaffolding and found it to be a bit intimidating. It is good for the Guatemalans and Americans to build relationships and to work together. Good friendships are forming. When Dennis and Ed returned to the clinic, they were back to repairs. This time a stroller and a sewing machine were in need of repair. Once again, they succeeded!
The third team of Ismael and me were doing some odds and ends of great importance. We drove to La Libertad to meet with the man who was to build the roof and the window grates for the Birthing Center. We agreed that he would only complete the windows as he is having difficulty getting the materials for the roof. This means that Ismael will need to find another person to work on the roof. This metal worker also repaired a wheeled device for our friend Genesis. Genesis' mother picked up the chair today. We sent along a simple dress and some material for the mother to make some padding for the chair. We also assisted as Rudy put together the outdoor fuel-efficient stove with a stove pipe at the house in Santa Ana.
In the meantime, the young women of Orfe's youth group were on the porch sewing bags for the team to purchase and to take back for the LEAP 2013 event. Now that Ed has fixed the sewing machine, we have three working machines! The young women showed great dedication in completing this project. We hope to move this to the microfinance level at some point. In addition, Rudy will see if he can follow up with the young child pictured below. We had some famous people in the clinic today...Ismael's family!
Today we all started at the clinic in Santa Ana and then split into three groups as the day progressed. It was an incredible day!
Orfe, Pat and Dave Mallory, Coral, Rudy, Gladys and Ginny spent the entire day at the clinic in Santa Ana. Business there was booming all day long! Before leaving with another group, Dr. John Lane and Dr. Gary Collins saw several patients with special needs including some who attended the last clinic.
Dennis Daniels, Ed Matus and Hanssel worked at the Birthing Center in El Chal. The 14 year old boy who has been working on the stucco on the building showed both of these men how to do this job. Then he stood back and watched them in action and gave advice. Dennis and Ed loved it! Rain didn't stop the work. The rain started, a tarp went up and the work continued.
The remaining members of the team, Sr. Pam, McKenzie, Dr. John Lane, Dr. Gary Collins and Ismael made house calls. It was clear that we were visiting the poorest of the poor. These were persons with disabling diseases who had few resources. In most cases, the doctors could not cure the illness, but were able to assess pain, give medications, and offer better means to enable independence. Most of all, we brought along loving care and the message that they are loved by a good God. Dr. John Lane, who has done mission work in the Philippines, commented that he felt that the people here in the Peten were more poor in that he found greater depression in the people.
Our firwst stops were to homes in El Chal. Here a 4 month old boy has feet that are twisting inward. If not corrected, it is possible that we would be a "toe walker". Dr. John Lane taught the family how to do daily therapy on the child's feet and assisted them as they practiced the movements. Dr. John was also able to make some casts that could be put on at night time. Our hope is that by the time the little fellow walks, his feet will naturally correct themselves.
Still in El Chal and with Cataliina, we climbed a bit of a hill in the slick mud to meet a woman who seems to have suffered a stroke or seizure leaving her right side damaged. You cannot see it in the following pictures, but her right hand hangs down and she drags her right foot while walking. Though the damage is permanent, Dr. John Lane fitted her with a foot brace that will give her a bit more stabiility and prevent further damage to her foot. She is the grandmother of the baby on her lap. Her daughter went off with a man and left the baby behind. In the picture with Catalina, you will see a sheet of metal that semi-covers a deep open well, the water source, which is a concern with a toddler. The woman told us that with the new government in power, she was eliminated from the meager monies she had received. Hopefully, our visit and prayer with her told her that someone cares.
The woman above told us about the family below. Catalina was able to find the home and we visited. Three of the many children have some form of Cerebral Palsy. Jose in the wheelchair has the most severe degeneration. Myrna in the orange sweater has a right side that is in some stage of paralysis. Their sister has the form of the disease that leaves the foot disfigured. Again, the doctors could not heal their diseases. We believe it is God's blessing that none of the three experience crdonic pain. Jose asked if we might be able to do something with his well-worn wheelchair. We hope to be able to follow through on this request. At the other side of the porch is the family of another brother. He looks much older than his years and suffers from back problems. His family here is removing the kernels from corn to sell in the market. Corn is in the hammock, the man beats the corn with a stick. The kernels fall to the floor and are scooped up and sifted through a screen. We all loved the members of this family and reminded them that God loved them, too.
This family told us that the man next door also needed help, so we went to his house. He seemed to have a hip and leg that would lock, as he described it, when the moon was full. It was clear that he was very stiff on one side while walking. Dr. John was able to give some pain medication. Dr. Gary served as an assistant and consultant to Dr. John as we visited these persons. Ismael was the faithful translator and prayer leader.
