Sr. Pamela Marie Buganski
“God is always talking to me when I am in Guatemala.”
Orfelinda Martinez is a very special employee of SewHope. Orfe is married to Ismael and they have four children: Hanssel, Jessi, Franklin and Anita. Besides being a wife and mother, Orfe works side-by-side with Ismael in the villages where SewHope ministers. Orfe has also established a Youth Group. This group currently has about 35 members, ages 5 to 17, boys and girls. Generally, Orfe meets with the whole group 2 or 3 times per week. Lately, the entire group has been working on the gardening project in Sanat Ana. The kite project noted in an earlier blog was another creative endeavor of the group.
Seeing a special need among the young girls ages 12 to 17, Orfe meets with them separately at additional times. The group is called Luz de Esperanza. Recently, under Orfe's guidance, the group selected 6 leaders who are featured below.
Rosselyn, age 14, is the president of Luz de Esperanza. Rosselyn would like to study to be a teacher. Currently, Rosselyn is in the second (of three) levels in the school called Básico Cooperativa.
Marina, age 17, is the vice president of Luz de Esperanza. Marina would like to study to be a doctor. Currently, Marian is in the second level in the school called Nacional El Vocación Básico.
Erika, age 15, is the secretary of Luz de Esperanza. Erika would like to study Business Administration. Currently, Erika is in the third level of the school called Básico Cooperativa.
Flor, age 15, is the treasurer of Luz de Esperanza. Flor would like to study to be a doctor. Currently, Flor is in the third level of the school called Básico Cooperativa.
Aleyda, age 14, is the first member at large of Luz de Esperanza. Aleyda would like to study to be a nurse. Currently, Aleyda is in the second level of the school called Básico Cooperativa.
Andrea, age 13, is the second member at large of Luz de Esperanza. Andrea would like to study to be a licensed social worker. Currently, Andrea is in the second level of the school called Nacional El Vocación Básico.
I have had the privilege of watching these young women in action. I say watching because always there is great initiative from them. They are my teachers in this new world of Guatemala. They have helped with children and cooking and laundry and cleaning and shopping and gardening since they were small. Each young lady is charming and friendly. They work as a team and take turns naturally. I can see the leaders of tomorrow among them. Below are some pictures that show them in action.
Many other young ladies are part of Luz de Esperanza and contribute just as much. These young ladies participate willingly in every aspect of home and village life. And the group keeps growing. Just yesterday a mother approached Orfe as the group worked on sewing projects on the porch of the clinic in Santa Ana. She wanted to know if her three daughers could join the group.
We are very familiar with the understanding that the women are most likely to welcome change for the good of the family and the community. It is young women like these who will bring changes in sanitation, use of clean water, gardening and health. Seven of the eight Millennium Development Goals focus on women for this very reason. (Read the book Race Against Time by Stephen Lewis for some insight on the MDGs).
Friday was one of those days! You know, one of those where God actually lets you see God at work!!!!
Three significant events occurred.
First, Orfe and I join the women's march in Flores in honor of De Día Internacional Para la Eliminación de Violencia Contra La Mujer (International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women). The actual day is Sunday, November 25. This day was established in 1999 in the General Assembly of the United Nations. On two successive days, Orfe and I participated in events in honor of this day. On Friday, several women’s groups came together to participate as one body under the leadership of Red Department de Organizaciones de Mujeres de Peten. The women were well organized with signs, umbrellas (used as parasols) with logo, and response and information sheets that they passed out along the route of the march. Music and publicity as well as police and radio accompanied the group. In front of a municipal building in the central park of Flores where the march began, the women used their voices in two languages (Spanish and a Mayan language) to express three demands of leadership. Their slogan: Todas Las Mujeres…Todos Los Derechos (All Women, All Rights). They presented a leader with their signed petition. He finally came out of the building and gave some response to the women before they began marching. The march held up a fair amount of traffic especially as the group crossed the bridge connecting Santa Elena and Flores. I frequently see signs with the purpose of raising awareness of the violence against women. There is evidence of much hard work among women to raise awareness and to raise their voices for the violence to end.
