Tuesday, April 21, 2009

March Madness HIM style!

What an amazingly rewarding month for HIM in Guatemala! We had four teams of 10 day volunteer trips beginning Feb 27 and straight through until March 30. The run started with a team from Bellarmine University in Kentucky, then Carroll University (yes from WI!), on to Arcadia University in Philadelphia, and finally the Plastics/Cleft Palate Surgical & Dental trip. Trip sizes ranged from 24-69 people, bringing a total of 187 volunteers to Guatemala with HIM. Much of the stateside HIM staff was able to join for varied portions as well. A highlight for me was that my mom and good friend, Nancy, came on the last trip of the month! It was great to get a little dose of home after being gone for two months.

The month’s numbers included 3,138 people seen in general medical clinics, 421 seen in dental clinics, 796 teeth extracted (that’s a lot of teeth!! Like, 25 peoples’ mouths worth of ‘em!), 490 people’s teeth were varnished, 55 surgeries, and 95 pairs of eyeglasses given out!!

Additionally, through the high temps and blazing sun construction accomplishments included prepping for and pouring a new concrete floor at the Usumatlan Senior Center, concrete block and tying of rebar at the new AA building in Teculutan, and more rebar tying and pouring of the second floor for HIM’s orphanage. And who could forget the beautiful and amazingly creative murals designed and painted by the Bellarmine artists?! With results like these, how can it not be a success!!

During trips our days start with breakfast at the hotel at 7:30am, and end around 9pm after we’ve had dinner and some evenings, a HIM team meeting. During the day the HIM staff and volunteers (currently seven of us) are split up to drive the various groups to their destinations. Usually there is a crew going to the hospital, construction site, remote village location, Nutrition Center, and sometimes the ROMP lab or a local school. We spend the day working with whichever team we are with that day.

Normally, as one group is heading to Antigua to wind down and start heading back to the States, the long term volunteers stay back and get ready for the next group, which in March meant either later that same day, or early the next day. Given that I had family/friends on the trip I was able to join the crew this time! While in Antigua, my mom and Nancy hiked the volcano, Pacaya. I chose not to this time around, as I did it in October while here and the 6 am departure time was just not appealing after a long month of work. Here I am in Oct on Pacaya though. While they were hiking the volcano, I spent the morning seeing a few other sights around Antigua. Here I am with a couple friends where we hiked to the cross that overlooks the city, with a volcano in the background. We also went to one of the old Monasteries where there is an underground circular area which provides for amazing acoustics. A group of about 15 of us spent a good hour singing, listening and harmonizing to every song we could think of (and actually remember the words to!) Given my love for music, this was another amazing experience.

Each trip tends to bring a ton of donations with them as well. This is wonderful, as so much is needed....from medications, to clothes, to school supplies, to diapers, shoes, medical supplies, etc. The list is never ending! This leads to one of my current jobs now that the trips are done for a two month stretch. Someone has to organization and inventory these supplies...guess who...yours truly!!! Here is what I have been tackling almost daily since the groups left. IT'S A BIG JOB TO SAY THE LEAST! Yes, I am in the picture, but it's kinda like looking for Waldo.

My other ongoing role when there are not trips here is to keep the HIM blog, which Lauren and I started up to date. If you haven't seen that blog and would like to the address is http://himguatemala.blogspot.com/.

It was also a great month for meeting a LOT of wonderful people and reconnecting with a few people from past trips. After each 10 day trip (this time consecutively) of hard work and stepping out of our comfort zones, our parting gifts were a sense of satisfaction, making a difference, new friendships, and our eyes being opened to another culture and way of life. And the coolest part...with such rewards, of course our logical thought pattern is, “How soon can I come back and do it all again?” Now, hopefully you are understanding HIM's success in bringing volunteers from the States, and why I am here for an extended period.

