It could not be more different than Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is 9 a.m., and I am walking past a crumbling Catholic church, looking out into a valley nestled between two volcanoes. A group of children run to hug me. There is no school, and they want to play soccer.
There was something about running across a damp field with them, knowing their little legs will take them to the goal much more quickly than yours will. For a few minutes, you forget where you are; forget the mudslide-stained concrete houses, the tin roofs, the overwhelming atmosphere of poverty. You are teaching English to children, yelling words for goal, ball, swerve, duck, and kick. You are with kids who love a sport, just like most kids anywhere in the world. They're laughing, and their mothers are watching you from underneath the eaves of tin roofs. You grin, and they grin back. You only wish good things upon these good people.
I was reminded of the story of a woman who gave birth on the side of this road a few months ago. The woman, from a nearby town, was pregnant, and began delivering earlier than expected. A full 25 minutes by truck to the only medical facility in the area, she couldn't find a pickup truck to take her into Santiago. The men in the town were out harvesting coffee late. Pains quickening, she began to walk along the dirt road in the fading light, hoping someone would help her. She gave birth on the side of the road, alone in the darkness.
Life-saving services are something that we have access to here in the United States with the pressing of 9-1-1. It is almost unimaginable to give birth at home, or worse, in an unsanitary, unprepared setting. I think about the children that I spent time with, wondering what would happen to them, praying that they and their families never have an emergency. But no one can guarantee that. The only thing we can guarantee is their ability to have access to an ambulance.
I just returned from a month of volunteer consulting for a new hospital in Santiago Atitlán, a remote town in the highlands of Guatemala. Hospitalito Atitlán serves 75,000 Tz'utujil Maya in this region. The non-profit hospital is staffed with native Guatemalan healthcare workers, a handful of doctors, and volunteers from abroad who come to offer various specialized medical skills.
The hospitalito itself has endured great hardship. It opened in another part of Santiago back in 2005 after more than twenty years of dormancy. The civil war had proven to be too dangerous for volunteers from abroad to perform medical mission trips. After years of planning, the hospital opened in 2005 in a small concrete building, only to be buried in the mudslide caused by Hurricane Stan. Hundreds of townspeople died. Hospital personnel began operating out of a hostel, saving hundreds of lives, and helping in the rebuilding efforts of the village.
Eventually, the generosity of financial backers abroad led to the opening of a new hospital on the other side of town. It was here where I travelled to with the intent of building a communications plan. To me, this seems like something far less romantic than performing a life-saving medical procedure, or saving the life of a young mother, but I found that there are so many different ways to have an impact. The world of development is in search of people with an array of skills, and I got to experience this while working in the development office. Being over there changed something in me.
I returned a little over a week ago to culture shock and awareness of the glaring differences between life in Central America and life here.
I’m asking you, the reader, for help. I've never been one to ask for money for anything. I know it's a political season, and you've probably donated to your respective party. You may be struggling to put food on the table for your own family, or you just might not like pleas from random causes in third-world countries. I promise you, this is nothing like that.
In this circumstance, an ambulance will be purchased within the next month, filled with medical equipment, and on the roads by November 17th. A team of University of Pennsylvania medical students will be taking part in a medical mission (hornada) for the month of November to train healthcare workers in the hospital to use the vehicle. Women will be bringing children into the world on hospital beds surrounded by family, not in a ditch alone on the side of the road. So please, if you want to have direct impact, check out my video (below), and donate on the Hospitalito website. The people there will not take this for granted, and understand the impact this will have on their lives.