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San Lucas Tolimán 2017 – How it all started

As I depart on my 9th trip to San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala with Medical Missions Foundation, I decided to write this blog as reflection on how it all started. Overall, two words immediately come to my mind. “Humility Lesson.”



Flying into San Lucas Tolimán this week.



My first experience with Medical Missions was when I encountered a group that was participating in a medical mission to Antigua, Guatemala. As a Guatemalan local myself (born and raised), but a transplant to Kansas City over two decades ago, I had the pleasure to be introduced to this organization as I was visiting in Guatemala one year.


I asked one of the physicians on the Antigua medical missions trip, “why he did, what he did in another country?” His simple response, yet so complex for me, was, “because people in your country don’t even know they can feel better.” Just once before in my life had I had the feeling of being in a moment and realizing something was happening that was greater than me–a calling you might say.


As a Guatemalan local, and with my family still living in the country, I was able to provide services that could make the medical missions trip for these “foreigners” more comfortable and easy to accomplish. They were doing something for “the people of my country”, something that us “locals” don’t think to do sometimes.


As the next year came around, I was fortunate to be part of a scouting trip for a new medical mission to Guatemala. This gave me a vision into the making of a new mission, and the hope that something special was going to happen.


I asked for help and involvement from my Uncle Ariel, and aside from being a physician himself, he was a diplomat, traveler, connector, singer/performer. With his participation, the title of “travel guide” would be added to his list. He put together an agenda of different locations to visit in a week, and we loaded up our gear in his car and we departed for an adventure. We were a team of four: two medical professionals who were familiar with doing such work with Medical Missions Foundation, the translator (myself), and the man that would make things happen (my Uncle).



Carmen with her Uncle Ariel.


After a four to five-hour drive, a couple of stops of beautiful scenery (as my Uncle would say, “If you are here, why not enjoy it?”), and three or maybe even four of his own music cd’s (he is a romantic singer), we came to this little hospital that seemed abandoned. We entered inside “Hospital Parroquial de San Lucas Tolimán,” a two-story building with empty rooms and five people walking around. It was late in the afternoon, so we met in the courtyard full of plants on the second floor. Sitting in plastic white chairs, we spoke with two locals who worked in the hospital: Dr. Rafael Tun (the director of the hospital and town physician) and Pablo Benedicto (the property caretaker of the hospital). The property was currently only being used when Dr. Tun would carry out clinics. As we continued to tour the hospital, we saw two big rooms in the upstairs with an old anesthesia machine and a gas stove. This visual for me did not mean anything, but for our two medical missions veterans it meant “possibilities.”



Hospital Parroquial de San Lucas Tolimán


After the stop at the hospital in San Lucas Tolimán, we continued our trip for the week and saw need in each community we visited. We drove many miles, visited multiple locations, and were even gifted a salsa dance lesson and a few serenades by my Uncle. In the end it was clear, we were making our way back to San Lucas Tolimán to establish the next medical mission in this beautiful small town around the enormous Lake Atitlan.


The location seemed perfect to outfit and start working, but there was more than just that. There were other details we needed to work out such as the roads we would use for transport, and where all of us would stay. But what really was most important, was that this new mission would grant closer health services to the people of the community and surrounding towns. Currently, they had to travel two hours to a government hospital in a town called Solola, that is, if you could afford transportation.


A year later, a 10ft container was packed with operating room tables, equipment, working anesthesia machines, and more supplies, as it headed to San Lucas Tolimán. All of this sponsored by donations of friends and past participants of Medical Missions Foundation, and creative sourcing of the Mission Coordinators, and approvals from the Medical Missions Board. Throughout this preparation, it would be impossible to leave out a previous year of preparation led by an amazing team of Medical Missions veterans, the future Medical Director for this new mission, and all of the other participants and volunteers. Many meetings were had, wish lists and sourcing out goods that were needed, and it all came together as the “opportunity” one assessed, which now had a vision, goal, people in mind, and “hope.”


What I have provided for readers of the blog is a very short version of how the medical mission to San Lucas Tolimán started. This is the short version for more purposes than one, but mainly because I will provide more details in the coming posts of people, stories, and connections who have become our friends from both sides, Kansas City and Guatemala. And it would be impossible to leave out all the patients and friendly faces that greet us every year and that wait for us to come back.


For some of us now the San Lucas Tolimán mission is part of our yearly plans. There are several doctors, nurses and volunteers that have been coming now eight times since 2009. We have family here now, a purpose, and a mission to complete #HealthforSanLucas #HealthforGuatemala and #HealthfortheWorld.


As always, we are happy to have some new faces, thankful for the people on our team, and those who are ready to work and ready to give.


As I arrive a few days early I will visit with my family and friends, and of course my Uncle Ariel. These are the days when I am able to run some last-minute errands for the team, meet the advanced team, and then head over to San Lucas Tolimán to do some preliminary preparations for the arrival of this year’s helpful mission participants. It is composed of 19 willing, hardworking, creative, and amazing human beings that volunteer their time, their resources, and the talents for “the people of my country”. After 10 years, it’s an honor and a pleasure to be their host. I am still trying to make their trip more accessible and easy to navigate. For me, when April arrives, it means it’s time for my yearly refresher on that “humility lesson,” and it’s time to come home!