Our last days were in Antiqua, but on our way we stopped at Iximche, the youngest Mayan ruin in existence. It was something to cross off on my bucket list! After learning so much this past week about the culture and history of Guatemala, I felt a personal connection in the ruins. So much history, so sacred, it was unbelievable to be able to walk around in something that existed several thousand years ago. Many people in the group learned about their Mayan symbol from a vendor outside of the ruins. The characteristics of their symbols to many were spot on, including my own. My symbol was the fish- someone that is capable, supportive, a tireless fighter with the gift of healing! What a wonderful end on history. The hotel we stayed at was another amazing end to the trip. I feel like I appreciated the stay more than I usually would have after experiencing what we saw during the week. Walking away from this trip, I had such an appreciation for so many things. The fact that we have safe tap water to drink, temperature regulation in our homes for comfort, healthy and affordable foods to eat, a solid roof over our heads, transportation to make travel more convenient, cell phones to contact whomever we wanted. The fact that the US uses state of the art medical advancements for treatment, aseptic technique, and supplies readily available to save lives. The list goes on and on, but there are so many things society takes for granted. We should be so privileged to have all of these things easily accessible. When the woman from Marroquines said she was grateful for our help because she would no longer suffer, that affected me in such a way that I'll never be the same. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience such a life changing trip, and with such amazing people. I believe we all walked away with a better perspective and understanding on what gratitude truly is.
Began as strangers, ended as friends!
Based on observation, healthcare services are few and far between in the country of Guatemala, and nonexistent in its more rural areas. I don't think I saw a hospital during the entire trip, even in the busier more established cities, which is the complete opposite from the US. This makes treatment for diseases and conditions almost impossible. Whats worse is that it doesn't seem like the government is doing anything to help change that. From learning about the history of Guatemala, this country has been devastated by oppression and violence, and even to this day cannot be recognized as a democracy because of the inequalities that exist. There has been much political action to defending rights for basic survival needs, like clean water, something that is vital for anyone's life. The fact that this country had a civil war in the 1990s because the government was intentionally trying to prohibit the communities from converting to communism says alot about the struggle that exists in Guatemala.
There are many factors that contribute to the social and health injustice that exists in Guatemala, especially within the indigenous communities. As stated earlier, I learned that hospitals in the country do not provide medical supplies necessary for treatment- it is the responsibility of the families to retrieve these items. What if the family is poor and cannot afford to purchase these supplies? Then the family member is left to die? As in many countries, healthcare services are available to those financially able to afford it. This is unfortunate for Guatemala because more than half the country lives in extreme poverty. There is also a prejudice that exists between the indigenous communities and the rest of the country, which is surprising due to the fact that Guatemala has one of the largest indigenous populations in Latin America. These communities are stuck in poverty, in rural areas too far from health clinics or hospitals. I learned that when they do have the opportunity to seek medical intervention, they are rejected because they are Mayan. This is mind boggling to me that a prejudice like this exists in such a culture rich country. Poverty does exist in the US, but there are a number of state and government programs available to provide assistance to those in need of care. Many of our hospitals cannot turn patients away and offer charity care and payment programs to those without insurance. Not receiving medical care in the US is solely a voluntary decision by the patient, and not because of who they are, how much money they have, or where they come from. Witnessing this in Guatemala was an eye opener for me.
There were many similarities and differences seen when comparing Guatemalan culture to my country of birth. The US is a melting pot of many cultures- I believe many people are able to live freely and practice what they believe in (to a certain degree) because that is the beauty of living in a free country. I was born here but I am of Hispanic descent, so throughout my life I experienced many things similar to Guatemala. Similar to Guatemalan culture, my family practiced holistic therapies when we were ill, and only utilized a doctors visit when it was a serious issue. Prayer was also a big thing in my family and was frequently used for healing and giving thanks. Family was also the most important thing, but I believe that is something that could be seen in any culture world wide. A difference I appreciated was the clothing- a good portion of all the women we saw on the trip wore traditional dresses, whereas in the US women are able to wear whatever they choose. Alot of the women in the village were stay at home mothers where they worked from home making clothes and caring for the children. In the US, women work just as much as the men do, and in some cases are the main sources of income for the household.
The language barrier was definitely the biggest issue the group encountered. There was a four way translation most of the time- from English educator to Spanish translator, Spanish translator to Mayan translator, and then Mayan translator to villager. This severely delayed communication. I speak and understand Spanish fairly but I don't really think it benefited me as much as I thought it would. I tried to help others as much as I could, but the bulk of the help definitely came from the AMA group and Lupe.
Before going on this trip, I always had the desire to travel and use my knowledge to help those less fortunate, especially in other countries. My inspiration to pursue humanitarian nursing has grown even more after experiencing what came with my contribution on this trip. The villagers were so happy and grateful for everything that we provided, it really made me feel like I had purpose. I hope after gaining enough clinical experience I can give back and give my contribution to those in need.