My trip to Guatemala was my first trip to a developing country and my first global health opportunity. It has been something I have wanted to do for a long time, and I feel that God placed SewHope into my path at just the right time. I have developed such a strong passion for women’s health. When I read about SewHope and their work here in Guatemala, I knew instantly that I wanted to get involved. My time here in this beautiful country has far exceeded my expectations and has left an impression on my heart that I will carry with me always.
I got the privilege to be part of the first group to stay in the beautiful hostel right on the grounds where the SewHope clinic is. I was filled with so much peace on the first morning, waking up and watching the sun rise over the grounds. As time went on, this became routine for me --watching the sun rise in the mornings, and set over the land in the evenings as I reflected on the day. The first few days of clinic we saw follow-up patients whom had an abnormal pathology on their pap smears. Many women returned for further examination, biopsies, or treatment with cryotherapy or LEEP, likely preventing some of them from later developing cervical cancer. Unfortunately, we did have a few women whom were diagnosed with cervical cancer, which served as a reminder of the importance of continuing this work and expanding outreach to more Guatemalan women.
When we went out into the villages, I got an eye opening experience to what life in Guatemala was truly like. I think the most impactful for me was going into the village of Santa Amelia. We traveled along a bumpy dirt road for over 2 ½ hours to reach the village. It was an incredibly beautiful drive. The sun was shining as we took in the scenery of a beautiful green countryside full of rolling hills, flowers, palm trees and ranchers with their cattle. But I couldn’t help but think how hard it was for the people in the village to be so removed from everything. From fresh food, water, healthcare, etc. When we arrived into the village we were greeted by a large group of women. In total we did 99 pap smears that day. While there, we had lunch at a family’s house in the village. A young boy came on his bike and guided our van to their house. We were greeted by a man who was so happy to host us. He told us that they killed their chicken just for us that day! Dinner was served in a one room house, made from blocks and concrete. Inside the home were two cots, two hammocks above holding their small collection of belongings, and a large table to eat around. The home had no electricity, so we enjoyed lunch in the dim light that came through a single window cut out from the stone. For those who clearly had so little, their hospitality and warmth were abundant.
As we went into other villages, I saw the homes they were living in, and learned how so many families are getting by on just a few dollars a day. In one of these villages, we met with a group of women to arrange for them to come to the SewHope clinic for pap smears the next day. They expressed their desire to come later in the morning, as the municipality turns on the water every other day from 7-9am. Access to water every other day for two hours!!! It’s so hard for me to imagine, but this is the reality that they face every day.
Although this trip has been eye opening to me, it has filled me with so much hope that SewHope can continue to not only make strides in preventing cervical cancer, but also continue to impact and empower the surrounding communities. I think one of the biggest hopes lies in the children, to inspire them to work hard and to continue to learn and prosper. I was able to travel to Tikal National Park with a group of the kids from the school here at SewHope. I was really touched by their curiosity and strong desire to learn. We took a tour of the jungle and Mayan Ruins. The kids listened intently as our guide told the history of the Mayans and talked about different plants and animals we encountered. Many of them brought notebooks and took notes along the way, helping each other spell new words or fill in information they weren’t able to hear.
I will forever be thankful for this trip, the experiences I’ve gained, the lessons, and the people I have met along the way. Goodbye Guatemala. Until we meet again!