Sr. Pamela Marie Buganski
“God is always talking to me when I am in Guatemala.”
Children and young adults ages 15 and under are treated free at the Vincent Pescatore Eye Clinic in San Benito. So far, six youth have been measured for prescription glasses, and we have more children on the list. (Both boys shown below received glasses and will also have free eye surgery at the start of the new year.)
Despite their poverty and a reduced price due to our affiliation with the eye clinic, the adults still need to pay a fee for surgery, medication or glasses. So far we have taken 4 adults to the eye clinic. All of them need additional help. Now what??????
Well, I figure we can do this one person at a time with a combination of generosity, microfinance and paying it forward.
Here is my plan. I will pay up front the $50 (Q350) needed for Maria's eye surgery. Maria will pay back as she can week by week. Maria's payments will secure the $50 needed for Tecla's surgery. Tecla will pay back week by week as she can and provide the $50 for Tomasa's surgery. I believe that we will be able to help many people with this system while demonstrating respect, empowerment and
generosity within the community. I can't wait to begin!!!
I chose to work with Maria first for a number of reasons. First, I have known her the longest of the four candidates, I have taught her son Luis and have met her husband and daughter; we have a start of a solid relationship. I thought that she would understand the plan and be a willing participant as well as an avid and respected spokesperson for the plan within the community. Also, she took the first step of participation.....she showed up!!! The doctor at the clinic said that she needed to get her diabetes under control. Maria then attended the diabletic group that Orfe and Dr. Coral started about 6 months ago. This will allow SewHope to educate, monitor and assist Maria with this health situation which causes eyesight to deteriorate. I believe that the doctor will move forward with the surgery knowing that she is under our care for diabetes. (Left: Tecla in green, Maria, Tomasa in black. Right: Mario.)
Perhaps the biggest drawback to the plan is that no one at the clinic speaks English. This is where I hope that Carmen can be very helpful. Carmen knows the people because she lives in their village, she "understands" what I am trying to say in Spanish, and she can work with me until I understand the Spanish that the doctors are speaking. Carmen can also assist with follow up after surgery and to see that glasses are being used by those receiving them.
And that leaves Mario. Mario is not yet 50 years old. He is almost totally blind in one eye and the second eye is not much better. Because of his disability, it is difficult for him to find work and to actually work. It seems that Mario's problem is more serious than that of the others. It may take a trip to Guatemala City to help Mario. I have full confidence that Mario can and will receive help.
Each SewHope project begins with an idea and the courage to put the first foot forward.
Seeing the frequency and seriousness of diabetes among the people of Santa Ana, Dr. Coral made a simple outline of topics and Orfe meets with a group each month to carry out the plan. This past week, I had the privilege of witnessing this in action.
Twelve adults attended the clinic, 3 of them for the first time, 1 man and 11 women. Each person carried a small notebook which holds the history of vital signs taken before each meeting as well as any medications given. Once all had their weight, blood pressure and blood sugar level taken, they gathered in a group.
Orfe began with a Bible reflection. One sheet of information relating to diabetes was distributed and discussed. Each person had a chance to ask questions. Dr. Coral was present for the last meeting. I was thrilled that almost each person asked a vey personal and relavant question. Then, Dr. Coral went from person to person to look at their vital sign history, talked with each one personally, and distributed medication with instructions. The date of the next meeting was set before they disbursed.
So far the group has been meeting for six months. The participants are faithful. This is a means to address holistic health, education, and to provide preventive measures. This is so much better than handing out random medication. Thank you Dr. Coral for putting a simple plan in place! Thank you Orfe for keeping the plan going!!
Who Was Vincent Pescatore?
Leaving his job as a highly paid corporate auditor for Price Waterhouse in Washington, Vincent Pescatore set out to build houses for the poor. On a mission trip, at age 35, he was killed in a plane crash in 1996.
Pescatore liked to call his missionary work "Preaching the Kingdom of God."
Pescatore left his comfortable home and took up residence amidst squalid conditions in Latin America, where he began a life of carrying out the corporal works of mercy on behalf of the impoverished.
Pescatore founded Farm of the Child in El Petén, Guatemala's northern region.
In establishing the mission, Pescatore met with constant struggle; a lack of modern
conveniences, including running water, horrendously unhygienic conditions; a diet limited to beans and tortillas; and transportation problems associated with a site located a six-hour drive from the nearest town-not to mention superstitions and government corruption.
"I don't think I could have survived any of this without a corresponding growth in faith," Pescatore said.
