And that’s a wrap!

Posted on 29 October 2015 | 4 responses

Eleven days ago, a group of mostly strangers got off the airplane in Guatemala City and were greeted by a tall, thin man with a big smile and an even bigger school bus. We boarded the bus and put all our trust in him and his family, and never looked back.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do a medical clinic today, either, as we had been planning to spend two days in Conguaco. Which meant another day at construction! This was extremely helpful, as there were many piles of rocks and dirt that needed to be moved six or seven feet, and this got done much faster with all the extra people standing around watching me and Susan do it! No, no, I’m kidding- everyone actually worked very hard. Here is a picture of Matt working extremely hard:

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He also did shovel and carry some things, to be fair. I think we all had an extremely productive and enjoyable last day working as one big STIMMA team alongside our Guatemalan brothers who have been working hard at the school and the Doppenberg family, who have been unbelievable hosts and guides. The progress on the special needs school has been amazing, but there is still much work (and fundraising to pay for the work!) to be done prior to the school being ready to open.

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This afternoon, we unpacked and repacked our hockey bags, separating the items we need to take home from those that we will be leaving behind for STIMMA’s next journey to Guatemala and for the Doppenberg family to use and distribute over the next year. We have attempted to leave enough medications for those patients that we saw who were put on long-term medication management of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. They will also have follow up care by Dr. Milton, a local doctor who works with the Doppenbergs.

Finally, here are some pictures of the Doppenberg boys, Amelia and Lisandro all dolled up for Lisandro’s Kindergarten graduation tonight. It’s a formal affair, and the boys looked great dressed up- although we did need to remind Gabe to tuck in his shirt and wear black socks.

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All in all, it has been an amazing eleven days, filled with more highs and lows than can be counted. Although we came as strangers, we will leave tomorrow filled with memories of laughter, tears shed, friendships forged, and lessons learned. And everyone will be counting down the days until next year, which is tentatively dated for November 7-19, 2016!!

Thank you all for coming on this journey with us; thank you to Veneta and Linsay for their hard work throughout the year to plan the trip; and thank you to Joey and Becky, our fearless construction and medical team leads. This has been an incredible trip, the first for some and one of many for others, but unforgettable for all of us.

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They just pulled a cow out of that cow!

Posted on 28 October 2015 | 1 response

WHAT A DAY!!! The medical team set out at 7:00 am for our planned medical clinic in Conguaco, a very poor town in the department of Jutiapa. However, when we arrived at the municipal building where we were going to set up clinic, there was no one there, and there were scorch marks around the building. Apparently, there was a protest on Sunday at the building to protest the re-election of the municipal government. Additionally, due to recent and ongoing rain (a familiar theme for this trip), there was flooding that would have prevented the people living up the mountain from getting to the clinic.

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So, we turned the bus around and, trying to make the best of the situation (as usual), we went to the public hospital in Jutiapa for a tour. The hospital director showed us the emergency department, the men’s and women’s wards, and the pediatric unit. Amelia, Zack’s wife, also showed us the OR where her son Lisandro was born. We also saw their Diabetes Clinic, which has been in operation for just over a year. The idea was to be able to provide free diabetes medication (Insulin, Metformin, etc.) to anyone who needed it, but unfortunately they haven’t received any funding or donation that allows them to provide medications, so the clinic checks blood glucose levels on their patients and provides lifestyle and diet counselling. This is very difficult as most of the patients will be unable to control their diabetes without medication, and won’t be able to afford to buy the medications or check their blood glucose levels regularly.

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After visiting the hospital, we headed back home… finally arriving back at the Doppenberg abode at 12:00- five hours and zero patients later. However, always willing to make the best out of any situation, four of us (the best four, IMHO) headed over to the construction site to see how hard they’ve actually been working while we’ve been working our butts off at the medical clinics. (Full disclosure: I actually only went because I’ve been talking about it all week and couldn’t take the teasing if I didn’t go. Plus, I knew it would make an awesome blog post if I went, and I take my job very seriously).

