I went to Guatemala last August as part of a school group to set up and run medical and dental clinics.
The first day we landed and were taken to an amazing 5-star hotel in Guatemala city. Here we got to meet the staff and had our orientation. The next day we departed to Antigua where we met our home stay families. We stayed with them for 5 nights. I was placed in a home with a wonderful family who took us in and made us feel very welcome. Even though our home stay family spoke English, they spoke to us in Spanish forcing us to practice the language.
Our first 2 clinic days took place in a rural village 45 min from Antigua. We set up shop in a house volunteered by a local. I believe by the end of the first two days we had tended to around 200 patients. The first clinic day was frightening since I had no clue what to expect. However, as the day progressed, I began to become more and more comfortable. In these few days, I had my eyes open to the conditions in other parts of the world. And I began to understand that the world I was living in back home, is not a reality for the majority of the world's population.
Our 3rd clinic day took place up high in the mountains- another village. None of us were aware that we were heading up to the mountains so most of us were unprepared, wearing only tee-shirts under our scrubs. The cold was unbearable, but nevertheless we pushed through and got to work. I remember children walking in with their traditional clothing consisting of shirts and skirts and wondering how they endured the harsh conditions up in the mountains. I guess they were in fact acclimatized to it. You would think being from Canada, that I would have been better able to handle the conditions.
We spent one night in Antigua going out to the local bars and clubs with the entire group. The next morning, we took a tour of the clonal city and went to visit an orphanage just north of the city. I have to say I was very impressed with the quality of the orphanage. However, I was told it was because it was one of the best in the country and that the conditions of others are a lot worse.
We then packed up our bags, said goodbye to our home stay families and headed off to panajachel. This city borders one of the most beautiful lakes in the world- lake Atitlan. We stayed in a hotel together as a group this time, so it was fun as we were able to hang out and talk amongst each other. The next day we headed up north 15 min to a small city to run a clinic. We set up shop in their medical center. Now when I say medical center, I mean an open space with benches where we could attend to patients. We were only here for one day, so we needed to work quickly to ensure we saw everyone who was waiting in line.
The next two clinic days took place in another city, on the other side of the lake. It was in some sort of complex with multiple rooms- I cannot remember what the exact structure was used for. I remember the area bordering the lake with an astounding view. It was during the last clinic day, that I had an opportunity to work the Pharmacy helping one of the doctors give out the drugs prescribed to the patients.
During the trip, I encountered many emotional challenges along the way. The fact of the matter is it was heartbreaking to see these individuals lacking basic medical care. I mean here in Canada, if your sick with a bacterial infection, no big deal, go to the doctor and get antibiotics. On top of that I have insurance, so the drugs are covered for as well. However, it is not as easy for these people. Drugs cost money and most of the individuals we tended too did not have the funds to cover such costs. There were some cases, that even we could not help them- instances where the doctors suspected that they had cancer and informed them that they needed to go to the hospital ASAP. Those were the hardest cases to deal with because, you could see the happiness from their faces fade away as they were being informed of their possible condition.
Although the trip was emotionally challenging, it was also uplifting in many ways. These people have a sense of resilience, one that was passed on to me during my time there. The way they thank you after you have treated them, is truly humbling and made the trip worth it in the end.
These two weeks changed the way I view the world and have taught me to cherish and appreciate what I have been given. I would highly recommend this trip to anyone who wants to embark upon a life changing journey.