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” –Anne Frank

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Welcome to Teculutan

Mid March (and yes, in the midst of a solid month of volunteer groups here), I moved to a city called Teculutan, which is about 40 minutes from my prior residence. I knew shortly after arriving in Guatemala that this change would be happening. We refer to the house as the HIM House. The first picture below is the view from the street. One would never know how much space and housing we actually have behind that outside wall! This house was also built by the teams of volunteers, however, this was years ago. We have an awesome family who lives in the front, streetside house on the property. The middle picture is a view of their house from the inside courtyard. Both Luis and Norma work for HIM and have for about 16 years. Luis is a driver when we have trips here and Norma is the cook for our trips. Luis has also been trained in prosthetics and runs the ROMP (Range of Motion Project) lab year round when the Prosthetists from the States are not here on volunteer trips. He really is a jack of all trades! His English is about at the level of my Spanish so we have fun correcting each other and somehow manage to have a lot of inside jokes.

The picture directly above is what we refer to as the HIM house. The lower level of the house has a large comedor (dining room), bathrooms, and a couple dorm style bedrooms that are used for PA (Physician Assistant) rotations that come from various colleges in the States. They come throughout the year for a month stay to work at the local hospital. These groups range from 2-12 people. Currently, we had one rotation leave April 4th, another arrive April 5th, and another on the 12th. We currently have a full house!

On the upper level is our kitchen/dining area and three large bedrooms with bathrooms. Robin, Lauren, and I (all long term volunteers) each have a bedroom there. I am still trying to get settled in my room and hope that I will be settled about the time I am packing to come back home. Isn’t this how it always goes?!?! Here is the view out the North facing window in my bedroom. And oh ya, who could forget, the chorus of chickens and roosters that reside outside of my window?! Many days, they tend to think it is 6am all day and all night long.
My favorite feature of this house is the rooftop. Those of you that know my love for warmth and sun can see why. I love it even more because someone thought to put in an electrical outlet, so I can actually do much of my computer work from there! I guess I could consider it my office in Guatemala!

Additionally, the yard is overflowing with mango trees, which is wonderful right now as it is mango season. Mangos can be heard hitting the tin roof all day long. There is a plethora of fresh ripe mangos on the ground every morning just waiting to be eaten!

A little about my roommates….Robin is in her late 60s and is a semi retired Realtor in Oconomowoc, WI. One of her daughters who is also a Realtor does much of the work in her absence, but you’d be amazed how much she can still do from here with a cell phone and internet! She has been living here for just over a year and has committed to 3 years. She returns home intermittently for a month at a time. She left for the States recently and will be back here in early June. Recently, Robin added to our house with a puppy named Lydia. She is a good dog, but of course is a puppy so requires, a lot of “NOs” and cleaning up after. Robin has a lot of roles here. She handles much of the logistical info related to the groups that come down. Additionally, she is going to be working on getting our new AA project going, as she also has a background as an alcohol and drug counselor. Pictured below are Robin and Lauren on one of the trip's fiesta nights.

Lauren is in her mid 20s and is from Napa Valley, CA. Prior to coming here she was a preschool teacher and director. This background has allowed her to easily and successfully fall into her role here of setting up a child sponsorship program. She tours local schools and daycares, interviews the family of the child and matches them up with a sponsor in the States. The sponsor's contribution will pay for the child’s school supplies, uniform, shoes, and school fees if applicable. This really is an amazing gift, as many children will drop out of, or not even start school. Usually this is due to one of or a combination of these reasons: lack of money for school related expenses, the parents need for the child to help out at home or work to bring in money, or the parents are not educated so don’t see the value in their children having an education. Lauren has been here since August and unfortunately, will be going home in just over a month. Naturally, given our age, circumstance, desire to travel throughout Guatemala, etc Lauren and I have gotten to be very good friends. Here is just one of the million pictures we have together. This was taken early April as we were able to get a quick break and hitched a ride to Honduras and jumped on a ferry to the beautiful island of Roatan.

As so many of you know, I value relationships. One of the many things that I love so much about Hearts In Motion is the opportunity it allows for me to be in the company of and acquainted with so many fascinating, diverse and wonderful people all at the same time. I am driven and energized by this. There is something very powerful about a group of people working together passionately for a cause that is bigger than the sum of its parts. We allow eachother to do so much more together, than we could on our own. The results are exponential and the bonds long lived. It is a privilege to be a part of this experience.

