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home : features : people of faith

1/22/2015 9:01:00 AM
YOUTH PERSPECTIVE
I'll never forget Guatemala
BY HANNAH SHOEMAKER


(Editor's note: Hannah is a high school junior who will make her confirmation this spring at St. Henry's parish in Averill Park. She wrote this essay for her faith formation class.)

In October, my Aunt Daureen and I went on a 10-day trip to Guatemala with the Glens Falls Medical Mission Foundation (GFMMF). This was my aunt's 10th trip to Guatemala and my first.

Every October and every April, GFMMF sends a team of about 30 people from all over the U.S. to set up a clinic at Cristo Rey Church in Neuva Santa Rosa. The town is relatively small and much poorer than other cities in Guatemala. Unfortunately, outside of Guatemala City, most of the cities have a lot of poverty.

The entire team stayed at Hotel El Puente in a small town called Los Esclavos just outside of Cuilapa, which is a bigger town with its own hospital. (Mind you, the hospitals outside of Guatemala City are nothing like Albany Medical Center or other American hospitals.)

The clinic at Cristo Rey Church was an hour-long bus ride each way from our motel. On a Saturday, the other team members and I set up four clinics and a pharmacy. There was a pediatric clinic, along with dental, women's and general medicine clinics.

I worked as an "ATV" ("all-terrain volunteer"), which means I had the responsibility of counting and sorting pills, applying fluoride to children's teeth, walking to the grocery store, preparing meals for the rest of the team and other odd jobs.

Clinic began that Sunday and ran through the following Thursday. We saw about 300 patients each day. Some days, there were less; on other days, there were many more bodies lined up at the church gates in hopes to be seen.

Many of the patients are "regulars" and have built friendships with some of the older team members. Most people came for tooth extractions. Guatemala is full of unhealthy teeth, primarily because kids begin drinking coffee at such a young age due to unclean water. We also gave out dietary supplements to children by the pound.

There were also some very extreme cases I saw during clinic. An elder man had a cut on his leg that had become so infected, the flesh on his leg was eaten away until his shinbone was visible. Another case was a four-year-old boy with retinoblastoma. His tumor engulfed more than half of his face, making it difficult for him to eat or drink.

Cases like these are not found in the United States. Most Guatemalans cannot afford to go to emergency rooms, because a person has to pay hundreds of dollars to even be seen by an ER doctor. That is why the clinic provided by GFMMF is so incredibly important for the people of Neuva Santa Rosa and surrounding towns.

The children at clinic were absolutely amazing - such beautiful kids, and they certainly don't let the language barrier stop them from communicating. My Spanish is terrible because I study French in high school. I learned so many phrases and shared many laughs with the kids.

We colored and learned each other's names and how many siblings and pets we each had. We took pictures together, a lot of pictures. All of the kids at clinic were very excited to have their picture taken. Parents enjoyed watching the team members interact with their children.

Running water is not available to most families. Laundry is done in creeks or washing stations in the center of town. Men, women and children carry firewood, food and other supplies for miles.

I will never be able to find the right words to explain some of the emotions that still go through my mind when I think about what I saw on those bus rides. I also don't think someone will ever fully be able to understand the difference between America and a Third World country if they do not see it firsthand. It leaves a much greater impact than what is seen on TV or in movies.

I'll admit: It is very easy to forget how lucky I am, even after my trip. But one thing I brought back home was my appreciation for the time I have with my family. I have never enjoyed the simple things in life as much as I do now. By "simple," I mean clean water, heat during the winter, shoes, fluoride and a long list of other things.

What stood out to me the most on my trip was the importance of family and hard work. It sounds clichéd, but I can't recall a time in my life when I worked half as hard as the men, women and children I watched on the streets of Guatemala from the seats of that rickety bus.





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