Revised July 24th, 2018
With approximately 103 healthcare workers joining Team Esperanza, we headed to Huehuetanango, Guatemala for an 11-day volunteer mission trip to provide safety cooking stoves and water filters to the indigenous people living in the highlands.
For the fourth consecutive year, AMN Healthcare participated in this journey with Helps International. Many of the healthcare volunteers joined to administer dental, mental, obstetric, pediatric and other types of healthcare to residents of Guatemala’s rural areas.
My previous company, ShiftWise, was a brand under AMN Healthcare and I was selected to represent my company to be a part of the team. Below is the write up I did after being interviewed by our marketing department at the time.
What was your first impression upon your arrival to Guatemala?
When we landed in Guatemala City it was somewhat of a surreal feeling, because there was a lot of build up to that moment when we all met at the airport in Dallas, TX. To be amongst all the doctors, nurses and various volunteers from countries as far as Belgium, Venezuela, and even Russia, I had no idea what I was in for over the next 10 days. At first I was overwhelmed because I felt obligated to meet everyone, but I managed well as most of the people formed cliques… no surprise there.
Our first night we stayed at the Hotel Real Inter Continental in Guatemala City, and their was a meet and greet ceremony to also prepare us with a glance at the week. And at that point I started to prep myself [mentally] to be more embracive of the culture and work load we had cut out for us. After meeting some folks I found out the feeling I had was common amongst the group. So, we all had memories to create with new people – in a new location and culture.
How did the locals react to your presence?
All the families were welcoming and grateful; many had went out of their way to prepare us meals after we installed the stoves in their home. A lot of the kids were excited to see us in the small villages. Even though I couldn’t speak much Spanish, a smile with a gift went a long way as far as communication and seeing their appreciation.
Many of them assumed we were all either doctors or nurses but that only showed how much help was needed in the community. The military escorts you see were necessary considering the areas we passed through. In a way it was security – but it was definitely interesting to be a part of a traveling convoy.
What tasks did you help accomplish on your visit?
The ONIL designed safety stoves were installed in 77 homes, in roughly 20 villages surrounding Huehuetenango. The stoves we installed were to prevent common health complications that the makeshift stoves, (e.g, open fire pits, smokers and brick burners) would cause. Common health issues such as respiratory problems, severe burns, home damage and even deaths.
I was also able to stay at the hospital for a day and help with patient transport after surgical procedures. I was not able to scrub in but I did get to see a couple surgeries including a gull bladder get removed, a woman’s falling uterus be removed, and a cyst the size of a tennis ball be removed from a little girl’s eye socket.
What was your biggest challenge?
For me and many others it was the sleeping accommodations at the military base. The barracks housed the majority of us males; we slept on hard small cots in a cold long barrack along with mosquitoes and unknown bugs of Central America. Cold nights and many snoring men; I can’t recall much sleep at all that week. The bathrooms were not ideal, but for me I had to embrace the living quarters. And it seemed as if the week would be the longest I’d endure so be it…
Another challenge was the workload – there was always something to do that kept us all busy and working with one another. The busy week definitely made the days go by fast. The lack of sleep brought out some interesting characters for many of us, even myself probably.
One last challenge, mentioned before, it was difficult turning down meals that were prepared for us by the families after we built their stove and water filter. I felt it hindered a lot of us from fully embracing the culture but you risk an upset stomach with the lack of enzymes built up to sustain that level of localized water intake.
What was the most impactful experience you had while in Guatemala?
Getting the opportunity to see what the people of Guatemala experience daily has had a humbling impact on me, in terms of what I took for granted with my assumptions of how they live. I’m happy that now I am able to share with others my experience firsthand, and I am learning that is what makes all the difference.
All 110 volunteers that came along with HELPS definitely made an impact on my experience, because each and every person made a memory I keep in mind from this journey. It’s interesting to think about how in the beginning of this trip I was overwhelmed with everyone I thought I would have to get to know. Yet with all the help that was needed from stoving, assisting in the kitchen and in the hospital there was enough work so that everyone made an impact on each other working together. I can’t say enough how influential every one’s work ethic was on each other. We all had to get down and dirty, literally in someone’s kitchen, when stoving, and keeping in mind this is all for the greater good.
The clinical volunteers helped create a temporary acute care hospital and then took part in 112 surgeries and 1,178 patient visits. The corporate volunteers helped install 76 stoves for impoverished families. All of this in fewer than six days!