“There is a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life -- happiness, freedom, and peace of mind -- are always attained by giving them to someone else.” -
Peyton Conway March

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The HIM Gualan Nutrition Center

Until mid March I had been living at the HIM Nutrition Center near the city of Gualan. This building was built mostly by volunteers as they came down on mission trips. I was fortunate to help hang siding and cut out for windows on my frist trip here in Oct of 2007. It is a beautiful building on an even more beautiful setting. It is the first of many buildings on what we refer to as the future HIM Campus or Compound.

A couple years ago the Mayor of the city offered to donate land to HIM, as a means to get us to move more of our operations this direction. A 17 acre site was chosen and the planning began. The site is hugged by the Rio (River) Dulce on the south side with mountains beyond it. Additionally, mountains are seen from all sides, thus this small community is called Valle Motagua. The setting really is spectacular! There was a K-5 school already present on the site which is still in operation.

The orphanage is the next building project on the site. It is well in the works with the second story having gone up just over this past week. We are hoping (keep your fingers crossed) it will be done in May. I have yet to snap a picture of it with the second story, but here are a couple from earlier this month, as the teams worked their butts off in the blazing heat!

Upon completion of the orphanage, building will continue as we add to the compound. Additional planned buildings are a single mother's home, an elderly care home, a dental clinic, a hotel or form of housing for the 10 day volunteer groups, and eventually a fence to encompass the whole area to ensure our continued safety.

Currently, one of our weekly projects at the Nutrition Center is to hold a community feeding for Valle Motagua’s poorest children. Two Chicagoland Area Rotaries as well as the Gualan Roatary have been very active in helping us carry out this mission of HIM. At the Dedication Ceremony of this building, in October, which I just happened to be here for as I was on the 10 day October trip, the representatives announced that they would be providing funds for us to do a community feed for the most needy kids of the area once a week for a year! Every Wednesday, 50-75 kids are lined up waiting to come in! It is interesting to see how excited they get over something that we take so for granted…a nourished meal. How lucky we are!

Here is a picture of the feeding. It reminds me of the semi-chaotic grade school lunches from back in the day. No food fights here though. Trust me, they'd rather eat it!

I have gotten to know many of the kids from living in the area and passing them on my daily walk. Now I see them on a weekly basis as I go out there to help prep the food and serve. They have progressed from just calling me Gringa (which means white girl) to knowing and remembering my name, which is easy for them because Kara (however spelled with a C) means “face” in Spanish.

Coming soon…what I have been so busy doing for the last month that I haven’t done any blog posts.

“Giving frees us from the familiar territory of our own needs by opening our mind to the unexplained worlds occupied by the needs of others.” - Barbara Bush

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Meet the kids!

I have now been at living at the HIM Nutrition Center for three weeks. We currently have four malnourished children living here. Our newest arrival came yesterday. There are several other families we have been in contact with who SHOULD bring their child or children here. Unfortunately, the parents don’t always realize the severity of the sickness. Just to clarify, when a child comes here, it means they live here. I reailzed today that some of you may not realize this. So we are basically with them 24/7. It is fun and rewarding, yet challenging and draining at the same time. I am learning a ton. Keep in mind, not only are we nourishing them, but in a sense we are raising them, disciplining them, teaching them, etc. All the while, in a different language. Believe me, this adds another whole element!

Currently, we have Denis, Shelly, Aura, and now Thelma. Denis and Shelly are both four and are cousins. Aura turned two recently. Thelma is 11 months. Coming from a non mother, I tend to think that ALL of them are in their terrible twos! No, really they are great kids. Of course they have their moments, but don’t we all!

Denis, well…Denis is a boy. (Although, he has one of the highest pitched screams I have ever heard!) He likes dirt and rocks and his most recent favorite is his toy carro, (car) that someone sent from the States. He tries to sleep with it at night. He has beautiful brown eyes and long lashes. They almost convince you that he might not be as mischievous as he really is, ALMOST.

