Sr. Pamela Marie Buganski
“God is always talking to me when I am in Guatemala.”
Dr. Anne Ruch, foundress and president of SewHope, arrived a week ago and is working with a small team on jornadas or medical clinics. So far the team has spent 3 days in our clinic in Santa Ana, 1 day in La Libertad which is located about 45 minutes from us, 1 day in Sayaxche which is located about an hour from us, and 1 day in Poptun which is located about 75 minutes from us. You could picture our clinic as the hub of the wheel and the other villages as points on the circumference.
Then we took a trip to San Cristobal which is located about 5.5 hours south in the mountains. There is a hospital here where surgeries can be performed. That has been our dedication for these last two days.
All of these days have been devoted to health care for women.
The team consists of Dr. Anne, gynocologist; Dr. Holly Little, fourth year resident in gynocology; Dr. Lauren W, a second year resident in family medicine; Carmen, a Guatmalan nurse, and Orfe. It is the task of Orfe to intake the patients, Carmen assists Dr. Anne and Holly and Lauren. Carmen also serves as a translator for our patients who speak a traditional native language. Then there is Ismael who does all the lugging and driving and problem solving to keep the team going!
This is the first trip where the new patient records program in being used fully. The team has been able to have Orfe at the intake station on the program while the doctors in two separate rooms can also access the online files from their computers or ipads. The program works in English and Spanish. This has moved our medical team forward by leaps and bounds. Special thanks to our friend Jim Skon, professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University outside of Columbus, OH, who spent time here setting up the program for us.
Though sometimes I am present at the clinics, I am not involved in the medical aspects. I try to be a support to the team and to the patients and their families.
I spent time in the San Cristobal hospital with the family members who were waiting for the surgeries. And I visited other patients as well. I try to bring hope and comfort in my presence.
This is one year old Ferdinanda. Don't you just love her pigtails!! I told her that her pigtails looked like bunny ears. I called her my little bunny. Her mother and the other mothers in the room thought that this was hilarious! I know one verse of one song in Spanish and it happens to be about a bunny, so I sang the verse several times.
These two little guys were waiting with their mothers at the hospital. I had a pack of cookies. I would hold out a cookie at my side acting like I didn't know that I had this cookie and the little guys would run up to this American and grab the cookie and run back to their mothers who were smiling at the funny faces I was making at their children.
The husband a women waiting for surgery was not allowed to stay with his wife in the women's room. He even slept on the ground outside the hospital for the night. When it was time for his wife to go for surgery, I went outside and took his hand and led him to a place in the corridor where I knew the gurney would pass so that he could see her before the surgery.
It is the simple things that matter. I may never see any of these FRIENDS, but I know that we will meet again in a place called heaven and it is going to be a great family reunion!
This picture says it all for me. We are all children of one Father. We are all one human family. No matter how old we are, what color we are, how cool we are, how smart we are, how great we are at sports....or NOT....we are all God's children. Praying together for one another is the greatest act of solidarity that we can do.
God created all forms of life. One form of life helps other forms to live and grow. The Creation Story reminds us that God is the Creator. Paying attention to and nurturing the plants and animals, we show respect for all of God's good gifts.
Some of God's creatures that I have met here in Guatemala, I have never met in the USA. I have had many new experiences with animals and plants.
On one of my first visits to the kindergarten, I noticed that there was a bee's nest attached to the front door of a classroom. I walked past with trepidation. Ismael reassured me that the bees were a source of good luck and that since the bees knew everyone, they would not sting!
A donor's gift allowed about 50 chidren from Santa Ana to visit a nearby small outdoor zoo. Some of the pictures below show some animals.
We can easily summarize this teaching with the phrase: Put the needs of the poor FIRST. Jesus tells us that, in the kingdom of heaven, the last shall be first. Think of how much better a place our world would be, our school would be, if we lived by this principle. We would not have to wait for heaven.....we would experience heaven right here on earth! I think that is what Jesus wants.
Sometimes we think that it is enough to give the poor our leftovers. Jesus tells us that the poor are to get the first servings, the best things, and WE are to be satisfied with whatever is left. Think of when Jesus fed the multitude of people with five loaves and two fishes. There were LOTS of leftovers. We just have to believe.
I recently visited a clinic where the poor are put first. It is an eye clinic and hospital for the poor. It is a wonderful and adequate facility. The staff are respectful of each person seeking assistance. I saw so much loving care especially for the very old and the very young. There is a program there that provides free eye consultations, glasses and surgeries for children 15 years of age and younger. The poor who are older also receive excellent and respectful service, but they pay a little bit. I think that the doctors and nurses who work at this clinic must go home very happy every night knowing that they put the poor first all day.