Pescatore demonstrated the courage of his convictions, when he enlisted the assistance of the Daughters of St. Joseph. He entrusted the Guatemalan religious order with operating Farm of the Child's orphanage with 30 orphans, the Catholic school with more than 200 students and the health-service center that treats more than 300 patients monthly. He went on to found a second center in Honduras.
What is the History of Vincent Pescatore Hospital in Petén Guatemala?
Named for a deceased Canadian Brother who assisted VOSH missions in Guatemala the hospital opened April 2004. Planning, fund raising and construction took VOSH-PA 10 years to complete this enormous task. A fully equipped eye hospital including a chapel employs a professional staff. Using the Avarind model, it's expected to be sustainable. VOSH missions from Pennsylvania and Ontario will continue to work closely with the hospital. The primary mission of VOSH/International is to facilitate the provision and the sustainability of vision care worldwide for people who can neither afford nor obtain such care.
SewHope has been warmly welcomed by the persons at Vincent Pescatore Eye Clinic in San Benito. Many things have already happened in the 6 weeks that we have been associated with them. It demonstrates that no one of us has to do it all, including any one association. This is collaboration at its best!
I would also like to find out more about the Farm of the Child and perhaps visit. Who knows how we might be able to help one another help the poor in Guatemala.
The birthing center in El Chal is becoming a reality! Ed Matus, Dennis and Jim worked tirelessly for five days in less than ideal conditions to take the building to a new level. Ismael worked on the site when he was not purchasing or hauling building supplies. Dr. Coral, Ginny even got their hands dirty when time allowed. Five little boys from the neighborhood even came to help!
The team managed to put up all the wall and door bracings, finish laying oddly located floor tiles, set the shower floor, clean the tiles of excess cement, grout most of the floor, and put in all the electric wiring!
The last event of the week was a meeting of the Association members. It was cool to stand in a circle in the developing space.
The next push on the building will take place in two weeks for two weeks. The hope is that many of the men from the village will join us to put up dry wall and to finish digging and preparing the septic system. Please pray for the progress of the project and generosity of our members of the village.
We are hoping for a dedication of the building when Dr. Coral visits again in March. This has been her project with donations and support from friends and family.
Today it is very easy to respond to why SewHope is building a new community center: We have simply outgrown the space at the clinic!!!! So many wonderful programs are in operation that there just isn't enough room.
I continue to be amazed that despite the multiple events, the people waiting are very patient and the atmosphere is one of calm and respect. Orfe asked several early arrivals to come back in mid-afternoon as Dr. Coral was booked til that time!
I am also very impressed that the the young women of Luz de Esperanza, Orfe's youth group, assist during a jornada or medical clinic.
Here is a glimpse of what is going on today!
Life is never dull around here and nothing is predictable!
Two night ago, Ismael and I took the truck to San Benito to load up on the Kids Against Hunger food that is stored there. We hugged and lugged about 50 boxes to the truck and then into the clinic. As we were doing so, Ismael received a call from Sergio, a student in Purushila. After sitting with his 6 fellow students for their 9th grade exams all day in San Benito, the bus had dropped them off in Santa Ana too late for the bus to Purushila. Sergio was wondering if we could take them home. I was SO PROUD of him for taking a leadership role to help out the group! We took them home amidst their excitement. They will receive their diplomas on November 28 if they pass the exam.
Yesterday morning, Orfe hosted an event for the women of Santa Ana at the clinic. Two women from a Human Rights organization came to talk about violence against women, women's rights and the laws that should protect them. There was quite an attentive crowd. I was especially pleased to see Orfe's teens from Luz de Esperanza among the group. I know that Orfe will talk with them more about what they heard.
Five plus Six equals Eleven
Today Carmen and I took more persons from Purushila to the Vincent Pescatore Eye Clinic (VPEC) in San Benito. All came to the jornada held by employees of VPEC at the primary school last week, and it was determined then that more testing was needed.
In order to proceed to VPEC, the adults needed Q350 or about $50. Some did not accompany us today because they did not have the money. The opportunity is still available to them and we will follow up. Carmen and I will accompany the three women on a return trip to the clinic next week.
Carmen (left) helps Iormi and her mother at the registration desk. Iromy is a fourth grader at the primary school in Purushila. She tested with 20/20 vision but has some other difficulty with her eyes. Iromy, as the only younger student among 4 sixth graders, won the Independence Day Queen contest this year.