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We pulled up and promptly got to work. The best way I can describe it is: lift this, carry this brick from this pile to that pile, shovel these rocks into a bucket and then carry them over to the smaller rocks, and so on. I finally learned what a “footing” is, and also saw what “rebar tying” means. There was wheelbarrowing, mud fights, and me carrying two full buckets of cement while six grown men stand around watching me. It seems like we made a lot of progress today, and walls went up pretty quickly thanks to the mud brick laying talents of Mark, Kinder, Matt, Greg, Ana and Syd. Unfortunately, today was Mark, Peter, and Joey’s last day, so they won’t be able to see the final progress we make tomorrow (I use the term “we” loosely, as I’m pretty sure I was not exactly helpful: at one point, Joey tried to send me and Veneta to a tree a little while away to get the “corner bricks” and carry them over. Needless to say, there were no corner bricks and it was hard for me to take anything other task he gave me seriously).

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And finally, just when we thought the day was ending, Joey looks over to one of the many cows that hang around the construction site and proclaims “hey, she’s birthing a calf!”. That turned out to be 100% accurate. We then all crowded around the cow and watched her try and give birth for a few minutes. Hugo, one of the Guatemalan men working on the site, pulled out a rope and went over to the calf and indicated that he was about to pull the calf out of the cow. With the help of Peter, Joey, and Jason, the calf was wrested free from its mother (“they just pulled a cow out of that cow!!!!”), who then proceeded to eat her placenta and lick her calf clean (I am told this is normal cow behaviour. I still can’t get behind it). We watched a little while longer while the calf tried to get on her feet before finally getting back to work.

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Video link: https://youtu.be/fywAhE0Vqnw

 

And then finally, we took the extremely bumpy and “cozy” truck ride back to the Doppenberg’s.  A great and exciting day for all!!

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Highs and Lows

Posted on 27 October 2015 | No responses

Today was a great day on construction, one of their best, in fact. On medical, we had a really smooth day, punctuated by a really tough end to the day (I will get to that below). But before I describe today’s happenings, I want to share with you an interesting find that Becky made yesterday at the clinic site (I didn’t share it yesterday because I didn’t know what the pictures were, so that is why it’s a day late).

Here in Guatemala, people sometimes need to be very resourceful. Yesterday, Becky happened upon a house that had been half-built using a very interesting insulation material: old pop bottles stuffed full of aluminum foil chip/snack bags. Once the bottles are stuffed and packed tight, they are packed end to end between wire fencing. This is then plastered over and finally painted with a moisture/weather-proof white-washing. Professionals often use this method as it is inexpensive, but it does take a very long time to collect all of this material. Therefore, this “homemade” version of a recycling house did not get completed-they couldn’t collect all of the necessary materials for insulating the other walls before the other wall that had been plastered got mouldy.

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On the construction side, the team actually had a few extra members today thanks to the generosity of the medical team!  The team also got to the site today WITHOUT going against traffic on several one-way streets. (Thanks Joey!)

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The team arrived on site, delighted to be greeted by dry trenches! This was great news as it meant we could use the extra time to proceed with pouring cement into all the footings of the school. As the morning went on,  the dump truck delivering our sand finally showed up, meaning we could continue on with mixing cement. But unfortunately, due to poor weather conditions over the past week, the dump truck carrying our sand was not able to make it on the muddy pathway. This is when Hugo (a Guatemalan worker and also now our good friend) directed the dump truck to a “shortcut”, which we soon came to realize meant the truck load of sand was dumped a good 600m away from the site. Immediately our team made this a priority and began shovelling the sand into the back of the pick up truck and then unloading it back at the site. This task was done concurrently with more rebar being tied for the soon-to-be walls of the school.

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It was a very sunny day with little to no cloud cover, and on top of that, half the team have seemed to come down with flu like symptoms which has been dragging everyone a bit down. Nonetheless, the team shared many laughs and giggles, like when Joey got the truck stuck in the mud; Peter ALMOST ran over a chicken; and the team had to take turns chasing cows out of our site before they do their “business”.
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Tomorrow, we expect more cement mix to arrive at the site, at which point we can begin laying bricks for the other sides for the remaining walls and see everything coming together nicely! We just cannot wait!
–Ken (my guest construction blogger, so that you hear more about construction than “stuff got built real good today”).
Meanwhile, the medical team at our great site in Comapa, an hour or so down some roads (some of which are only half-roads, and so if you are going to sit at the back of the bus you should definitely look out for flying hockey bags full of medical supplies), we saw 206 patients. Again, with Dr. Syd at the helm, we are able to make really great time, even taking time to eat together the amazing lunch provided to us by the municipality. However, just as we were wrapping up with our very last patient of the day, a very sick, old man showed up to our door, and needed to be carried in to be seen. According to his family, he has been sick for over a month, and unable to eat. We laid him down on a school bench, Kaeli deftly slipped in an IV, and we bolused him with fluid for about 45 minutes. Becky and Veneta made arrangements to transport him to the hospital, but his daughter preferred to take him home for his last days. This is quite common here, and we only hope we were able to make him more comfortable.
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To end this post on a “high”, we had a nice surprise today at clinic: a local Lion’s Club group showed up at our clinic to help out with vision testing. An optometrist and his team were able to test for distance vision and provide glasses for those who needed them! This was really great as we only have the ability to test for and provide reading glasses, but many of our patients require glasses for distance as well.
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Week Two, Go!

