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Beccah's Adventures: Training on the Respiratory System

Peten Health and the Community Health Workers welcome Beccah to El Naranjo for six weeks during May and June. Beccah has a strong background in non-profit administration and health education. To our great good fortune, she also turns out to be an insightful observer and talented photographer. We’ve compiled excerpts from her Facebook posts here, so you can see through her eyes how the training classes are taught and what life is like in Peten.

Beccah arrived in Peten on May 16, 2018.

Tomorrow we start a one-week training for 22 new Community Health Workers. The class is about the respiratory system, so that they can learn to diagnose and treat things like coughs/colds, bronchitis, asthma, allergies, sinus infections, ear infections, and more.


…take a deep breath!

Today we began a one-week class on the respiratory system with a new group of Community Health Workers. Most of Community Health Workers have a 6th - 7th grade education and are doing this as volunteers. After they’re trained, they’ll be able to help people in their communities who have asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, are having babies, have parasites, have allergies and sinus infections, have wounds or worse from machetes, and more.

At the start of today, they doled our chores to share for the week (ie, cleaning the latrines, working on the fire pit where we burn our garbage, leading the morning prayer, etc) and the opening morning song. Later we played with dissected parts of a cow to get up close and personal with the respiratory system— pictures and video on that to come— but as we were doing this, the clinic was open and patients were waiting outside to be seen by the more advanced and experienced Community Health Workers.

Learning the parts of the respiratory system by putting together a puzzle — and laughing a lot! The goal was to start understanding about the respiratory system so that the Community Health Workers can diagnose and treat people in their rural areas with respiratory problems.

OK: I have to admit it— this shocked me. I somehow missed the memo on the fact that we would be going outside to get intimate with a cow’s respiratory system— but, here we were, under a tree in the 107 degree heat, touching the cow’s trachea, bronchi, and lungs— and even blowing up the lungs so we could see how they expand and collapse!! It was amazing, and while the women in the group were initially reluctant to touch anything, they finally dove in and were fully equal players. And in another shock to me: They will cook the cow’s respiratory parts — with some tomato — to make dinner for tonight.


Medical school on speed this morning! The Community Health Workers started learning how to use stereoscopes, look into people’s ears and under their tongues. And after a lifetime of ear infections and having countless doctors, nurses, and medical students look into my ears and poke around, I finally got the chance to look into a (extraordinarily patient) little girl’s ears!


To learn what it feels like to have asthma so that they can better treat future patients, the Community Health Workers (and I), put straws in our mouths, closed our nostrils, and ran around the clinic building twice — and came back gasping for air. It was a brilliant exercise (no pun intended!) — and then we all went down to the river and jumped in to cool off. Thankfully the crocs that I fear tremendously were nowhere to be seen!

Then we learned how to remove ear wax — with chickens crowing in the background!


What a day!! Today brought a morning lesson on antibiotics, when you need them, and how they work, followed by an afternoon lesson on why people may need injections and how to give them! I don’t know how the Community Health Workers’ heads aren’t spinning from all of this new information — and the 105 degree heat.

The morning lesson on antibiotics was brilliant. To cap the lesson off, they brought out a big melon and put shaving cream all over it. The melon represented bacteria, and then they threw cotton — which represented antibiotics— at the melon. The cotton stuck, showing us we had the right kind of antibiotics. Then they covered the melon (and shaving cream) with Saran Wrap and threw more cotton balls at it. They of course didn’t stick, showing us that certain antibiotics won’t work for Gram negative bacteria. It was brilliant. I just now realized we had melon for afternoon snack and surely it was the same one from our morning lesson!

In the afternoon there was a fantastic lesson on injections. After a lot of giggling over a drawing of a butt and two Community Health Workers (begrudgingly) lying face down on a table to let us see their butts, we learned about injection sites. Next up: Practicing injections on oranges! And only moments later: Practicing injections on each other — which is right around when I went outside for some scrambled eggs!


Yesterday morning was the final session for this week’s course on the respiratory system, and I honestly cannot believe how much information they taught and learned! Granted they’re learning it in their native language and I’m needing to constantly think in Spanish, but to think that we started the week out just identifying and learning the names and parts of the respiratory system and by the end of the week we’d blown up a cow’s lungs, learned what it feels like to have asthma, learned the difference between various types of antibiotics and their appropriate uses, learned to give injections — and more— I am amazed.

The final group activity yesterday involved Mario, one of the advanced Community Health Workers who was leading the course, read them various cases (ie, Juan is 29 years old and is complaining of pain near his eyes and on his forehead which worsens when he bends over) and they then had to put together puzzle pieces with the correct diagnosis, the medicine, and dosage — and it got competitive!

I was sad to say good bye to this group — some will be back when I’m still here to “shadow” more advanced Community Health Workers in the clinic and/or to help with construction of the new clinic— but some won’t be back until the first week of July when they have their next week of training— on essential medicines!

Come back soon to see a photo gallery of Beccah's week.

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