Today we had the opportunity to visit Antigua, Guatemala. In English, ‘antigua’ translates to ‘ancient’, a perfect name for this city which once served as the capital of Guatemala. From cobblestone streets, ancient ruins, and traditionally dressed indigenos to internet cafes, American fast food and women on mopeds… this city was an interesting mix of old and new.
We arrived around 9:30 am and took advantage of the view of Pacaya Volcano by taking pictures with it looming in the background. We then walked a few blocks to the artisan market and spent a few hours shopping. It was a wonderful opportunity to practice our ‘haggling’ skills, as this is expected at the market. We quickly found that either you love it or hate it- there wasn’t much ‘in between’ as far as haggling was concerned. I must also say that I was very proud to find my companions using their spanish-speaking ability to bargain for the best prices!
We spent lunch at a nice Guatemalan restaraunt courtesy of the Shalom Foundation (muchisimas gracias a Uds.) then spent the remaining 2 hours of our trip picking up last minute items from the market, taking photographs, and getting a taste of authentic Guatemalan coffee. Around 4pm we departed Antigua for the ride back to Guatemala City. Unfortunately we hit Friday evening traffic and the one hour bus ride turned into a diesel exhaust-filled, 2 hour trip back to the city. We finally arrived in time for our last meal at the seminary and then packed our things in preparation for the trip home tomorrow.
Today we enjoyed a “late” breakfast at 7:30 before heading to the Shalom school. On the bus ride over there, Jeff and Parker (missionaries with the Shalom Foundation) loaded us up with bags of candy to give to the school children. When we arrived, all chaos broke out! The kids swarmed around us, their hands reaching out and their faces shining with excitement. The children aged K-4th grade were enjoying their recess period when we arrived with all the treats. After every pocket had been emptied and many pictures had been taken, we headed inside the church to hear the day’s plan from Mark Smith, American missionary/headmaster of the school. The children pressed against us as we left them, giving us warm hugs.
For the next few hours, we were the honored guests in several classrooms. In the first class, we were hosted by students soon to graduate from high school. They have been working on a project designed to help them better understand patients with terminal diseases such as AIDS and cancer. In preparing for us to come, they took up a collection so that they could give us each a bottle of water. What a thoughtful thing for them to do! We were SO grateful for their kind sacrifice (and for the pure water!). With Sheila leading the way, our group shared with them from our knowledge and experience concerning AIDS patients. Several from the group shared experiences, and everyone was blessed to hear Sheila share a more personal story of an AIDS patient which she cared for over several years. The Guatemalan students had many questions which we were able to answer for them, and we were able to provide them with information they may otherwise not have received.
Later in the morning, we visited a couple of seventh grade Bible classes. In these classes, Rebekah and Heidi spoke to the children on behalf of the group to share their own faith and to bring them encouragement and hope. We were also blessed to visit a computer lab where the children were eager to show us what they were learning. It was especially wonderful to see both Mariela and Liliana (whose house we visited on Sunday) in the classes we visited.
For lunch, we enjoyed a special treat at Pollo Campero (the Guatemalan equivalent to KFC) before arriving at Manos de Amor, translated “Hands of Love”. This is the medical clinic directed by Sr. Alvarez, the pastor of Shalom Baptist Church. Through this clinic, many Guatemalans receive discounted medical care, including obstetric, optometric, pediatric, and dental care. They are planning to build addiitonal space, and we were told that because of our visit this week they are now considering building a physical therapy wing!
From the roof of the clinic, we enjoyed a panoramic view of the city, which included the area affected by a recent sinkhole. This sinkhole was 4 blocks long and over 300 feet deep near the center of the city. A woman at the church lost her husband and two boys in the tragedy.
After an exhilirating game of ultimate frisbee back at the seminary, the Shalom Foundation took us to dinner at a nice restaurant up on a mountain side where we could see the entire city. The city lights were beautiful, softening the harsh reality below. We enjoyed a great meal and great fellowship before gathering in an upper room for a time of prayer and devotion. We heard from Jared, an American college student spending a year with the church in Guatemala, as he shared his personal testimony of God’s pursuit and faithfulness. We finished the evening by sharing in a special prayer over all of Guatemala City and its beautiful people.
Today was a wonderful day of sharing, teaching, friendship and learning. We started the day by sending two students in to observe the plastic surgeons perform cleft palate repairs and a scar release on a burn victim. While they were in the OR, the rest of us were able to assist the Guatamalan therapists with their treatment sessions. At 9:30 the dancer from the day before arrived for her treatment. This time, the second years (Nenita, Belinda, and Nathan) were given the opportunity to finish the evaluation and begin treating the patient. She brought the film and results of her MRI to the clinic, so we were able to determine the exact levels and direction of her disc bulges. This new information, in addition to the information obtained the day prior by the third years, David and Heidi, allowed us to determine a treatment plan for the patient. With the assistance of David and Heidi, the second years were able to teach the patient and her therapist the treatment plan and therapeutic exercises.