Posted on 26 October 2015 | 1 response

I sincerely apologize for the lack of blog post yesterday. The whole STIMMA team got a really nice break, myself included. In fact, I was asleep by 8:00 pm! We did get to go to a nice conservation area way up in the mountain, and some people got to go horseback riding as well. Here are some pictures to proved we rested, relaxed, and rejuvenated in preparation for week 2:

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This morning, we all (medical) piled into the big yellow bus at 7:00 am, en route to Comapa, Jutiapa to set up our medical clinic for the next couple of days. Not surprisingly, our “45 minute” bus ride turned into a 1.5 hour bus ride, but for me this just means longer bus nap time. There are pictures of this, but (much to Gord’s chagrin) I’ve opted not to post them.

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Once we arrived in Comapa, we set up at a lovely elementary school. It was amazing to have Dr. Syd join us in triaging and assessing patients, and we actually were able to see 206 patients in a much shorter amount of time (that is, when he wasn’t playing in a basketball tournament with the waiting patients). We had many of the same complaints as in El Progreso, with more water-borne illnesses such as diarrhea and parasites. Rita told us that Comapa is one of the poorest municipalities in the department of Jutiapa, and that the water is not chlorinated, explaining the prevalence of water-borne illnesses. One theme that clearly carried through from El Progreso was the gratitude, patience, faith, and spirit of the people of Guatemala. It has been so uplifting that when patients are told that the ailment they have waited all day to be assessed either don’t require treatment or need treatment at a hospital, they don’t get upset or angry, but are grateful for being listened to, respected, and given information that they require.

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Despite much of the team feeling under the weather, and despite the weather continually tyring getting the best of us (there was an absolute DOWNPOUR as we were leaving the clinic, causing us to walk through a few small rivers on the way to the bus; meanwhile at the construction site the almost non-stop rain has really slowed down progress on the build), the STIMMA team continues on with high spirits and positive attitudes. Week 2 is shaping up to be just as great as week one!

When you think you’re there, keep going…

Posted on 24 October 2015 | 5 responses

Today we went to visit the village that the Doppenberg family have spent a lot of time working with, El Salatrillo. There are men from El Salatrillo who are staying at the construction site and working alongside our construction team to help build the school, as well as women from the village who have been helping out Rita to cook and care for the house while STIMMA is here. Every evening, Geoff drives the women back up to the village and has encouraged team members to come along for the ride each night. One team member described it as “better than any Disneyland ride”. I have thus far been able to get out of what I am quite sure is a nausea-inducing, bone-crushing, bum-bruise forming ride by claiming that I need to write the blog.

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On Thursday, Geoff suggested that we all go up to see El Salatrillo and meet the people during the day. As an added challenge, since certain team members (I’m looking at you, Joey!) enjoy friendly competition, he suggested that we walk up the mountain, just as the men, women, and children of El Salatrillo do daily when they need to buy food, supplies, or seek medical care). I was told it was a 1.5-2 km hike. I was told pregnant women do it. I was told it was doable. When we were about halfway up, Rita drove by in the truck and told us, all smiles, “there are only about 25 more hills… when you think you are there, keep going!”

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I will note here that Susan put me to absolute shame by both beating me up the mountain as well as also hiking down the mountain. Meanwhile, Joey challenged Kemie to a race up the mountain, and Syd and Ken also joined in the race. Joey actually did run up the entire mountain, and Kemie and Syd also completed the race. Ken… well, Zack and Geoff made runs with the truck up and down the mountain to pick up those of us who couldn’t quite tough it out. Ken took advantage of this.