Mario suffers from diabetes. This has affected his eyesight. He has almost no sight in one eye. Before further treatment can begin, perhaps in Guatemala City, he needs to get his illness under control. SewHope is able to help him with this. I had a chance to chat a bit with Mario (whom I thought was Luis) as we waited at the clinic.
"La mamá de Luis" is one of the first faces I was able to recognize. Luís is an excellent 9th grade student. Today I learned that her name is Maria. As we waited, Maria gave a witness talk of her physical and spiritual healing. Miracles happen in Guatemala!! A few days ago I showed a house with water running through it. This was Maria's home.
Carmen helped Tecla who speaks a traditional language. There are various service stations and rooms in the clinic, so it is good that Carmen accompanies the group. When I joined Tecla at a window where she was waiting, she told me that she was a bit afraid. I was glad that she said something, and I put my arm around her.
Erika is really from Santa Ana and is a member of Orfe's teen group. Erika is 16, but VPEC gave her the same free services usually given to those age 15 and below. She accompanied us to Purushila to help with Anita and discovered that she also needed glasses. Here Carmen helps her to pick out a pair. Erika graduated from 3rd year basico this year, a milestone!
Tomasa is second in line listening to Carmen give directions. Tomasa was the 1st one waiting for us this morning! One of the advantages of working with a small group like this is that it gives me a chance to learn names, build relationships and also see the homes. I am beginning to be able to make some associations among families and neighbors.
Three weeks ago, Orfe and Carmen and I accompanied five children to VPEC
where all five were prescribed glasses. Two have already received them and
hopefully are putting them to good use!
I write today about a common illness here in Guatemala: Dengue Fever.
Wikipedia tells us that: Dengue fever, also known as breakbone fever, is an infectious tropical disease. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and a skin rash that is similar to measles. In a small proportion of cases the disease is life-threatening. Dengue is transmitted by several species of mosquito. and there are four different types. The incidence of dengue fever has increased dramatically since the 1960s, with around 50–100 million people infected yearly. Dengue has become a global problem since the Second World War. Apart from eliminating the mosquitoes, work is ongoing on a vaccine, as well as medication targeted directly at the virus. Mosquitos that carry dengue usually bite during the early morning or evening and an infection can be caused by a single bite. Reducing open collections of water is the best method of control. People can prevent mosquito bites by wearing clothing that fully covers the skin, using mosquito netting while resting, and/or the application of insect repellent.
It has been raining alot in the Peten during the last six weeks. This means that water is collecting everywhere and mosquitos are breedng and rampant. So, it is a time when many here will suffer from dengue. Recently, Orfe's 15 year old niece was hospitalized with a serious case of dengue. Anita, the 2 year old child of Ismael and Orfe has also had dengue within the past 2 months. I am hoping that the mosquitos do not find American blood appetizing!
Ismael, Orfe and I generally hold a meeting on Fridays to discuss what happened in the current week and what we plan to do in the following week. It helps us to coordinate schedules and to help each other out if more hands are needed.
Despite the fact that we held our meeting last evening, I was totally taken by surprise with what happened the first two hours this morning, Saturday. I have no idea when Ismael and Orfe and God made all of these arrangements, but all of the following were happening at the same time! Here is the story....
I knew something other than Orfe's regular Saturday morning classes with the local Santa Ana students was happening when I saw all the vehicles at the clinic. I have never seen so many! I could hardly wait to find out what was happening!
This is what I saw on the front porch of the clinic. Mostly men holding what looked like important papers and a group of workers processing the paperwork. The porch and surrounding areas were packed! As some completed their task and left, others came to take their places. The porch was croweded all morning.
Then I noticed a familiar face. This woman had visited our clinic last week when Dr. Anne was here. I spent lots of time talking with her. I told about our projects with SewHope and she told me about her government organization MAGA or Ministerio de Agricultura, Ganaderis y Alimentacion or Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Feeding. Orfe and Ismael have worked with the group before, but they were new to me. I knew our organizations would be great collaborators, each benefitting from the strengths of the other. And so this morning, MAGA used our clinic porch as a meeting place for representatives of various localities to meet regarding some food project.
After an hour and a half or so, MAGA workers arrived with computers and scanners (man in the center of the picture). The paperwork was being processed both manually requiring signatures and with a computer using the scanner. The 8 or so workers were very organized and worked well together as a team.
This is the official paperwork that the village representatives carried. Some of the representatives were more sophisticated and appeared to be more educated than others. Some had the appearance of an elder or village leader who had responsibility because of his life experience among his people in the village.
