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.
Sr. Pam Buganski
Sr. Pam joined SewHope as our first American Project Coordinator in 2012