What better way to begin a blog than to describe the first GHR Founding Medical Mission Trip?!? We are in beautiful Guatemala, and all have arrived safely. Today marks our first day as a team, and it has been educational, beautiful, and …rainy. Joy and excitement are palpable. As the team assembles in the town of Antigua, new friendships are formed and old ones are renewed. Stories and laughter abound as we settle in to our “home base”. One of the elements that is important to GHR is education–both for the team and for those that we serve. In order to make a difference in a foreign community, you must first understand their culture and their needs. Thus, the first day is a crash course in everything Guatemala. After breakfast, we embarked on a lengthy tour of central Antigua. We have traveled here during the “rainy season”, but we had cool and dry weather for our hike around town. Our guía (guide), Jane, led us through the central area of Antigua and gave extensive background on the country and the people. Guatemala was settled by the Spanish and still retains much of its colonial charm. Due to earthquakes, the capital was moved from Antigua to Guatemala City, yet Antigua remains one of the most visited tourist sites of Central America and is a UNIESCO World Heritage site. The last major earthquake was in 1976, yet tremors are often felt due to the fact that the country lies above the intersection of three tectonic plates. Natural disasters are one of the most devastating events in a developing nation, and evidence of previous earthquakes abounds as you walk through the town. Likewise, you see a hopeful and peaceful people. As we passed through calles (streets) and avenues, many residents still wear their traditional tribal attire. The outfits are symbolic of the particular village in which they live.
Jane guided us through historic ruins as well, and one element I found most interesting is a wash basin. Even to this day, the majority of laundry is done by rubbing the clothing with soap over a stone basin. She talked about how washing machines are not seen as a practical solution. While they may speed the process of washing, they are expensive, and they use electricity, which is also expensive. The machines do not hang the laundry to dry and nor can they do chores around the house. So if a family were to be in a position to buy a laundry machine, a more practical solution would be to hire a maid that could not just wash clothes, but could dry them, press them, tidy the house, watch the children and most likely make meals. This story struck me as being parallel to GHR’s mission. We do not want to offer a solution that we find familiar, we want to work with the local personnel and organizations to find and improve upon solutions that are relevant and applicable to the people here. A washing machine would not be a sustainable solution for many in the poor villages, and American medicines and procedures may not be sustainable here. Therefore, on each trip, the founding team will have the responsibility to identify what procedures, what medications, what protocols and what practical solutions are needed to make a sustainable difference. We want to use medications that can be found in local pharmacies, and we want to educate people on protocols and procedures that can be safely and easily done here. Most of all, we want to help, and in order to do that we must not only understand, but truly appreciate the culture and customs of the Guatemalan people. This team is certainly ready to do that!
As the tour ended, the rain began, but our passion and fun was not washed out. Our evening was spent organizing supplies and preparing for our first day of clinic. Everyone has different expertise, and all are ready to serve! Founding teams are special; they consist of experienced personnel who have volunteered their time and funds to invest in an area that is in desperate need. We will leave early tomorrow morning and drive to a remote area of Guatemala. While we assess the population and conduct well exams, we will identify key health burdens and learn about the local customs and procedures. We will also dedicate time to find out what medications and tools are available and what are most needed. By partnering with local NGOs (Non-government Organizations), we will be working with folks who are extremely familiar with the areas. We will listen to them to identify how we can best make an impact to improve the health of this particular village. So as I sign off on the inaugural post, I leave you with a photo of the first GHR Founding team. Cheers!