Shelly is the inquisitive one. She asks what everything is, sometimes several times. She tries repeating the words and usually gets it right after the fifth or sixth time. She throws a lot of fits over seemingly nothing and we are working very hard to get her over this phase. Here she is wearing one of my hats! Denis and Shelly's grandma visits about every other week and we are chopped liver to them once she arrives!

Aura, is a monkey and a chunky! She LOVES to eat. You should see her come a runnin’ when we yell for any meal, especially Incaparina, which is a nutrient rich, warm drink they have before bedtime every night. She has just one dimple, but makes up for the lack of a second dimple in personality! She also has a laugh that could turn any frown upside down! I happened to be here in October when we discovered her in a mountain town called Quebrada Leon and realized her need for help. She has made great progress since being here. In her monthly check up this week, the doctor said that she gained 2.4 lbs, 2 cm in height, and 2 cm in circumference of her head. Having grown in height she is still just shy of being a “safe” height/weight ratio to be released. Aura's dad visits as close to every weekend as he can. It is fun to watch them interact, but usually takes a bit for her to latch herself off of one of us and onto her dad. What can we say? We are very loveable here at the Nutrition Center, sometimes, more appropriately named the Nut House!

Thelma, we are just learning about, but so far I refer to her as either Cheeks or Cheeks McGee. Her cheeks are by far her most prominent facial feature, which I have learned has to do with her form of malnutrition. At 11 months, she weighs in at just over 13 lbs. She has both a sore and a bald spot on her head from spending much of her life thus far lying on a bed while mom and dad both work 12 day in a row shifts, leaving the neighbor to come by and give her a bottle. She can not sit up let alone crawl or even push herself up if laying on her belly. She also has the signature brown hair with very dry blond tips which is another sign of her illness. We also have learned that she will have us up about 3 times a night for a total of close to 3 hours!

All of them love the camera and seeing their pictures on the digital screen. So snapping these pictures wasn’t too hard! Enjoy!

Above are the 3 amigos having a slumber party in my bedding as I was trying to make my bed! On the right, Aura hanging with me before bedtime checking my email. And Denis and Aura playing outside my room, most likely in an attempt to keep me from a much needed nap after they mentally and physically exhausted me!

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Beginning...

Many people are asking me if I am going to do some kind of newsletter, blog, etc as communication while in Guatemala. After a busy couple weeks of groups here, getting settled, and adjusting, I have decided I am going to do my best with this. I think I am doing it as much for all of you as I am for myself. I’m hoping it will give me something to look back on to remember this amazing time in my life.

After a wonderfully supportive Hearts In Motion fundraiser and Send Off party, I spent a couple days tying up lose ends and left Waupaca Wednesday evening with my good friends Mark Vrakas, and Tony Mo. They drove me to Oconomowoc where I stayed with friends Kevin & Denise O’Halloran. The O’Halloran’s have traveled with HIM for many years and I am pleased to say they quickly became part of my HIM family.

I arrived in Guatemala City the ev
ening of Jan 29th after a long day of traveling with my friend John who was heading here on his first Hearts In Motion trip. (I say his first because I knew he would love it, and now that the trip is over, he has assured me, he is not done with Guatemala and Guatemala is not done with him.) John Hopf and I were introduced a few months prior by our mutual friends the O’Halloran’s in hopes that John and I may be able to join forces on our efforts. John is walking the Appalachian Trail (a whopping 2175 miles) as a fundraiser to raise awareness and bring clean water to Guatemala through the use of a water filtration system called Hydra Aid. He has partnered with HIM to be the vehicle in which to make this happen seeing as HIM has a rapport and a presence with the country. Knowing I would be here for at least 6 months this seemed a logical way to get the project spearheaded.

Anyway….Jan 29th was spent at a hostel in Guatemala City with John and my friend Lauren who is also a long term HIM volunteer. The three of us returned to the airport Friday, to meet up with the group of volunteers who was flying in that day for our first 10 day trip of 2009. After a few hours of meet and greet, get organized and find out who’s luggage is lost (including John and mines) we headed out for the 3 and a half hour journey on our big yellow school bus to our lodging for the week in Santa Cruz, a city in the department of Zacapa.