Each year at your school, the school nurse tests your eyes to make sure that you can see the board and do your school work well. In Purushila, the children do not have a school nurse and no child has his or her eyes tested. Not one student in Purushila wears glasses. This year, SewHope provided an eye chart, and I tested the eyes of the students in the schools age six years and older, about 200 students. The conditions were far from ideal, but the hope was that if this simple test enabled us to suspect an eye problem, that we would be able to find further help for that child.
From the testing and additional recommendations from the teachers, five children with at least one of their parents visited the eye hospital about 45 minutes from Purushila. Ismael drove all of us in the van. All five of the students were tested just as you would be in an eye doctor's office in the USA. Orfe spoke with the doctor regarding the needs of each of the children. All five of them were given prescriptions for glasses. Two of the boys will return in a few months to be checked again and hopefully they will have surgery on their eyes to correct serious problems and blindness.
When the children went to be fitted for their glasses, the nurse took out a shoebox and tried on each pair in the box to see which one fit the child best. Someone had donated these frames. The child did not choose which frames he or she liked best. The child accepted whatever frames the nurse found most suitable. The frames will then be fitted with the prescription and we will return in about two weeks to pick them up.
If anyone can provide simple frames for children, we would give them to this eye hospital for the next children who need them.
My favorite thing of the whole experience was to see 14 year old Jose Luis smile all the way home!! It was my bit of heaven for the day!
I don't know how many adults and children still have eye problems in Purushila, but I do know that five of God's poorest children were given the gift of hope and sight today.
Below are some pictures of the hospital and the children.
SewHope is about offering the people of Guatemala opportunities to improve themselves and their situations. Many times we offer things that are basic rights of all persons, such as healthy food, education and clean water. Though SewHope may offer the opportunity, it is the responsibility of each parent or child or community member to act.
Working together with rights and responsibilities builds a sense of trust among people and communities. Bad situations occur when one person seems to have all the rights and the other all the responsibilities. It is about sharing and equal opportunity.
The scholarshop program offered by Lindsay and Alex Matus, freshmen at Central Catholic High School in Toledo, requires that the parents and students in the program meet with Ismael every month to report on their grades and progress. If parents and students repeatedly do not come to the meetings, they do not receive the scholarship money.
Children and parents in the kindergarten in Purushila are given the opportunity to have a bank account and to save for future education. In order to use this opportunity, coins needed to be added to the piggy bank each week. Employees of the bank come each month to take the money to the bank in Santa Ana.
SewHope brought a woman named Flori to the USA for cancer treatment. When Flori returned to Guatemala her cancer returned. She left behind two children. Dr. Anne Ruch and other persons of SewHope keep an eye out for her children who live in a very unfortunate situation. We take some responsibility for the children's needs.
Ismael is working with a group of people in El Chal to form a legal Association to operate the birthing center that is being built there. This is a wonderful opportunity for the people to take leadership positions and to make decisions that affect the health of their community members.
This kindergarten in Purushila won the prize for being the BEST kindergarten in the Peten region of Guatemala. However, less than 40 students are sent to this school. There are LOTS more kids who could come. Through such things as providing computers to the school, we are hoping that more parents will send their young children to school.
Each of us has a right to participate. Each of us has a responsibility to share. What are some characteristics of a good student? A good team? What responsibilities do you have at home to help your family? At school to help your teacher and classmates?
Though personal health such as toothbrushing is really the responsibility of the parent, SewHope introduced toothbrushing to the children in the kindergarten because they have the right to good health. Hopefully, the children will take this practice home and have their brothers and sisters brush, too.
The people of Guatemala are different than I am. They speak a different language and have different traditions. Their cultural experiences allow them to think about things differently than I do. I have to be willing to let go of the way that I do things and think about things. I have to listen carefully to the people to try to understand why and how they approach life as they do. I cannot judge them harshly just because they are different. I cannot think that I am better than any of them are.
When SewHope works in Guatemala, we have to be careful that we are not trying to change the people to be more like us, more American. We must want them to be true to who they are and true to their culture and traditions. Our job is to try to give the Guatemalan people opportunities to become the best persons that they can be and to create change as they see it helping their communities.
Persons in Guatemala receive the best care that SewHope can give because each one is a child of God.
The truth is that each person no matter where they live or work is a child of God. For that reason alone they must have my love and respect.
Each of us has the responsibility to share our lives with our family and community. We develop and use our God-given gifts when we participate fully in the activities around us. Besides, isn't it more fun when we work and play together?
God does not want us to be lonely or alone. When was the last time you invited someone to help you or asked if you could help?
It seems that some of the poverty of the people here stems from the lack of work or from underemployment. Much of the work done here by adults to support their families would be considered demeaning work in the USA.
Though some have what we might consider to be more "normal" jobs such as being a teacher or working in a bank or a store, there are not enough such places to employ lots of people. There are two small malls about 30 minutes from me but that is about it in the entire northern region of Guatemala.
In Guatemala, an opportunity to work is an oppotunity to feed one's family. It is seen as a blessing of God. No one is whining about the kind of job they have. Persons hold their heads up high and do their work with pride no matter how small or simple a task it seems to be.