The Guatemalan PTs were so eager to learn manual traction and the various exercises that could be used to help this patient. Everyone gathered around and took in the information excitedly. The first years (McKenzie, Rebekah, Sarah, Emily, and Jena) have not yet taken Orthopedics, so they were excited and eager to learn as well. The morning turned into a mini Orthopedics lab where the Guatemalan therapists and students were learning and practicing alongside the Belmont students. Even the Guatemalan Physiatrist was interested to learn some of our treatment and exercise techniques. There was so much comradery, excitement and learning taking place. I know God was pleased to see His people sharing in such a wonderful experience!
Throughout the afternoon, the remaining students rotated in to the OR to observe various surgeries while the rest of us remained behind to help with the patients and enjoy our last day with the Guatemalan Physical Therapists. In the evening we dined at the Seminary and then had a devotion that was lead by Heidi. She lead us in reading 1Timothy 2:1-7, 2 Corinthians 11: 23-29, and Isaiah 55 and then we had a discussion on the importance of recognizing God’s presence in our lives and this mission trip. We also discussed the importance of continued prayer for the Guatemalan people who do not have the “luxury of escaping” as we do. It is so easy to get caught up in our lives back home and forget what we have learned and experienced here. But the Guatemalans don’t get to forget. Long after we are gone, they will continue the lives we’ve had a brief opportunity to share with them. It truly makes my eyes water to consider this sad fact. It is hard to accept that we can not rescue these people. However, I find solace in knowing that we can continue to pray for them and their walks with Christ.
Today we went back to the Rehab Hospital. In the morning, we had a mock evaluation session with a patient that has lived in the hospital for over two years. She is a five year old girl named Paola with cerebral palsy. First, a therapist from the Guatemalan team demonstrated the way they would perform an evaluation on a new patient. Then, Heidi and David, the third year students on the trip, gave some input into how we would do an evaluation on Paola in the United States and also gave some treatment ideas. It was a time for sharing ideas and asking questions. We were all interested to see the similarities between what we do and what they do. The Guatemalan therapists seemed to really enjoy the presentation, especially the treatment ideas and techniques.
Also, today we brought our gifts and supplies to the hospital. We brought about ten suitcases full of things such as crutches, AFOs, and toys. The therapists were very grateful for everything. The textbooks we brought were an especially big hit, as they are a rarity here. Some of the toys we personally gave to the patients we saw in the latter part of the morning, and the looks on their faces were priceless. They would smile widely, thank us, and hold the gifts close to themselves.
After lunch, three members of our team went to another part of the hospital to observe surgery. There is a team of plastic surgeons from Virginia working in the hospital this week while we are here. They were gracious enough to allow us to observe them. Today, our team members saw repairs on cleft palates and an ear reconstruction.
The rest of the group continued to see patients in the afternoon. Once again, Heidi and David took the lead, this time doing an actual evaluation on a patient who came in with back pain. She is a dance instructor for the disabled children at the hospital.
We also saw a memorable patient named Evelyn. She has a disease called osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease. Though she is six years old, she is so small that we thought she was under 2 years old. She has had several broken bones that have not been set properly. She does not walk, and her mother has to pick her up in a special way so as not to injure her. Despite her disease, Evelyn is an extremely happy child, always laughing and smiling.
Tonight was our final night with Jacqueline and Todd. They are leaving for the States early in the morning. Parker and Jeff arrived this afternoon to represent the Shalom Foundation. We spent some time telling stories about ourselves and getting to know each other. We also had a time of singing and devotion. Nenita shared some of her powerful testimony, which encouraged us all. The verse we had for the evening was from Romans 12 which talks about Paul placing his hands on people and healing them. As physical therapists, we are constantly touching people and putting our hands on them. Even though it is not exactly the same thing, there is still power in that action. During the evaluation, Pati, the Guatemalan therapist geared alot of what she did around touch. She emphasized the importance of making the child feel safe and loved, especially those children who come from situations of abuse and neglect. This importance of touch is not nearly as emphasized in the U.S. However, we feel this is something we can learn from them and hopefuly bring back home with us.
Posted by: Rebekah
Today began with a surprising addition to breakfast. When we sat down to eat, we were greeted by a Guatemalan favorite side dish of fried plantanos (bananas). We all sampled the tasty treats (some of us for the very first time) and decided that this unusual mix of flavors was something sweet and good. After we finished our toast and juice we loaded up the bus for a 45 minute ride through the congested streets of Guatemala city to Hospital Infantil de Infectologia y Rehabilitacion. Our time began with a debriefing and information meeting with Dr. Pacheco. He welcomed us and informed us of the hospitals typical patient population. The patients are currently being treated in the rehabilitation wing of the hospital for diagnoses including cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and Guillain Barre. After meeting with Pati, the lead physical therapist, and receiving a tour of the hospital, we began observing several therapeutic treatment sessions lead by the physical therapy staff and local university physical therapy students. While at the hospital we were also able to participate in a sensory integration class for young children and their mothers. Our time at the hospital also lead us to talk with the orthotics department about their needs and wishes to help plan for future trips.