Saturday morning, as always at the beginning of a trip, is spent doing intros, guidelines, etc. From there we head to the HIM house in Teculutan where we make sandwiches and bag rice milk, which we then deliver to the people who live at the garbage dump. There are about 300 people who live at the dump and rummage through the garbage somewhat as means of survival. It is quite a sight. After our lunch, we went to visit one of the daycares HIM started. There we played with the kids, and listened to the songs and lessons they have been learning. They are even learning a few English terms! We then headed back to the hotel where the process of sorting bins begins. We have a LARGE amount of meds, equipment, clothes, toys, etc that need to be inventoried for the week. Piles are made to sort where things are going ie the hospital, clinic, specialized clinic (this week’s specialty was OB/GYN,) construction, daycares, schools, etc.

This is where it gets hard…there are so many things happening throughout the week, and I have yet to master being in more than one place at the same time! I kind of feel like Sunday starts as a group huddle where everyone then breaks, says “GO TEAM!” and gets started on their project. The nurses, doctors, surgical techs, etc head to the hospital. Patients are evaluated and a preliminary surgical schedule is made out for the week. Clinic people (physicians, translators, pharmacists, laymen, etc) round up to head to the village the clinic will be held in that day. Clinics sites range from half hour to 2+ hours away. The firemen meet with the local firefighters for training of techniques and general knowledge. Construction people head to the work site, which most likely is in Gualan where I am currently living.

I spent Sunday at construction making a few pieces of furniture for my room at the Nutrition Center and setting up the first of the three water filters that were brought down. Monday was again doing construction and for me a day to start moving things into my room. I also got a chance to spend a little more time with the kids at the Nutrition Center that I will be helping to take care of. More on them in another, actually probably many blogs. Tuesday John, Bert and I spent much of the day seeking out materials for the other two water filters. Let me explain, the units use different granulations of gravel and sand to work properly. In efforts to cut down on transportation costs of the 130 lbs of natural resources used per unit, we only brought enough for one unit. This also in turn pushed us to HAVE to find the materials locally in order to get the other two installed. We are planning to make this project MUCH bigger. I will have more detail on that in the near future as well.

Wednesday we set up clinic at a village about 2 and a half hours away called Lampocoy. Along the way we witnessed roads being rebuilt as mudslides six months ago had taken out the roads, as well as a neighboring town. Here, John and I installed the second water filter, as both general clinic and OB/GYN clinic were being run as well. We were quite far up in the mountains, where we were greeted with cold(er) weather, followed by rain, as well as a lot of needy people. What will always sick out in my mind at this clinic is the 45 (ish) year old woman who came in for a pap and it was discovered that she had stage 3 cervical cancer. How fortunate we are in the US to have access to preventative health care.

In the evening, to test what the firemen, called Bomberos, have been le
arning all week we held a mock mass casualty on the hotel grounds. Volunteers were, as I was calling it, “all gored up,” and strewn around the grounds. At the whistle, the Bomberos had to locate everyone, assess their level of care needed, transport them to safety, and report to a superior. Here I am with my severed arm and stab wound. I’m still not exactly sure what happened to me to cause such injuries!?!

Thursday we traveled to the village of Jones, pronounced Honas for all you non Spanish speakers. Once again we encountered road problems as w
e came down a hill and around a corner to find the road covered in 2+ feet of water. But, we use the f word a lot on HIM trips…the f word being FLEXIBLE. So we improvised and after a good hour or so delay, we were ready to set up shop once again. Here, the third water filter was installed and many people were seen in clinic.

Thursday evening is always marked with a celebratio
n dinner where we talk about the week’s accomplishments. I love this evening as a point is usually made to show the vast ages of the volunteers. This trip's youngest, 16 and oldest, 82 (ish). Then the dance party begins and even a make shift limbo contest in which yours truly was the proud winner!

For me, Friday morning marked the end of the trip and the beginning of my extended stay in Guatemala as the group headed to Antigua, Guatemala for a day and a half of relaxing, reflection and reconnecting with new friends and more accurately stated, family. Because like it or not, it feels like you have just become a part of a truly inspiring and devoted family, the Hearts In Motion family.