Next we visited the village of Juleque, a considerable distance from El Chal. There we met Jose and his mother. They met us half way at the home of another woman. The last team also visited with Jose, so we were meeting friends. Dr. Gary as well as Dr. Dave Mallory have worked with Jose on previous visits as well. Jose is 10 and has a twin sister who is standing next to him in the pink shirt in one of the pictures below. Jose has a good set of braces that serve him very well. Unfortunately, they are now three years old, and Jose is growing Dr. Lane was able to take measurements of the feet and was able to make casts of both feet in order to provide a
We met many animal friends along the way. Two are pictured below. This moth crawled onto Hanssel's shoe. There were five healthy cows on the road when we tried to leave Jose's house. Their faces clearly stated: " Like, you guys weren't planning on leavin', we're ya"?"
The day was one of the unbelievable days. I know that the people that we met along the way were the conversations around our dinner and faith sharing groups this evening.
You will also find tidbits of the adventures of this wonderful team in a blog written by Dr. Coral Matus, one of the leaders of the group. See www.sewhope.org.
Tuesday found us at the clinic in Santa Ana for much of the day. The medical team had several stations set up in the clinic in order to see men, women and children. Dennis and Ed spent much time trying to repair the generator...and succeeded! In the afternoon, several went out to see the progress on the Birthing Center in El Chal. Coral also got to see Catalina, the midwife who will run the Birthing Center....a grand reunion. Catalina then joined the group in the van, and she took us to the homes of several persons in the village who needed medical assistance. Some were encouraged to come to the clinic. We will return with Dr. John Lane tomorrow to some of the homes of persons needing assistance with bones or feet. View some of our blessed experiences in the pictures below.
On Sunday night, December 2, we welcomed a new team of 11 to the Peten. Great people! Great bonding....which always seems to be the case here. On Monday morning, we were off and running at an early hour! The family traveled from San Benito to Flores to pick up the team. Then we drove to Santa Ana to the clinic to unload the supplies that the team had brought and to pack supplies for a clinic in Purushila. With the truck and the van packed full, we met many people waiting for the doctors in Purushila. Once again, the lovely family allowed us to use the pre-school for this service. Once we had four stations set up at the school and a few intake stations outside, five of us headed to El Chal for work on the Birthing Center. The evening found us together again to share a meal and to create new bonds. Some of the blessings of the day are captured in pictures below.
On November 30, 2012, Orfe and I attended the graduation of 8 students from the Basico Telesecondary School in Purushila. In Guatemala, students attend Primary School for grades 1-6 and then Secondary School for six years, three years in Basico and then another three years where the students diversify into various fields and study them specifically. These 8 students graduated from Basico with a diploma. They each plan to continue their studies by working during the week and attending classes on the weekends (that's the way this level of education is done here.) For additional information on the structure of education and educational goals and realities, see the following articles. http://www.avivara.org/aboutguatemala/educationinguatemala.html
This was a very special event for the students and their families in this small village. I found it most touching when the parents of the students were invited to give their son or daughter the diploma. Only mothers were present and came forward, though some of the fathers may have been outside the gates. (I am not sure why the men gathered there.) Many tears were shed in these moments, especially by the graduates. I am guessing that for several of the families, this is the highest that any family member has achieved in education.
One family in Purushila seems to be the educational promoters. The mother of this family, Erelia, earned her teaching degree at the age of 39 and started the preschool in Purushila. She and two of her daughters and a few other women continue to educate the youth in this school. This family sponsored a dinner for the graduates at a restaurant about 25 minutes from the village. It was a delicious and grand affair.
The ceremony was held outside at the preschool not at the Secondary School (not sure why). Several persons spoke to the graduates including Erelia.
At this event, I met the director of the Telesecondary School as well as the instructor of these students. I sort of invited myself to visit their facility once school resumes from vacation in January. I am eager to see what happens in this school and to try to continue to forge bonds of collaboration and cooperation. SewHope is eager to share computers with this school, but we are not yet satisfied with the level of cooperation between the director and SewHope. The pre-school does have a computer program with SewHope computers and Ismael has also taught computer classes to some adults in the village.
Meet the graduates!
Amarylis, age 17, wants to study to be a secretary. She also graduated from the preschool.
Widman, age 14, appears to be the progidy and wants to be a counting expert. He also graduated from the preschool.
Josselyn, age 15, wants to study administration. Josselyn is the oldest child of Felicita, one of the health promoters in the village. Josselyn helps her mother to feed the children of the village Kids Against Hunger food twice a week at her home. Josselyn also graduated from the preschool.
Wilson, age 19, wants to study administration. He also graduated from the preschool.
Leticia, age 17, wants to be a preschool teacher.
Gregorio, age 19, wants to study administration.
Mario, age 16, wants to study administration. He attended the preschool.
Leticia, age 21, wants to study business administration. Leticia has an infant son. Her family, teachers and classmates encouraged her to complete her studies and will help to support her as she continues her education. She also graduated from the preschool.
Sr. Pam Buganski
Sr. Pam joined SewHope as our first American Project Coordinator in 2012