Ismael took advantage of the crowd to talk about our stoves, solar lights and water filters. The men listened attentively and afterwards many gathered to ask Ismael questions. Many products were sold today and the men will take back this information to their villages. Orfe also posted notice of the medical clinic that will take place for children and all family members next week with Dr. Coral Matus and Dr. Gary Collins and their teams. We should have a big crowd from this word-of-mouth advertisement.
I am getting better at recognizing faces and being able to match faces to names, families and villages. The man in the front with the hat is Carlos who is the leader in El Chal where the Matus family is sponsoring the buidling of a birthing center. It was good to see the men socializing and enjoying one another's company.
While all of this was taking place on the front porch, 3 students from Purushila were cutting the grass in the back of the clinic with machetes. These students and others are part of the scholarship program sponsored by the Matus twins who are sophomores in high school. The students do community service as part of the scholarship program.
Later in the morning, Ismael met one-on-one with the scholarship students to give them a monthly stipend to offset school expenses such as uniforms, transportation, and materials. The students bring their latest report cards or other information from their respective schools to demonstrate their attendance and achievement.
Other good things were happening just down the block on the soccer field. Here Maestro Esbin is organizing races with the students in Orfe's group. Maestro Esbin joined SewHope this week and runs classes by grade on the porch of the clinic from Monday thru Friday. He is an honored teacher and is excellent with the students.
Then, Orfe and Maestro Esbin honored students who ranked first or second in their respective classes and schools. The student stood on a bench, received a prize from Orfe and applause from the group. It was an awesome way to recognzie academic effort and achievement.
This is testimony to Orfe's work with the students. Each student here ranked first or second in their class or school. That is alot of kids!!! Some kids received tennis shoes as a prize, others books or school materials. No one whined about getting one thing and not another. No one attempted to trade with another student. Way to go, Orfe!
As if the list of things I have mentioned so far isn't enough....Carmen, a nurse from Purushila, is checking the blood sugar of each student while Juana writes the information and Ericka does weight measurements. It was run like a professional clinic right out on the soccer field.
This clinic was also available to adults in the neighborhood. Somehow word gets around....FAST and people come. Carmen tested for diabetes, took blood pressure and weight. Those with noted problems were encouraged to come to the clinic to see the doctors next week. The information will be added to the computer charts kept for all patients.
Maestro Esbin sets a wonderful example for the children. Here Carmen is taking blood pressure as Juana writes down the information in a notebook. The other children observe the procedure and ask questions. All of this is happening on the edge of the soccer field near the clinic.
Ericka checking weight of students.
Somehow Orfe and Ismael keep all of this afloat and running smoothly all at the same time. They and SewHope have gained much respect in the community among persons of all generations.
I can't wait to see what happens next!
Today we had an awesome morning! Two men, Cesar and Luis, from the Eye Clinic Vincent Pescatore in San Benito, came to Purushila to test the eyes of anyone who could come.
God intervened somewhat in our plans as He sent torrential rains for most of the morning! For this reason we had only 24 visitors, but many of these persons knew that they were in need of help, and so they ventured out into the rain to come to the primary school where the clinic was held.
Carlos and his family own the tienda (store) near the school. He rigged up a speaker system and went with me as we drove through the village to announce the clinic. Unfortunately, the boy holding the speaker was sitting in the truck bed and he was soaked to the skin!
The charge for the adults was Q2 or about a quarter. Additional help, such as special eye drops or glasses, came with an additional but reduced cost. About five of the patients will meet me again on Monday and we will all travel to the clinic in San Benito because additional testing is necessary. This, too, will be an additional cost. The children received free care.
Cesar and Luis brought two pairs of prescription glasses for the children who had visited the clinic previously. Only two of the pairs were ready. So, Luis Miguel and Jose Luis have better vision today than they did yesterday. Both of these boys need additional appointments and eventually surgeries will take place at the beginning of the new year if all goes as planned.
I drove some of the elderly back to their homes. One elderly couple lived FAR from the primary school. Their determination to take advantage of this opportunity was noted! I delivered a woman back to her home to find that the water from the rain was washing right through her house.
Cesar and Luis will return with the new school year to test all of the children in Purushila and any adults who wish to be tested. In addition, Orfe invited them to come to our clinic in Santa Ana on November 17 and 18 when our doctors will be present. It will be an additional service opportunity for the people. I believe that in the future, these men will also visit our other locations in the Peten. I feel that we are establishing a wonderful partnership.
Thank you, God, for the many blessings of today!
Sr. Pam Buganski
Sr. Pam joined SewHope as our first American Project Coordinator in 2012