(On Thursday, Orfe and I traveled to Nuevo Horizonte. Here a cooperative of women’s groups was established 7 years ago. Each year groups of women from the surrounding villages come for the day to sell their products, to encourage and support one another, to unite forces as a group, and to share ideas and commitments. This day was used as a preparation day for the march in Flores described above.)
Second, in the afternoon, Orfe's Youth Group came to Orfe’s house in Santa Ana and prepared a huge garden to be planted. I have to admit that I had my doubts that this was really going to happen. We had 30 “kids”, only a few tools, and ground that was hardened and full of rocks and well-rooted corn stalk stumps. I only had doubts until I saw the first 10 year old swing the heavy (made for a man) pick ax. Everyone participated by taking turns with the pick axes (one of Ismael’s and one brought by the kids), the three hoes (again some came with the kids), and, of course, their hands. We “tilled” twice as much land as we had anticipated in less than two hours. There was no whining. I saw nothing but complete joy and participation as well as lots of initiation from the children themselves. At the end of two hours, Ismael gave those children from needy families a bag of Kids Against Hunger food to take home. Ismael, Orfe and I were all participants in the work.
But this is not all. Before the kids started, Ismael talked with the group about what they were doing, how they were going to do it, and why they were doing it. This garden is very different from the corn and beans type of garden which some have. With corn and beans, you plant, wait, and pick. All depends on the rain. With this garden there is preparation of the soil, pulling of weeds, removing animals, watering when God does not send rain, etc. The children were so attentive. After the plowing, the group gathered in a circle and Orfe shared a bible study with the kids. Next, I was asked to teach a bit of English. Since the prior day had been Thanksgiving, I did my best to speak in Spanish about Thanksgiving Day and then we sang together in English one verse of the song Thank You, Lord. We ended with our hands joined in prayer. (Now you have to understand. We are in the village in Guatemala. Everything is done by hand. On Monday of this same week, the land that we tilled with the children on Friday was a corn field. On Wednesday and Thursday, Ismael hired a man to come and clear the corn and to chop down two trees…with a machete…)
Third, we all traveled to El Chal for a meeting with the men and women regarding the progress of the building of the Birthing Center. All of the past week, Ismael and two young boys had been the only ones on hand at the Birthing Center. Ismael completed the work of the water and sewer pipes while the two boys continued with spreading cement over the cement blocks on the inside and now outside of the building. While Ismael was working, a group of the women came to see him. They were discouraged that the men were not helping. So, a meeting was negotiated. On Friday evening at 5:00 a group of about 7 women including Catelina who is the midwife, and another woman who is a health promoter of the area, and four men, including the local elected leader Carlos who lives across the street, joined Ismael, Orfe and me in a circle where we stood for over an hour. Ismael led the group. He was a master teacher!! He began by thanking God for all that had been accomplished, mentioning many specific things and people. He then mentioned his concerns and the women’s concerns and he did his best to save face for the leader and the men. He reminded the group of the promises that they had made at the beginning of the project. Then he asked if anyone else wanted to speak. Three of the men spoke as did two of the women. All spoke peacefully. Ismael encouraged the women to participate in the building, something that the women of this community do not do, and he cited my work on the ditch for the water pipes as an example of participating which the leader had witnessed. Next Ismael cited the gospel. Then he brought up the fact that Dr. Coral, the person who organized the payments for this building, is coming next week with a team and that before they arrived to work on the electricity, both the floor and the roof needed to be completed. By the end of the meeting, the group was making plans for how they were going to invite people to participate starting on the next day. Everyone shook hands and we parted. It was a wonderful meeting. Let’s hope that lots of folks showed up on the weekend to participate!
