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Guatemala 2015

My passion for service and the medical field started when I first visited Mission El Faro in Guatemala in 2012 as a service trip with my psychology teacher. As a high school student, I completed the International Baccalaureate program which required each student to fulfill over one-hundred and twenty service hours. This trip offered us a unique service experience and an opportunity to have real world Spanish speaking opportunities. Our main projects were teaching English classes to multiple age groups and accompanying medical and dental teams to remote locations. The medical and dental clinics were held in extremely isolated areas that had never received direct attention from doctors. This was an eye opener on the importance of doctors reaching out to isolated area and the differences in the idea of proper care in underserved areas. I was eager to return and serve in the same location.

During the summer of 2015, I reached out to the head manager of the mission site and inquired about doing a volunteer stay. There was a recent need at the mission site for a swim instructor because the village is located on the coast and boat travel is a common place, but when an accident happens on the water it is almost always fatal. Therefore, my outreach service while I was there was to hold a few swimming lessons during the day for all age groups. I taught about thirty students every day on skills such as back floating, treading and free style. It was a great experience to be able to use my skills to help others and to improve their ability to save their life. I am confident that I was able to effectively help them and to have them be able to teach others.

The highlight of this volunteer experience was visiting and shadowing doctors in the National Children’s Hospital located in Puerto Barrios. This experience was unique and could not be replicated in the United States due to the dramatic differences in patient makeup, amount of doctors, and healthcare practices in general. For example, no patients had separate rooms and the main wards were the malnutrition and neonatal units. The hospital did not receive adequate funds from the government and functioned with about one permanent nurse per unit. Perhaps the most striking difference was that there were no diapers or formula for the children in the malnutrition unit and the children never received medicine or fluids via IV. Serving in the hospital was a great lesson on cultural differences of how medicine can be practiced, especially with limited resources.

My trips to Guatemala helped solidify my interests in serving in underserved areas. I realized the importance of medical outreach and working with the people of underserved areas to spread proper health information. This has helped form my passion for working in medicine and serving others.

Author: Alisha Whittaker
Last modified: 12/7/2016 5:28 PM (EST)