As I enjoy my coffee, I keep thinking how we can continue to help more people medically and if possible to help them as well to break the cycle of poverty. The more I think about it, I don’t like the fact that even though all of our efforts and love when having medical teams come are certainly needed and appreciated, we leave the communities in a normal devastation and lack of opportunities when were gone. Guatemala is still at a 60% poverty level and growing, hospitals are collapsed, doctors and nurses are on strike because they haven’t gotten paid in the past 4 months and people are dying from treatable conditions.
In most cases, the general rule is that eventually you might go back to each community but not in the short term. We live in an era where economic crisis is a common situation and because of that, donations and resources in general are very limited. I see thousands of people and medical teams coming to Guatemala, but in general I don’t perceive a change. I don’t mean they don’t come to work or help people, I can’t imagine what the situation would be if they didn’t come at all. Their efforts are saving lives, but they can only do so much in short periods of time and their funds are very limited.
I have been working on a strategy where I only focus on the long term. You see, the short term is the day by day solution but what about the long term?
Any organization, university, church or NGO that wants to come and help Guatemala (and I hope you can apply this to other countries) have very important key points to develop.
1. You can do so much in one territory:
AS much as you would like, you can’t serve thousands of communities; but if you know the region where you are going to work, you really need to divide that region by sectors. A very specific map of the region is needed in order to determine how many communities are in that specific region and then you can divide it by sectors.
This will help you to determine distances and how many communities are close to each other; and by having this information you can decide what would be the best approach and strategy. Perhaps you have 4 or 5 communities that are close to each other. You can unify all of your efforts in one of them and share the information with the others. This way, they can come to community 1 in an organized way per day, thus affecting all the communities within that radius.
Also, this would help you to determine if these communities are friends with each other. In our culture there are so many cultural and social differences within the Mayan culture that you might never have a clue if they are friends or not. Then, if you are not aware of that you will never be able to help a region, even if all of them need the medical attention.
2. Leaders and communities:
One thing is clear, regardless of the size of the community, you need to make genuine alliances with the leaders of each community. One factor that is important to be aware is that most of the leaders might have political interests to gain votes at their own town, so you really need to check if their hearts are on the right place. Church leaders can be another great allies and you need to spend time if possible with all of these leaders at each community prior to the arrival of your medical team.
This can’t be a simple visit a week before your team arrives, but a genuine relationship where both parties help each other. Your interests and goals are theirs and vice versa. (Skype is a great tool).
When having teams from Universities where I have formal programs, I make sure they are aware of our reality and that does not mean in general but the reality of every specific town. It takes time to develop these relationships and I can tell if I’m more well-known because of the medical teams I bring to each community or because of my coffee business.
Trust is a key point and it takes time, but once you have that kind of relationship it is such a pleasant program for the short and long term. And believe me they will watch your back as you are helping their community.
3. Poorness can’t determine your future:
When interacting with the amazing people that attend the medical clinics (and I hope other programs), I can see they want to feel better; otherwise they would not be waiting in line for hours or have to walk hours to get there (another key point when dividing the region by sectors).
Imagine empowering their lives by simply asking them “What are your main medical needs as a community?”. Having the help of the local leaders if you are planning to come back to the same region in the long term is very important. It is very critical to teach people to have focus groups as a community, we need to help them to be organized in every aspect. We need to help them to think differently! Being poor is not about lack of money, but lack of knowledge!
Perhaps there are a lot of sick people with diarrhea and vomiting, but did you know that their main need is to have a septic tank on their community or that all the pipes are broken and contamination is getting into their water source?
Having an organized community is POWERFULL, and you don’t need a lot of money to make that happen. You need a place where they can meet and people from your team that can facilitate the know how to show them the way so they can be organized.
I have done this already in some communities and once they see how powerful this is they don’t want to stop. Of course you need a method to make this happen (I will share more about mine in the future), but once people realize they can do simple things as this to develop a strategy it is a huge step to break the cycle of poverty.
Perhaps this time the focus group is about what the main medical needs are, and next time it is going to be about productivity or entrepreneurship. Parallel to this you are teaching others to be leaders and perhaps they didn’t know they have that characteristic or opportunity. Focus groups can take hours and that is the main point, help them to develop a strategy as a community, YOU are only a facilitator.
4. Educate the way:
So many times I have read: “Lead the way” but what if we can simply teach the way? We can’t be all the time in every community, medical teams come and go and they are not coming back to the same community the next time.
But if you teach people how to be healthy in the long term, perhaps the next time they won’t need your help because they are organized and have their own small clinic as a town.
I spent a lot of time making sure we can teach diabetic and HBP patients to eat healthy and in fact work with their reality.
