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."