(On the following day, Ismael and I traveled 45 minutes to La Libertad to meet with the metal worker (whose wife had come to the clinic while the SewHope team was there) who will be contracted to do the windows and the roof of the Birthing Center. This man is supposed to begin working on Wednesday of this week. Again, you have to remember that we are in Guatemala. We are not purchasing already-made windows. We are purchasing the rods of metal that will be cut with a saw by hand and welded together by hand by this man and his
All in all, this was one magnificent day! I am once again convinced and testify that God accomplished it all!!! It is so clearly way beyond anything that we were capable of!!!
El Fin Dia
Our day began early as we parted from our hotel, which has been our home for the better part of this month. I think we all missed eating at our favorite breakfast place. Ismael and the family picked us up promptly at 6:30 a.m. and we headed for the airport. Saying goodbye was a little easier after our farewell ceremony last night, but it was still hard. Luckily, the baby allowed me to hold her the whole trip to the airport. It is amazing how much joy that child spreads with her big four-toothed grin, her bouncing curls, and her hugs. Along with Orfe, Halsell, and the baby, we said farewell to Sister Pam, who will stay for several more months. Along with us was Franklin, making his first trip to the U.S. to visit his brother Jesse who attends high school in Toledo. For Franklin, Dr. Ruch, and even Peter, a return trip to Guatemala is imminent. My coming back is uncertain, although my desire to return is unquestionable.
This month has been full of uncertainty, sadness, learning, and growing. There were times I thought, "What I am doing here?" undoubtedly followed by moments where I could not imagine doing anything else. Easy parts of the trip--meeting new people, great food, seeing patients. The single hardest part of the trip was being away from my fiance, Ryan. Others included not fully understanding the language or the culture, and pure sadness for certain things that we saw. For example, in La Libertad, a woman came into the clinic hoping we could help her with bleeding she had been experiencing for the past 3 years. As she was examined, it became evident that she had stage 4 cervical cancer. We could offer no treatment. One week later, we received the news that she had passed away. Then, one week later, her daughter came to the clinic with a baby whom she neither wants nor is able to care for. The grandmother who had passed away cared for her other 3 children in the home, boys aged 11, 13, and 15. Now there is a 1 month baby in need of care, too. To paint a picture of the mental state of the mother, when we went to the home to visit her and the baby, she demonstrated how she had been feeding the baby bits of cigar to help with his diarrhea. We are currently looking for adoptive parents for the baby and providing the family with pure water and formula.
Other patients coming to mind are those we treated our week in San Cristobal. The lady with a cystocele who was so desperate for her surgery that she came back to the OR two hours after she had been examined in clinic. There was the 13 year old girl with an axillary mass whose mother was so grateful for our help that she was willing to travel hours to our clinic site. Others lined up at 1 a.m. with the hopes of being seen by the end of the day at 5 p.m. There was the woman with bleeding from fibroids who we ultimately had to transfer to another hospital because the one we were at did not have a blood bank. Can you imagine not having such a resource available? Luckily all those we operated on did well.
There were countless situations I am unable to recollect right now, and I'm sure bits and pieces will come back to me at different times, but I'm certain I will never forget the friends I made here. Special shout out to Ismael, Orfe, Franklin, Hanssel, Ana Catalina, Dina, Annette, Gracie, Dr. Ruch, Dr. Miller, Linda, Iris, Teshi, Rudy, Peter, and Nulo.
If I could say I learned one thing on the trip, I would be underestimating. The incredible faith and giving spirit of the poor of Guatemala are a model for the way I hope to live my life. Share what you can, give what you don't need, be sensitive to others' feelings and NEVER underestimate the importance of a kind word. You never know if that cranky lady complaining to you is acting that way because her mother just died or her child is terminally ill. You don't have to speak someone's language or grow up in their culture to care about their well being. You can accept the fact that you can't help everybody, but you can do what you are able for those right in front of you. Appreciate what people do for you. Finally, be open and honest to those you care about.
I return to the U.S. one month older and wiser, with much growing and learning still to do. I hope to return to Petén in the future, and I want to thank all of my friends and family back home who supported me and my endeavors.
