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Reflections on our visit to El Naranjo in February 2020

In what seems like a lifetime ago, we brought an intrepid group of 11 travelers from the U.S. to Guatemala for the Inauguration of the Casa de Salud. Most were donors to Petén Health and they engaged eagerly with the activities of the week: clinic days, teaching, and visits to schools, villages and homes. The Americans who are health care providers jumped into teaching, both in the clinic and in the classroom, while others lent their language skills to interpret for the non-Spanish speakers. In early March, before the coronavirus shutdown changed everyone’s lives, they had a chance to reflect on the trip. Their comments (below) provide insight into the CHWs and their communities.

What impressed you most about the Community Health Workers?

"I was impressed by the sincerity of many health workers. They definitely desired to learn even though it meant a lot of travel and time away from home." —Kate C

"I was deeply impressed by the CHWs’ sense of commitment to their work and community. I witnessed the tender and compassionate mannerism in the way they assisted the many elderly patients throughout the eye examination, prescription and reader glasses purchase process. They exhibited exemplary bedside etiquette and patience with everyone, including me, a non-Spanish speaker (with poor eyesight, I must mention) who was just trying to find the proper eyeglasses, +1.0,+2.0, etc. and make change with unfamiliar bank notes. They had a kind smile for everyone." —Eric

"Clearly the health promoters in Petén deserve all the support we can give them and more. They are a gracious, inspiring group and are truly our teachers when it comes to helping others as well as opening the heart! Never have I met people who have so little but give so much." —Lucas

"I was so impressed with the ingenuity and teamwork among the promoters." —Sara

"Their physical and psychological strength, humility, great cooperative and collaborative skills, generosity. Down-to-earth and dedicated. I saw no divisiveness, selfishness or competition." —Sharon

"They work extremely hard to sustain themselves and their families on a daily basis and yet make time to laugh and take joy in family and friends. In the midst of life in a politically and economically precarious society, many possess the drive and optimism to improve things for themselves and the community." —Kathy

What was something you saw or experienced that gave you a sense of the scope of the work being done by the CHWs?

"The eye class for third year CHW students; it gave us an idea of the scope of work the health workers can do. It ranged from pretty simple (student health workers learning to help community members select reading glasses), to complex (an advanced health worker using a needle to remove an embedded foreign body in the eye after it wouldn’t come out with a Q-tip.)" —Kate C.

"[They] made sure a girl not only had a functional cast while her femur fracture was healing but also managed complications as they arose." —Sara

"Several people who came to the reading glasses event were diagnosed with more serious eye problems. The more advanced CHWs and visiting physicians stepped in to provide the needed care, all the while explaining their actions and decisions to the students watching closely. They were simultaneously modeling for the third-year students how to manage such a case while delivering the treatment. This is typical of how knowledge and experience are developed in our training program." —Kathy

What were your impressions of the inauguration?

"It was clear from the attendance and speeches at the inauguration that this is not a stand-alone project but part of a region-wide effort of resilient local people to taking care of their families and communities and safeguarding their land rights while improving both individual and community health."

"At the inauguration, I was especially moved as a CHW introduced the many communities, and the leaders who represented them, that both actively support and benefit from the program's effort. There was a feeling of camaraderie, mutual respect, and belonging at the celebration. The CHWs not only work hard to develop a wide set of health skills but also step out with courage to become leaders in their communities."

"The continued words of gratitude, all the thank yous to the various players in the vast network of the community. The huge sense of accomplishment. That the people and their families came from far away. That everyone was fed, not only with food but also with hope and solidarity." —Sharon

"It was not just an event for CHWs and their families and neighbors. The opening of the facility was a source of great pride to everyone. All those attending, and some attracted by the music and crowd, enjoyed the nice lunch and the program. Speakers were inspiring. The vision of crowds of people moving through the building, laughing, talking and taking pictures showed that this center is not just about providing health care. It is a symbol of advancement for the town and region." —Kathy

How would you describe the living conditions of people in the Petén?

"Life in much of Guatemala is difficult for anyone who is not wealthy. The Petén is even more difficult due to terrible roads and the long distances between communities and between communities and health services. Power outages and impure water add to the problems of living there." —Kate C.

"Poor by material standards of 1st world countries, e.g. no running or hot water, subsistence diet, poor roads and rudimentary infrastructure and services. Rich in connectivity, in family and neighborhood and religious ties." —Sharon

"I’ve seen houses with two rooms: a kitchen and a large room with bunk beds crafted of rough wood for families of 8 or more. There is ongoing concern about the availability of potable water. Like in much of the world, women work very long hours at heavy manual labor and have a lot to do in the care of kids. Makes it harder for them to be involved in their community or to become a CHW." —Kathy

How does the Program for Community Health/Petén Health make a difference for local communities there?

"Due to the extreme lack of health facilities, Petén Health CHWs save lives by being available in remote communities. I believe they also are a great consolation to parents of sick children who now don’t have to make decisions to travel long distances for a medical opinion." —Kate C

"I was so impressed with the ingenuity and teamwork among the promoters. Complex problems were approached through group consensus with everyone's input given thoughtful consideration. Egos weren't a big part of the equation." —Sara

"People are creative about solving problems using materials that are available." —Sara

"Seeing the villages and talking to local CHWs illustrated the extent of services they provide to neighbors. It’s not just administering basic medical treatment and drugs but guiding people about which concerns need a higher level of care, or ongoing treatment such as a chronic condition, and what they can manage at home. If needed, the CHWs facilitate a clinic visit or trip to a hospital by organizing transportation etc." —Kathy

What part of the week was most enjoyable for you personally?

"Being able to visit two villages and a regional meeting of village leaders to engage with people who are not CHWs and to offer the possibility of small public health projects in collaboration with the villages. The determination and resourcefulness of those villagers charged with defining and implementing the projects as a joint venture. These experiences gave me insight into ways I could be of more direct assistance to people in the Petén." —Kathy

"Words can hardly express the experience of being in Guatemala and getting to be associated with the work of Petén Health! Everything about my connection with these people...both the health promoters and the volunteers, has been heartwarming and life changing. Designing the new clinic facility and site has been one of the most satisfying accomplishments of my life." —Lucas

If you’ve read this far, thank you. We’re glad you’re on our team! —Kate

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