Another reason that adults do not have jobs is the lack of education. Maricruz attends class so that she can receive her 6th grade diploma. She is the mother of 4 and is a health promoter. I am proud of the 6 adults who want to learn more to help their families. Maricruz and her husband only received a education to the third grade.
Below are some examples of very, very common jobs for adults in the Peten.
Here a young man washes the truck that I drive. He did an exceptional job. This is a common job. It will take a person 30 minutes to wash a car inside and out by hand. The charge is about $2. I generally give a person more than that because I know that they are trying to support a family on this wage.
Perhaps you have set up a lemonade stand in your front yard for a nickel a glass. Can you imagine a grown woman doing this for a living? Every morning, this woman sets up shop in "her spot" on the corner and gives drinks to those who pass by and are thirsty because of the hot sun.
We use big lifts to put up billboards or now our billboards are electronic and we don't even have to go out in the hot sun to put them up. Generally, there is not a lot of big machinery here so men use their hands and in this case a ladder.
We would use a fork lift to move large amounts of lumber. Here, this man is moving heavy pieces of wood one piece at a time from one pile to another. I watched him for a long time and talked with him about his work. He was very precise in setting the wood down squarely and he worked without rest in the hot sun.
Not many cement mixers here. Cement is mixed by hand and moved by hand. A wheelbarrow is a very common tool of work here.
This man brought a table and some chairs that he made to a corner to try to sell them. The furniture is very well made and is very sturdy and durable. It is cheaper to try to sell your goods on the corner than to own a shop and have to pay rent.
This man is lucky enough to have an outdoor shop. His cupboards are in the background. Ismael bought twenty pieces of lumber at one place and then brought them here to have the surfaces cut straight by this man. No such thing as a one-stop shop for lumber and many things.
This motorized vehicle is called a tuk-tuk. It is a small taxi driven by a small engine. It might go 20 mph. You can fit a whole family in one of these and your groceries, too! This is a very common means of transportation. For longer distances some men drive a van and pick up people along the road. It is like bus service, but the distances are longer.
This man is walking with a small freezer on wheels. He sells ice-cream. He rings a bell. It is a cheap way to cool down. Some men have small carts on bicycles and sell fresh fruit or snow cones.
This woman stands at a busy street corner with a light and hopes to sell coconuts with coconut milk to the passing drivers. If you look closely you can see coconuts that she is going to sell hanging on the tree branches. People will also walk between cars to sell small snack or other items.
Chldren this age are responsible to bring the firewood to the family wood burning stove. Many times you see children or men on bicycles with loads of wood. They may have to make this trip two times a day. Usually it is a long walk or bike ride to wherever they can find skinny trees that don't belong to anyone. This is a daily chore, not a job.
Many women sell torillas from their front porches. Some happen to have a refrigerator and sell small bags of ice (at least when the electricity is working)! Some walk door to door and sell cheese that they have made.
Construction work is a very common job here. Carpentry, masonry, electricical work are all very important to the growth of housing and businesses.
SewHope is especially trying to work with young men and women who are pursuing their education. Here is Carmen (in blue) who is studying to be a nurse. She gets to learn new skills and practice her skills by helping us in the clinic. She also earns money to continue her education.
The women of El Cartucho make and sell shampoo. They use the fruits, leaves and herbs that they grow in their own yards and gardens. They walk door to door to sell their product. I use it, and it is good stuff!
I have never been to a burial in Guatemala, but I have seen funeral processions.
Generally, because of the heat of Guatemala, people are buried within 24 hours of their death. If someone dies in the hospital, the person may be carried home in a simple casket. The family will put the casket of their relative on their porch and set up a tent and plastic chairs and invite people to come to pay their respects.
The cemeteries are very decorated. Once a year, the families gather at the cemetery and have a picnic at the graves of their relatives. This special day is called The Day of the Dead. It is like the Catholic celebration of All Souls Day and takes place at the same time of year.
The deceased members of a family are very important to the Guatemalans.
About six times a year, doctors come here to Guatemala to visit the sick. Some doctors come to help the pregnant women. Some come to help the children. Some are able to work with anyone in a family. We even had a foot doctor come once!! Know any doctors or nurses who want to come for a week to help?
We have a small building that we rent in Santa Ana which is our clinic. We have some medical equipment and medicines there. The people will come early in the morning and wait all day to see the doctor.
We also travel to other villages to have medical clinics. Sometimes someone will let us use their house for the people to come to see a doctor. Sometimes a local clinic or hospital will let us use their space.
Sometimes people are too sick or can't come that far to see a doctor. Then the doctors make house calls. Even when the doctors go back to the USA, Orfe and I and the young people will continue to visit those that are sick and homebound.
Sr. Pam Buganski
Sr. Pam joined SewHope as our first American Project Coordinator in 2012