Make it fun: I won’t tell a housewife you need to eat vegetables and fruits and that’s it. Empower them ONCE AGAIN by teaching them how to make delicious salads or so with what they have, and have a day where you can invite them to a workshop (once again local leaders is a key factor for these opportunities). Most of these people have access to fresh vegetables and fruits (The other day I was in a hot desert region and all I could see were the mangos falling off from the trees by the dozen, first thought was they should learn how to make mango jelly and sell it. Instead those mangos are getting eaten by the pigs.)
I do believe you have to have strategies divided into timelines.
4.1 Strategy to develop all your relationships
4.2 Strategy to continue developing that relationship
4.3 Divide your region on sectors
4.4 Educate in every possible way parallel to having your medical teams on site.
4.5 Help the community to learn how to be organized, one person can't do much but an organized community can destroy walls.
As a personal goal I want to help empower and facilitate communities, so in the long term I can let them go and move to the next region. To empower people they don’t need money, they need knowledge to get that money.
At the end TEACH, TEACH AND TEACH.
You might think in a coffee plantation we would ONLY be talking about coffee, but when the heart is in the right place, it goes beyond that. You can touch people's lives! Thank You Belmont Students for your love for others, never ever forget you can change lives for good.
A small city, Antigua, was full of people with a sincere heart and a big smile. everywhere I went, people greeted me with a smile; Everywhere I went, a wave of laughter filled the air. However, behind those smiles and laughters, people were screaming in pain. People in Guatemala need future/present healthcare workers like us to treat the pain and suffering medically and spiritually so that these people can spread their smiles and laughters with others. Hanna Lee
I immersed myself into a country and community where access to even the simplest things for me are not there (healthcare, clean water, good education, etc.). We are all created equal in God's eyes and we are meant to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves. The people we saw where some of the happiest people despite their ailments and figuring out when their next meal was. Trips like this continuously ignite the fire in my soul to not just help others, but empower them so that we become a world based on equity and not solely on equality. I am so blessed to have been a part of this team. Guatemala has been one of many experiences like this (I hope)! Kristina Mertz
Some of the best rewards in life have no price tag. I made new friends. I felt my faith renewed. I felt inspired to be a better student, a better healthcare provider, and a better man. Jon Ashton.
I thought I was going on this trip to serve and help the people of Guatemala, but it was more so the other way around. My eyes were opened to another world. I now realize that there is an alarming gap in health care in our world when two countries can be receiving such polar opposite care and I am now moved to do something about it. I only pray that the fire remains in all of our hearts. I also better understand and appreciate other professions like nursing, pharmacy, and social work thanks to all you beautiful people. I also understand now that we are not the "rich" ones.. the people of Guatemala have little money but they are truly rich and I want to live simply like them. Thank you Pabs Castanheda for showing us the ripple effect of one incredible man and permanently impacting us! Lexi Hardiek.
For me this trip was definitely God kicking me in the butt and reminding me who I really am and why he put me on this earth in the place that I am right now. It's so easy to lose sight of who we are in Him among all the lies of this world and its even hard to realize it and gain that insight back. But this trip has reminded me who I am in Him. It has shown me that when a group of people, who surrender to his plan, come together, they can do things that no human imagination could ever think possible. It also great to know that their are great people out there who want to be challenged and do what the Lord has called them to do. I feel the people of Antigua gave back more to me than I ever gave them and for that I am very grateful and look forward to serving them again next time. Megan Philipp.
With the stressed and rushed society we live in, balancing school, social lives, extracurriculars, etc., these trips are important to bring us back to what truly matters in these professions we are training for. Human love, compassion, nurturing and kindness were all brought back to the surface for me after this trip and made me realize that at the end of the day, the test grades don't matter, but the lives we touch and the smiles we bring to people's faces are what matter the most. Piper Sharkey.
The country and the people were so welcoming and warm. I've never experienced a more gracious community. Even when we weren't able to help, they still thanked us. Also, the fact that they were praying for our team. This was the most humbling experience of my life. I'm so thankful that I got to go. It makes me want to be a better person every day. Brine Lopez.
Most of us decided to pursue our individual profession, because we wanted to make a difference. To fulfill a purpose. However, the 'business' of school has a way of making us forget that purpose. We begin treating patients, not human beings. This trip gifted me with a new perspective, where I can see a fellow human being in front of me, rather than just another medical chart. Guatemala offered me a piece of it's soul, so that I could better figure out the type of person I want to be. I am eternally grateful for that. Roxy Musharrafeia.
