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Scouting a new location in Quetzaltenango

While the rest of the team stayed in San Lucas Toliman to provide another full day of surgery and clinical services, a four-person scouting team went on a road trip on Tuesday.


Led by Carmen Gramajo-Moser, we drove three hours to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second largest city, with a population 225,000. Located at 7,800 feet in the Guatemalan highlands, Quetzaltenango (also known as Xela) is an interesting colonial-era city surrounded by widely-scattered ethnic Mayan villages. For such a large city, Xela has a surprising shortage of medical services.Ricardo campus 5


Carmen’s family is originally from Xela and she has very deep roots in the region. One of those long-standing relationships is with the family of Ricardo Ovalle. Ricardo’s family is very civic-minded. With the help of a generous German donor, they established La Fundacion Futuro de los Niños in 1991.


IMG_2207The foundation operates an amazing “Children’s Village” on a hilltop outside of the town of Salcaja, five miles from Xela. 120 children ages 2–18 live in simple dormitories scattered in a 20-acre campus set in the midst of a tranquil pine forest. Children are sent to this private school by government social services, when it is determined that they have been abandoned, orphaned or no longer can be supported by their families.


Also on the campus is a K-6 school, cafeteria and a trade school teaching the young adults practical work skills. In addition to the kids living on the hilltop campus, disadvantaged children living with their families in Salcaja ride buses for classes and nutritional meals every day.


It is a remarkable program. Walking through the complex, it was clear that the kids were flourishing in an atmosphere of love and stability. Test scores and post-graduation success also indicate that Ricardo’s model is working.

Ricardo Ovilla and woodshop foreman

Ricardo Ovalle and woodshop foreman


What is lacking, in Ricardo’s opinion, is health services for the students and the community in general. This is where MedMissions may be able to help.


As MedMissions scouts new locations, a number of factors are considered — medical needs, travel logistics, lodging, high-quality local partners, adequate facilities to set up an OR, potential sources of funds, etc.


Carmen had first identified this as a potential expansion site six years ago, as part of an extensive scouting trip to 21 locations in Guatemala. She has returned several times since, once with a small dental team. Now, as the last pieces of the puzzle seem to fall into place, we can see the possibility of adding Xela as our third mission location in Guatemala — perhaps in 2018, after construction of a clinic Ricardo is planning in Salcaja and a new teaching hospital in Xela are completed.


Establishing mission locations takes time, but that effort and careful consideration pays off with successful programs like San Lucas Toliman.