Wellness in Guatemala

In the first village, Palacal, they set up a clinic in a local Methodist church. People were already waiting when they arrived, mostly women and children. After three days in Palacal, the group moved to Paquila, where they saw patients for two days. Since Paquila has a small medical clinic, they were able to set up in the existing clinic.

In the two small villages, the team filled prescriptions, distributed vitamins and antiparasitic medications and provided hand-washing and teeth-brushing instructions. During their five days in the region, they treated between 550 and 600 patients, and they handed out shoes and eyeglasses that had been donated for the mission; every single pair of donated shoes and glasses found a new home in Guatemala.

In addition to treating patients for intestinal illnesses and skin infections, the team treated respiratory illnesses and eye conditions. Respiratory illnesses are common among villagers because they often cook over open fires inside their homes, exposing themselves to smoke inhalation. Due to the combination of high elevation and lack of sunglasses, eye conditions such as cataracts are also common.

Among the St. Peter’s team members was Marianne Welch, laboratory director at Conway Regional Medical Center. While this was not Welch’s first trip to Guatemala, it was her first trip to these particular villages. Of the mission team’s spirit, Welch said, “We were blessed with an incredible sense of teamwork and good humor, which lasted the entire trip.”

The highlight of the mission for Welch was the group’s common purpose and something unexpected that she realized on the trip. “People who experience this sort of thing together come away from it changed completely, both in how they view the world and how connected they are to one another.”
Carolyn Scott, who also participated in the mission, said, “This was my first trip, and I will go back every chance I get! The highlight of the trip for me was interacting with the children.”

Scott was one of the mission team members who went into the local schools to educate students on proper hand-washing and teeth-brushing techniques and to distribute toothbrushes and toothpaste. Of her experience with the children, she explained, “As all children do, they exhibited curiosity, shyness, bravado, affection; I really wanted to stay and teach and learn from them. Education is expensive, and not many of them will have the opportunity to experience the joy and liberation of learning. They were obviously so intelligent, and my heart ached thinking what little opportunity they would have to use their minds.” (According to Welch, in Guatemala a lot of kids leave school in third grade to start working.)

About returning home, Welch said that even though she believes most find meaning in their jobs here, “it’s a little difficult to come back because the work that you’re doing there has such an immediate impact, and you’re directly involved in making a difference.”

In summing up the experience, Welch noted, “The work was hot and hard and physically tiring, but the reward of serving in a place of such need was priceless. We made many new friends and forged bonds with one another that strengthen us and ultimately, strengthen St. Peter’s. We hope to build on what we have begun and to see many more such projects in our future.”