Tracy Benson spent one month in Petén assisting Dr. Anne Ruch, Dr. Annette Smith, Dr. Lil Miller and others in various clinics of the area. She is currently waiting to find out her location for residency in the specialty of gynocology. I admired Tracy's eagerness in studying the Spanish language to be able to better communicate with her patients. Thank you, Tracy!!
On November 14th a man was killed just outside of El Cartucho, Petén Guatemala. His house was set on fire in the middle of the night, and as he ran outside to save himself, he was gunned down. Two days later well over 100 people congregated in the nearby village of El Chal to pay their respects to the departed. Also on hand were Sr. Pam, Ismael Halssel and myself. Granted, we were not there to attend the funeral, but were instead in the area to begin working on the floor of the new birthing center, which is currently under construction adjacent to the cemetery. The birthing center is a joint effort between SewHope and the community of El Chal. Whereas the resources and materials were made available through the fundraising efforts of Dr. Coral Matus and SewHope, the local people are completing the actual construction. Speaking with these local workers, it is clear they recognize how valuable an asset the maternity home will be once completed. Every child will be born into a clean and safe environment while mothers will be kept comfortable and protected during the birthing process.
However, as I helped backfill the foundation with dirt and loose gravel, it was impossible not to note the bizarre juxtaposition of the contradictory events. On one side you had construction of a new building, which will stand as testament to the beauty of life, and on the other side you had a whole village mourning the destruction of a man who was cut down well before his life should have rightfully terminated. And while it was interesting to note the holism of that moment, the situation seemed largely indicative of the sort of problems that organizations such as SewHope struggle with everyday. Every victory seems to be met with an equally catastrophic failure. When working in developing nations, how do you measure meaningful change? Certainly the birthing center is a meaningful endeavor, but how do you continue to promote public health and community reciprocity when the people you are working with keep gunning each other down? How do we cope with such irrationality?
The point here is not to discourage any work with the people of the Petén, but instead to serve as a reminder that the path we are called to take is not necessarily the easiest one. If you want to affect meaningful change in Guatemala, you can’t just dig a well or paint a school and turn around and go home. You have to remain committed and follow through with all of your promises, regardless of the outcomes. The fact that working here can be discouraging at times does not make the people here any less deserving of love. The fact that the universe is irrational at times does not make it any less beautiful.
Peter joined a SewHope team in the Peten for three weeks. During that time, he was instrumental in the building of a fish farm, a solar oven, and a food dehydrator. Peter also used his grasp of the Spanish language to assist in the intake of patients at our week in the hospital in San Cristobal and at the clinic in Santa Ana. Peter hopes to return to Guatemala in January 2013 as part of the SewHope team.
For more information on the Birthing Center being built in El Chal, see http://www.sewhope.org/maternal-health.html.
My new 10-year old friend is Ismael. Ismael has been in the hosptial in San Cristobal for 8 days. His mother visits him once a day for about an hour. Otherwise he is here alone. For several days he shared a room of five beds with an older gentleman. If this hadn't occurred in such dire circumstances, it would have been cute to see how they cared for one another.
I think about my nephews at age 10 and can't imagine any of them being alone in a strange hospital day and night for over a week with no end in sight. Nor can I picture any of my siblings having to leave a small child in a hospital alone. The whole family suffers.
I am not a doctor; I do not know what is wrong with Ismael. It seems that he has a cut on his big toe that became infected to the point where he could not walk. It appears that he is receiving oral antibiotics. The toe is healing but ever so slowly. Today the IV was taken out of his arm. For him, that was the signal that he was going home. When I found him this morning, he was sitting on the edge of his bed with his coat on and his small bag packed. He was ready to go.
Unfortunately, when his parents came to visit, he found out that he would have to stay another 3 days. He was devastated and cried; it was one of the few times that I have seen tears. Though I had to leave before actually finding out, I believe that Ismael's mother had agreed to come back to spend the night with him. At least for one night he would be warm and feel safe. (There are other younger siblings at home.)
