Yesterday a group of volunteers made the trip to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.
Quetzaltenango, is the second largest city in Guatemala, with a rapidly growing population of about 200,000 residents. The massive influx of people coming to the city from the mountains in search of a better life, have been welcomed by a lack of new jobs being created or job training opportunities. These families typically settle on the periphery of the city, now areas of great poverty. Rural poverty account for about 71% of the country’s population (7 out of every 10 people).
Quetzaltenango and some of it’s rural areas where part of our scouting efforts in 2008, however it was not an ideal time or location to create a new mission trip. Because of this, Medical Missions Foundation has found other ways to serve the community, especially the local children.
Through a partnership and friendship with Fundacion Futuro de los Ninos children’s orphanage in Salcaja (a rural area of Quetzaltenango), Medical Missions has provided children with ENT (ear, nose, and throat) clinics. Our partners at Hospital Monsenor Gregorio Schaffer allow us to bring kids in first thing in the week to do ear tubes. In the past, we also have served them with dental clinics (2010).
This year, wellness clinics and parasite free tablets were provided for 265 of the children that attend their satellite school program, which provides education and a meal a day to those children in the most impoverished rural areas of Quetzaltenango. In these areas, the household earning potential is roughly a dollar to a $1.50 per day through subsistence farming.
As a volunteer, the most impactful visual was the size of the children. A six-year-old seemed more like a 4-year-old in size, as 70% of children under the age of 5 suffer from stunting. Malnutrition being the greatest cause factor, which in addition, contributes to large number of anemia diagnosis that followed the findings of the check-ups by our volunteer physicians.
This year Medical Missions Foundation is going even further than just medical attention at this location, our Clean Water sustainability program was introduced. In collaboration with Fundacion Futuro de Los Ninos, a water filter will be installed in each classroom of three satellite locations of their foundations program. This will provide clean and safe water for the children to drink while in school. Such a simple step to contribute to the health for the future.
As Carly Skjervem, FNP and first time San Lucas mission participant (veteran in other missions) says, “Seeing how simple the answer could be, I found both heartbreaking, yet encouraging. Simple health care, food, and others that care seems to be taken for granted by those of us that have it every day.”
No matter what, a common occurrence resonates through all our travels in Guatemala—it is the smile and gentle demeanor of the children and the Guatemalan culture that captivate our volunteer hearts, AND make a 4 hour drive through very rough terrain completely erased once you are welcomed with laughter and hope!