When we arrived in Guatemala and looked around we began to get a feel for the extreme poverty that many people lived in. It was hard to imagine how 11 people and 20 tubs of supplies in 5 days could really make a difference. However one day while we were treating, a little girl came in with butterfly AFO’s. The therapists told us that those AFOs had been brought down by last year’s team. Later in the week when treating a child with severe RA, we were discussing with the therapists the importance of working on his respiration and they brought out bubbles that were also brought by the team last year. I realized that we will never know the full impact of our trip and that it will have an effect long after we have gone home. The cultures of scarcity and plenty were brought home to us when the therapist showed us a piece of IV tubing that they were using as a therapy tool. She said “To you this is just trash. You just throw it away. But for us-we use it for therapy”. They are incredibly resourceful therapists with the little that they have and show great compassion for the children they care for.
Throughout the trip I realized that there are many things that transcend language and cultural differences such as a smile, the joy of holding a child, basketball, candy, a desire to help, dancing (both on and off the table), laughter, and most importantly God’s love.
In preparation for our medical mission trip to Guatemala, there was so much organizing and planning involved. Our group started months in advance meeting to figure out how to go about putting the trip together. Since this was only the 2nd year that a group went, there were a lot of holes that needed to be filled from the previous year. Thank goodness for so many caring people who wanted to support this medical mission trip. The prayers and support made everything go so smoothly. One week before the departure date, we began to pack all of the donations (toys, clothes, medical supplies, scrubs, candy, and orthotic equipment). Little by little our tubs were filling and before we knew it….. all the tubs were full. And the funny thing is after we filled our tubs we still received a sewing machine and had more supplies on the way. I would have never thought we had more supplies than we could have brought down.
Going to Guatemala was such an enriching experience. Everyone at the hospital was extremely welcoming and warm to our arrival. When we arrived to the hospital on the first day, I was amazed at the limited resources that the hospital was working with. Being in Guatemala day after day, made me appreciate my own culture and blessing we take advantage of in the U.S. Throughout the week, we would ask what supplies would be appreciated for next year and the only response was for us to return. That meant more to them than any supplies they could have received.
Many memorable experiences were made throughout the week. There was a brother and sister who had a rare disease that was unknown of how to treat. And another set of twins with an unknown condition that affected both of the girls the same. I was lucky enough to perform an evaluation of these two young girls. And at the end of the eval, they taught us how to do the “moto” dance. We all danced the cool new dance to Guatemalan music. Both of these experiences were a once in a lifetime chance that I was lucky enough to witness and will always remember.
The most valuable lesson I learned was to appreciate what you have as little as it may be because that, in and of itself, is a blessing. On Wednesday, our group went to church and the service was on perspective. The pastor and his wife shared that no matter how big your problem may seem at that time, someone else would love to switch spots with you and change problems. The church service summed up the whole experience in Guatemala. I felt so lucky to get the chance to take this trip and even though I had a million things (problems) on my mind at the time, someone would have loved to switch places with me. It is all about perspective. What an appropriate church service.
To tie our experiences together, we had nightly devotionals to reflect our own perspective and experience. Every person in the group brought their own personal reflection and enlightenment to share with everyone. I hope this medical mission team grows every year and I hope that our follower’s experiences are as enriching as mine were. I hope to return next year and visit the friends that I made and hope to keep in touch with.
This trip to Guatemala was my first mission trip (or any trip) outside of the States. To say the least, it was one of the most wonderful times of my life. Considering I am still a student (a 2nd year at that), I came into the week believing that I didn’t have much to offer to the therapists and children in the hospital; however, after the first day I realized that just being side by side with them was enough. Touching each child’s hands was in itself a simple act, but it was much more than that to me…it was seeing that these children needed love and by touching their hands, I was showing them that we loved them – love is a universal need each of us search for in our daily lives.
The most influential part of the trip for me was when Renee and I were treating a child named Cesar. The therapists in Guatemala explained that Cesar had little head control and he never rolled over or sat up. We decided to see what he could do so we grabbed toys with buttons to push, with music and lights to provide motivation for Cesar to complete such tasks. With some patience, time, and interesting toys, Cesar did many things he could never do before (sitting up, reaching for toys, rolling over, on hands and knees)! I learned that patience is a wonderful yet challenging skill that as a therapist, I must continue to develop. As we asked the Guatemalan therapists to try the treatment we had showed them, the looks on their faces were priceless when Cesar did the exact tasks he had done for Renee and me.
At the beginning of the week, I had made the analogy that the week was like Thanksgiving Dinner – many hours of preparation but only twenty minutes for the meal to be gone. Every one of us put so much time into preparing for this trip yet the week was over in a flash! I had no idea I would learn the lessons that I did in such a short time. This was my first Guatemalan mission trip and it will not be my last. This entire experience left me humbled yet hungry to return. The Guatemalans pressed a lasting image on my heart and when I left the country, I knew I would be back. I look forward to planning next year’s trip with the Belmont team and I hope and pray that our relationship with the people of Guatemala and The Shalom Foundation will grow stronger and will become “mucho bountiful.”
I want to thank all of you who supported me and for all of those who prayed for our mission team while we embarked on a journey to do God’s work for those in need. And to the team: I want to thank each of you for inspiring me to be the best therapist, student, and friend I can be. Each of you brought your own little something to this trip and I thank you for all the laughs, tears, and hard work that were shared between us.