Guatemala Mission Trip 2017
To the community at Corpus Christi University parish,
From May 10 – May 18, six University of Toledo students and I traveled to Guatemala for a mission trip. We served with the non-profit Sew Hope which has a clinic in the Peten region.
I would like to thank you for your prayers for and support of this mission trip. I hope as you read below you are struck, as I was, by the incredible impact such trips have on the students who undertake them. Yes, there is hopefully a lasting effect on the region visited, but even more so, a permanent change of heart for those serving on mission.
We departed from Corpus Christi at 3:40 AM and drove to Detroit Airport where we met up with Dr. Anne Ruch, an OBGYN and the Executive Director of Sew Hope, who was accompanying us on the trip. With her was another young adult volunteer, a retired school teacher, and a cytologist, who would also be volunteering that week. We all then flew together out of Detroit at 6:40 AM and arrived in Guatemala City. Unfortunately, our first brush with injustice occurred shortly after our arrival when taxi drivers knowingly took us to the wrong destination only to take us back to our original location.
This was a teachable moment for our group. It became very evident on our trip that unchecked corruption was a main factor in keeping many of the Guatemalan people economically depressed. There is very little oversight for many occupations in the city, including those of medical professionals.
We finally made it up north to our destination. For the duration of our mission trip we stayed in a hotel on the island of Flores in Petén, Guatemala which was a 20-minute drive from the Sew Hope clinic in Santa Ana, Petén.
Days start early in Guatemala with most people rising at 5:00 AM! They want to make the most of the daylight since the sun sets at 6:30 PM. We ate an early breakfast and headed to the Sew Hope clinic. The clinic is more than just medical. They provide many opportunities for the empowerment of the Guatemalan people. There is a chicken farm, vegetable and fruit gardens, and an after-school program where we spent most of our time.
Students typically attend school in either the morning or afternoon. Many of them will then spend their free period at the Sew Hope clinic, working on Math, reading, or their homework. The UT students were very diligent in trying to work one-on-one with the kids at Sew Hope. Each day they would choose a student to observe, sitting behind them and making sure they were on the correct Math and Reading levels for their abilities. This first day the clinic received a donation of books from a school in New York. The Sew Hope students enjoyed being able to read their new books to their new friends from Toledo!
We also had a birthday on our first day. Jessica, one of the UT students, turned 22 on our trip. The workers at the clinic sang to her, bought a piñata, set off fireworks, and provided cake. They rarely miss an opportunity to celebrate in Guatemala!
Most of our diet consisted of eggs, rice, beans, and fruit. A favorite breakfast treat were licuados – a drink consisting of fruit and milk. On this day (Friday) at the clinic, we worked with the kids on making and testing science experiments assembled in and sent from the University of Toledo to Guatemala. Even though there was a significant language barrier, the UT students were able to successfully lead this activity and endear themselves to the kids even more. Love, humor, and laughter are universal languages.
On Saturday, we took 14 kids to the Mayan ruins at Tikal. This was the first time these kids had been to this historic landmark in their own country. There were about 6 miles of jungle to hike through to see these significant ruins. The tallest of the temples (Temple IV) reaches 70 meters high. We climbed 196 steps to the top to see the sweeping views of the region. This day was a significant bonding day between the kids of Sew Hope and the UT students. We learned more about the Guatemalan culture and history. We also received a striking lesson in poverty when one of the Sew Hope kids was adamant about taking his hot lunch of chicken and rice home to his family instead of eating it himself. It was hard to think this sweet little boy, of whom we had grown to love, had to struggle to eat every day.
After attending Mass at the local parish on the island of Flores, we visited the Cooperativa Nuevo Horizonte, a community of guerilla fighters created after the Guatemalan civil war. We learned about the intricacies of this trying time in Guatemalan history. We also learned about many of the medical issues facing the people of Guatemala: STDs, cervical cancer and diabetes. Many of these are easily treated in the U.S., but lack of access to reliable physicians and pharmacists makes treatment difficult for most people.
We were back in the classroom on Monday, continuing to help with Math and Reading. The UT students had the idea of learning a song in Spanish and English that they could teach to the kids at Sew Hope. The kids enjoyed hearing the song in Spanish and in English was well as performing the goofy hand motions with the UT students! The kids were also fascinated by seeing and hearing a guitar!
Tuesday was another busy clinic day, with women wrapped all around the building. The UT students, many of whom are in the medical field, were struck by the difficulty of medical care. These women have to wait for months for a doctor to come to the clinic, travel very far for their appointment, wait for the results of their pap smears, and then possibly wait even longer to get a procedure. The UT students became aware of how privileged they are in the U.S. The awareness of privilege also deepened that day with a trip to the home of 4 of the Sew Hope kids. Their house was made of cinder blocks, with a tin roof, dirt floor and garbage bags for siding. There was no electricity and only an outdoor wood burning stove for cooking. The “yard” was full of chopped wood, various belongings, and roaming chickens. It broke our hearts to think of those sweet kids sleeping on the floor each night. Yet we were struck with how much joy and generosity still emanated from them.
Wednesday was our last day at the clinic. The UT students had one last day of one-on-ones with their Sew Hope kids, who by now had become very close friends. While many of the modern conveniences were missed, it was sad to end our time in Guatemala. We left the kids there with t-shirts generously donated from our Toledo community. They were very grateful for them, and we were glad to leave a piece of ourselves with them.
The students from the University of Toledo were inspired to take what they experienced in Guatemala back to their professions, especially to professions of great power and responsibility. They want to make sure their hearts always remain compassionate to the less fortunate. The students also realized through this trip the effect that monetary donations have in other countries. Without the benefactors of Sew Hope, there would be no clinic, school, garden or community outreach. They enjoyed being able to bring so much joy to the kids at Sew Hope and were glad to help them in Math and English. Poverty immersion was also impactful for the Toledo students and changed their perspectives of their own privilege and opportunity. This was truly a trip of a lifetime for the 6 students from the University of Toledo.
Without the prayers and support of Corpus Christi University Parish this trip would not have been possible. Prayers were said throughout the trip for all our benefactors and community members, as well as any specific intentions listed on the donation envelopes. Please continue to keep in your prayers the students who bravely undertook this mission. May God continue the good work that He started in their hearts…