In the short amount of time that I spent in Antigua, I feel like I was reminded of why I chose to become a nurse. It's so easy to become proud or obsessed with the title of "nurse", but after this trip, I know that my major is not for me - it's for the people I will be able to impact one day.In the short amount of time that I spent in Antigua, I feel like I was reminded of why I chose to become a nurse. It's so easy to become proud or obsessed with the title of "nurse", but after this trip, I know that my major is not for me - it's for the people I will be able to impact one day. Carolina Cerrato.
I think we can get stuck in our own little bubbles, so for me at least, this trip exposed me to a whole new world. I have been so blessed in this life, & if I have the opportunity to share that blessing with others, why wouldn't I? Abby Eichholtz.
Don't you ever stop dear AMIGOS, the journey has just begun for you, honor and value it. It is yours. Pablo Castaneda.
When you read the title, you might think we are talking about a coffee blend. But what if I tell you we are talking about the perfect blend that involves: Love, humbleness, a serving heart and most of all a REAL & LIVING GOD?
This past week was full of so many blessings, great coffee and new friendships. As a company that believes in helping others and making a difference in our Guatemala, we need people with big hearts. People that is willing to serve, but at the same time to simply be there for others, regardless of language barriers, social status or any other excuse along the entire story. For the past 6 days a team of amazing people came with simply one HUGE GOAL; love and serve whoever they could. As the week advance I witnessed how staff & students from Belmont University became titans, they became such a strong team.
They were so dedicated to serve and take time with each patient. People that came with so many hopes to be check, people that probably saved around $2.00 to have enough money for the bus. Instead of a simple check up, they were received with respect, love and most important the best medical attention they could receive.
In four days over 400 people were blessed, and as I shared with every student , they impacted their lives and I bet until this day they are still thinking of you. They witnessed our reality as a country. Last Tuesday as we were having clinic at the Women's office in Jocotenango town, a dear 28 years old mother was seeking for health as our national hospitals are collapsed, for the past 3 weeks she was trying to feel better and get well, they tried to give her the best care they could provide but she was so sick they decided to call our 911 to receive medical attention. Unfortunately we were informed she passed away yesterday, as we realized this could have been prevented with good medical attention ON TIME. As a team we were devastated because never ever we thought we could experienced something like this, but that is reality in Guatemala.
As sad as this is, we need to press on and continue our efforts to have teams with big hearts that are willing to learn and serve others, I learned what it is to have a willing heart for others more than ever. Our goal as well is to get more local people involved to make a difference in our country. I cherished the fact that all of these amazing students enjoyed so much to work, learn and interact with the workers at the coffee plantation. Students and workers simply had a great time to learn the art of coffee, to enjoy together the aromas inside the roasting facility, pack coffee together and laugh and smile every minute of this experience and most important, empower each one another with respect and camaraderie.
So as you can read, this was simply the PERFECT BLEND to have such an amazing week. Thank you to each one of you, including students, local doctors, interpreters, staff at every place that received us with open arms to simply serve so many amazing people. We are waiting for you to come back and enjoy a good cup of coffee once again. UNTIL NEXT TIME................CHEERS WITH GREAT CAFESITO!!!
Guatemala, Modern, and Colonial
Guatemala City is the most flourishing city in Central America with its modern buildings and business centers that contrast with La Antigua Guatemala, colonial and romantic city, with a combination of ancient buildings and rooted customs and traditions.
Guatemala City is the most modern and cosmopolitan city of the Central American region. It is the ideal setting for conferences and conventions, has renowned golf courses, medical centers equipped with the latest technologies, and world-class shopping centers, amongst other perks.
When visiting, the Historic Center is a must. With more than 200 years of existence, its cathedral, iconic buildings, churches, and museums- are a true testament to the country’s historic evolution.
The neighborhood of “Zona Viva” is one of the city’s top entertainment hubs, with exclusive hotels, restaurants and bars.
Very close to the city is the picturesque and charming La Antigua Guatemala- the principal icon of the Hispanic colonial heritage of Guatemala- located in the valley of Panchoy, and surrounded by three volcanoes, mountains and coffee plantations. Due to its historic significance, La Antigua was declared a UNESCO Patrimony of Humanity in 1979. Its cobblestone streets and ancestral edifices transport travelers and vividly illustrate the religious and cultural traditions of Guatemala. Every corner of La Antigua exudes romance. The city is the ideal stage for weddings and special events. Travelers can choose from stunning colonial-style hotels and chic boutique hotels with world-class accommodations and quality installations to host congresses, business meetings and celebrate events.
La Antigua Guatemala is the ideal destination for religious tourism, especially during the festivities of Semana Santa (Holy Week). Travelers can attest to the catholic fervor of the Guatemalan people and witness colorful street processions. So, do you want to come?