Ismael has little bags with his supplies with him on his bed. He has a juice box that he hasn't touched and a very small bag of chips. He has a partially used roll of toilet paper and likely a few clothes. It has been very cold at night. I keep taking a blanket off an empty bed in the room and giving it to him as a second blanket. In the morning, the blanket is back on the empty bed. I cannot imagine that he does not freeze overnight.
It seemed that no one was bathing him, and he appeared to be dirty so one morning I asked the cooks for some hot water and took a small dishpan to his room. I was shocked when I washed his face, his hands, his legs and his feet with a soapy cloth that the cloth came back clean. What appeared to be dirt was permanent. I repeated the gestures with the old man in the room. With tears in his eyes, he thanked God for this simple kindness.
While I was sitting with Ismael, his dinner came (it is a blessing to find a hospital where food is served to the patients and to waiting parents): Two tortillas and some vegetables in a corn soup base. I was amazed with this little boy. Before he would eat, he initiated two actions. First, he had to wash his hands. This little boy looked filthy all over, and he wanted to wash his hands. To do this, he had a little bag of water. I held a small basin and ran a bit of water over his hands as he rubbed them back and forth. Second, he prayed. It was only then that he would eat.
To add to the pain of loneliness, there is nothing to do in the hospital. At times he would sit by the "nurse's station" and watch a bit of TV with other children. To ease this boredom, we worked a few Suduko puzzles and played Block Drop on the computer, something that he had never used before. Then a few of us went to the little shops and found him some simple Superman coloring books and colored pencils. Carlos and Peter took turns coloring with him. They would ask him questions and he would freely answer. We also bought a blanket for the family, a red baseball cap for him and a bit of food. The night before last, we bought a Superman DVD and the old man, Ismael and a few of the team members watched with him. Hopefully his pain and loneliness were averted for short periods of time.
I must admit that I need to practice just sitting with the ill, perhaps holding a hand. It was much easier to buy things to distract the pain that to sit with Ismael for lengths of time with nothing. I was reminded of the 3 apostles who were asked to wait with Jesus at his time of agony in the garden. Waiting is this fashion is a very difficult kind of waiting.
I want to be clear that the persons in service at the hospital were doing the best that they could with little or no resources and very poor pay. I only experienced kindness toward the patients and cooperation among themselves. It must be a very draining ministry to see so much suffering and to be able to do so little. Please include all those associated with this hospital and village in your daily prayers.
In Guatemala, I continue to learn more and more deeply life's lessons of wisdom and faith.
As I held a sick infant in the hospital in San Cristobal, looking into her wide eyes and trying to coax her into sucking her bottle, I reflected on the value of the moment in GOD'S TIME.
"The subtle ways our society schools us to the error of equating being with doing, human value with productivity, efficiency, results, something to show!" (Reflections on Simplicity by Elaine M. Prevallet, p7)
In GOD'S TIME when GOD is the CENTER and GOD is in CONTROL, my experience is that I will not measure the value of time, or use of gifts or energy, by the human standards listed in the quote above.
As I gazed into the eyes of Juana, I felt that I was IN GOD's TIME. I was no longer the center of my universe, the universe, but both Juana and I were two tiny, tiny specks in the universe created and held by our good God. My importance was reduced to the level of a tiny speck in the universe. It was from this perspective that both Juana and I were important to one another. We were the whole world to one another in that moment with God. I believe that this experience reflects viewing and valuing life as God does...or rather as God is.
How do you define creativity? Making your own shampoo and selling it? Designing and creating simple devices to assist with food preparation? Making your own classroom materials? Learning to cut hair? Making a kite that really soars? Building a building from the ground up? Making a garden? A hen house? A new porch? A tippy tap?
Creativity abounds here in Guatemala! Simple materials are put to very creative use. I am challenged to think of simple and inexpensive ways to accomplish great things!
Sr. Pam Buganski
Sr. Pam joined SewHope as our first American Project Coordinator in 2012