After talking with the staff it was evident that both the skill and expertise to fabricate orthotic devices was indeed present but that a serious need for materials and supplies does exist. Even with minimal supplies their ability to create orthotic devices using creative adaptation techniques was quite intriguing and educational.
During a break for lunch, we discovered that many of our afternoon patients decided to stay home due to the “cold” weather. Might I also say that I got a sunburn from laying out in the sun during our lunch break. The temperature today was 70 degrees, which to us was hardly “mucho frio”. We then split up into two treatment discussion teams. The rest of the afternoon was spent by reviewing and recommending treatment techniques concerning two of the hospitals inpatients with the local physical therapy students. We were then on our way home to the seminary.
En route to the seminary we enjoyed a brief break at the internet cafe to reconnect with our family and friends back in the states. Our dinner this evening included guatemalan soup and some grilled chicken. David and I lead the devotional, focusing on the calling to feed, clothe, and care for the poor as found in Matthew 26:34-46. We ended the evening with an encouraging word from Ephesians 3:20 which says “to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine according to His power that is at work within us.” It was a great way to end our first day in the hospital and we are excited to see how God will continue to work through us.
After church on Sunday, we had the great opportunity to go out into the poorest district in Guatemala City (Paraiso) to visit several families of the church so that we might better understand the situations in which many of our soon-to-be patients live. Mark Smith, missionary here for three years and originally from Franklin, TN, led our group, telling us about the area and the people. As we began to exit the bus for our first walk, a police car pulled up behind us and a couple of officers stepped out to provide us an unplanned escort for the duration of our time in Paraiso. What a blessing! Though the bus drove us as far as possible to each house, we had to walk quite a bit up and down steep and sometimes narrow walkways made of dirt and rock. Apparently, the neighborhood began with squatters claiming land that was too steep or rocky for farming. The poverty is staggering! The first family we visited was a mother with 11 children.
The Shalom Foundation recently helped add on two small rooms to their one-room shack. I tried to wrap my mind around the logistics of their living situation and I simply could not. The next place we visited was the home of a very poor family also, whose two girls (aged 13 and 17) attend the Shalom school by way of an American sponsor. They have not had running water for 5 days. The last place we visited was home to the lady that cleans house for the missionaries. Her home was modest as well but much cleaner with nicer things, reflecting the benefits of a steady work position. The hospitality of the families we visited made us feel so welcome, especially considering our relatively large group of 13. While we were out, we saw two ladies making homemade tortillas and bought ~15 for about a quarter. They were hot and tasted great!
Upon arriving back at the seminary, we rested and enjoyed another wonderful dinner provided to us. We were blessed to hear Todd Lake speak us at devotional time on the passage in Luke 4 of Jesus’ “first sermon.” He emphasized the words of Jesus concerning the poor and oppressed and then noted the reaction of the people when they were called on to love foreigners as well as their own. It was a great time of praying, singing, reflecting and preparing for the week.
This morning (Sunday) our group was surprised to find thick fog and cool temperatures to begin our day. The fog really made the seminary where we stay feel even more surreal to me. After a great breakfast served by ladies at the seminary, we headed out to Sunday school at the Iglesia Bautista Shalom. The building which houses the church also houses a school for 700 children. The school was created several years ago to serve children who could not afford to go to school. Of over 200 schools, the school ranks in the top 10 in the country, and they’ve even received an award from the government for their excellence. In fact, they’ve seen such success that many of the more affluent families are now paying tuition for their children to attend: (Contact the Shalom Foundation, email@example.com if you want to help send a child to school – ~$35/mo. – that would otherwise be on the streets.)
I digress, back to the Belmont group…after touring the school, we were blessed to receive a lesson from the pastor especially prepared for us. He spoke from Psalm 41, emphasizing the blessings that God gives to those that “give regard to the poor”. Following Sunday school, we joined the church for a great (if quite lengthy) worship service. During the service, we witnessed a baptism, the ordination of a couple of men, a man’s new commitment to Christ, and a powerful song service. The children of the church swarmed to us, hugging us and holding our hands. Many of them sat with us throughout the service. I was told that the minister provided a great message, touching on a great number of useful topics. No translation was provided which allowed us to participate in a different way to see the typical worship scenario of these beautiful people. It was really nice to see the interactions, so casual and familiar, between the members.
We spent the afternoon packing medical supplies and donations. It was amazing to see all the supplies we are bringing to the hospital in Guatemala city. When the whole idea of this mission trip was conceived in early December ’06 it seemed like too short a period to plan and carryout the first ever Belmont Physical Therapy mission. However, through God’s grace and the expertise of the Shalom Foundation, everything has just fallen into place. Thank you to everyone who has been a supporter of our mission. We have received countless prayers and donations… all of which have culminated in the beginning of what we hope will be an annual Physical Therapy Mission to Guatemala City.
Everyone is excited about our departure tomorrow. I think the only thing that might have some of the team members concerned at the moment is being able to fit all of their personal luggage into ONE carryon bag. Check-in should be quite interesting at Nashville Int’l Airport tomorrow afternoon…
This is a photo of the group that will be travelling to Guatemala City on March 3, 2007.