Guatemala Village Health by Glenn Buck

glenn buck2
Going to Guatemala with Guatemala Village Health was a very rewarding and challenging trip.  We had the coordinator, Jennifer Hoock a Group Health physician here in Seattle, we had a local MD, Terecita for half of the trip and then another physician, Gil who is also a physician in the Seattle area that does locum.  We had a PA from New Jersey, and 6 PA students from the Medex program at UW.  We had a dental hygienist and a dental assistant (who is native Guatemalan)  We had another individual who was the trip manager and had been on other trips to Guatemala and her grandson.  Plus my son, Nicholas.  We also had another RN from New York and a public health undergrad student from California.  There is also an in country program director, Samuel, as well as another Guatemalan native LPN who did a lot of education to the villagers every day.  We were also accompanied by 3 young men who helped us with carrying supplies and getting the villages set up before we got there, plus a driver and another gentleman who was the lab guru who is native Guatemalan.  I believe that made 19 people altogether.  It was very helpful to have local people to help us every day as well as help with translation, although my spanish did improve some while I was there!!  The program director as well as the lab specialist and the LPN go and visit each of these villages that we visited plus a few more every 6 weeks to follow up on our visits, the medications and any other needs they may have.  They continue to provide vitamins and birth control methods as well.  They also identify new problems within the village and continue to offer education ranging from family planning to women’s health, diabetes, hypertension, healthy eating, composting toilets, growing healthy food, and trying to increase their intake of clean water.  Clean water is somewhat available, but most villages at this point do not have any clean water systems.  In fact one village still drank the water from the dirty river next that runs past them.  In the last village that we visited which is on the ocean, we witnessed them coming back from the more populated town bringing back food.  Kids were carrying 6 packs of 3 liter soda pop as well as cans of soda.  There were small bags of unhealthy snacks littering the ground.  These things are very cheap for them to get and taste good, so it is very plentiful, therefore impacting the health and adding to the obesity problem in villages.  The dental care in all of these villages is deplorable.  Little kids with black teeth, rotting teeth, lost teeth from decay.  This is one of the programs that is followed even when we are not there is dental care.  Sealants were placed on those kids’ teeth that were not decayed, and fluoride wash was placed on the little kids teeth 5 and under.  The biggest education needs to be healthy eating for these villages in order to have some of these health issues addressed.
I don’t know if there is one particular event or aspect of the trip that I enjoyed the most.  I think that interacting with our team and seeing how everyone else interacted with the people we were taking care of and seeing the smiles on those faces was pretty rewarding.  I also loved having my son with me being involved in something I am passionate about and letting him experience a different aspect of life.  I was not able to interact with him a lot during our clinic days as he was involved with the kids programs and administering vitamins while I was triaging, but seeing him in this environment was heartwarming and spending time with just him helping us to bond further was something that I don’t think I could have achieved any other way.
 I would say that maybe the worst part would be the spiders and the scorpions were possibly the worst part!!  But I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
I think that being ready to come home was the most surprising thing to me.  I think that I was surprised at this because when I was in Africa, I was ready to stay longer because I felt like there was more that I needed to do.  I feel that if I go somewhere that I would be able to stay for long periods of time.  I am not quite sure what made me ready to come home.  I think that it was because it was a very stressful trip for me.  The financial burden was pretty high plus not having any access to money for the first week of the trip due to some issues with my bank was stressful.  So, I think overall having that kind of a start to our trip somehow put a cloud over the entire trip.  It’s something that I will be aware of on my next mission and hopefully deal with in a better way.   I think that another thing that really surprised me was the candor with which the men in each community shared that they had girlfriend’s outside their marriages and how widely accepted that was.  Yet they were unwilling, a large portion of them, to discuss family planning.  Most families had 4 children or more, sometimes up to 10 children.  This is a patriarchal society and it is difficult for them to understand that if they had less people in their households, that eventually they would be more financially stable and better able to take care of those family members both financially and emotionally.
 I think that if I hadn’t already known how much being in another country and offering assistance to an underserved population had impacted me, I would’ve learned that on this trip.  Just being present in the moment and listening to the people that we are talking to is so important; even in our daily lives.  So much we are distracted by social media, texting, home life issues, and the general flow of the North American way of life and we take so little time to connect with the people around us who we spend time with every day.  Talking with the members of each community, they really just want the same things that everyone wants and that is a safe place to live, access to clean water and a good life for their families.  I think that leaving my comfort zone and experiencing other ways of life and immersing myself, if even for a short amount of time, will eventually help me to get a better perspective on my own life and what is really important to me.
Along with the patriarchal society, another thing that disturbed  most of us that went was how they treat their animals.  It’s hard to see animals being beaten and going hungry which was seen both in Belize and Sierra Leone, but in these countries, they don’t have the money or the ability to control the pet population.  If the humans don’t have food, then they are surely not going to sacrifice their own meager foodstuffs and give it to the animals, which is the complete opposite here as sometimes you see homeless people feeding their animals before themselves.  In North America we see animals as companions and they see them as a nuisance.
Probably one of the most memorable moments was the hike up the Volcano San Pedro.  It was an all day hike and I am certainly not in the best shape of my life so it was probably one of the most difficult things I have ever done both mentally and physically.  About halfway, I was about to give up, but I turned to music and the fact that one of the guides 67 year old mother was continuing on!!  So I figured that if she could do it, I could do it!  My son of course made it to the top first out of everyone!!  The view at the top 9400 ft was AMAZING!!  Such a sense of accomplishment and I proved that I can do anything I set my mind to.  I think that the overall trip and providing education and helping those members of each community was the most rewarding thing as well as seeing my son in a totally different setting.  I hope that this will impact his life in a positive way as he grows older and he will continue to give back to whatever community that he is part of.
One Nurse has made such an impact in my life.  Sue and Emily have ignited such passion for continuing to give of myself in ways I never thought possible or that I had in me.  From my first mission in Belize and hearing about the mission of One Nurse and seeing how passionate and excited they get just from helping one person in another country, I have seen that there is so much more I have to give to the people around me.  I feel that giving back to a community is so important for each community as well as the person who gives of themselves.  Without One Nurse I would not be where I am today.   Sue
and Emily give so freely of themselves and if I could one day be half as impactful on another person or in my own life, then I will feel like I have pushed their vision forward.  I think that every individual, not just healthcare professionals should give of their time or talents in some way to the world around them.  It does not have to be a grandiose gesture or something that is noticed by a multitude of people, but if it touches just one person, then our world would be a better place.  Thank you so much for giving me the vessel and opportunity to give back to the world and the people who have given me so much!!  I look forward to many more adventures and abilities to learn about other cultures and ultimately myself with One Nurse and with other organizations.
With heartfelt thanks
Glenn Buck