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We spent about an hour at the village (well, some people spent more time depending on whether or not they hiked or took the truck), meeting the people and seeing some of the fruits of the amazing work the Doppenberg family have done in the village. Rita showed us the smokeless stoves that have vastly improved the quality of life and health of the families in the village. We also saw the water pumps that were installed in order to help the village have clean, safe, and reliable access to running water. We also stopped by the school that was built for the children of El Salatrillo. To get the materials up the mountain for the school, Geoff had to make up to 25 runs from El Progreso up to El Salatrillo per day. Even more insane, to get the water cistern up to the village, he had to reverse all the way up the mountain so that it wouldn’t roll off the back of the truck!

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Syd was missing surgery too much, so we let him perform a little I&D at the top of a mountain, using a safety pin, for a little girl who had been impaled by a branch five days prior.

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The school in El Salatrillo

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We miss you, Ang!

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After the, um, cozy ride down the mountain, the team headed to show the medical team the progress on the construction site, and then to a small resort nearby for some much needed R’n'R.

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Finally, Friday

Posted on 23 October 2015 | 2 responses

It’s Friday. That means we have had five EXTREMELY successful days of clinic and construction; amazing progress has been made and everyone has come home exhausted at the end of each day, a sure sign of success!

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On the construction side, today we were able to pull down the forms for the first course on  the bodega (translation: ready to put five more courses up; further translation: make the walls of the bodega higher). We also prepped the bodega by installing rebar horizontally, reaching the top of the cinderblock. Finally, we also installed another 8 columns on the school! The construction crew is very happy with the first week’s progress, especially considering what we were up against on Monday weather-wise. We are now in a great position for week two!

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Week in review, medical team: 1180 patients total. My very last patient of the day snuck in pretty late; and in order to convince Becky to let her in so far after the cut-off time, she sang to Becky. When she sat down at the nurse’s station to be assessed, she said to me “now I will sing for you”. I was able to video-tape it and am so happy to share it with you all. This really exemplifies our week at clinic: long days, punctuated with warm moments of beauty, gratitude, and joy.

https://youtu.be/6SYxOK210f8

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Now, for a weekend of fun and exploring Guatemala before we get back to work on Monday!

 

 

Progress in El Progreso

Posted on 22 October 2015 | 2 responses

As everyone who has been faithfully reading the blog can tell, we’ve been working very hard, day in and day out, no matter the weather, come heck or high water. And not one person has been complaining (yet). I wanted to put in a huge shout out to our key support people here in El Progreso, who are really making every day for us easy, smooth, and enjoyable. First, there is of course the Doppenberg family, who have been bending over backwards every single day to ensure we eat well (so much for losing weight on a mission trip!), shower daily (although I think they haven’t showered in days), and are as comfortable in their home as in our own. Gabe, their 14 year-old son, was also my translator for a day at clinic, and Zack and Luke have also been at clinic everday, Zack being our incredible bouncer/gatekeeper and Luke lending a hand with testing for reading glasses. Zack’s wife Amelia has also been integral at the clinic, registering every single patient and ensuring their demographics are taken down accurately. Next, there is Donna, an amazing woman from Ontario who was down here in July and came back in order to help Rita out for this large group. She spent her first few days here sewing curtains for all the rooms and bathrooms, and even crocheted extensions for a shower curtain that wasn’t long enough. Now she spends her days ensuring coffee is made in the morning, breakfast dishes are washed, and lunch and dinner are ready when we are. Even more amazing, Donna had never left Canada before she came to Guatemala this summer, and has quickly adapted not just to life outside of Canada, but in a developing country without many of the creature comforts we take for granted back home (like, say, hot showers; or some day, showers, period).

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Finally, last but definitely not least, there are the amazing Guatemalan people that we work alongside every day, both at the clinic and construction site, and that make sure our home is well cared for while we are at work for the day. They are up at the crack of dawn and back home long after we are, but never stop smiling. In fact, last night one of the Guatemalan women said that it was “a pleasure to wash our clothes after a hard day of work”. That is for sure the only time someone has been happy to touch my dirty socks.

Anyway, I know you’re really all here to see pictures of your loved ones and hear about the work we’ve been doing. We had another incredible day at clinic, in fact I think it was my favourite day. We had a lot of older people today- I had a 92 year old man whose handshake was so strong he almost broke my hand. When we asked what his secret was, he said “hard work and taking care of myself”. Truer words have rarely been spoken. I also had a 21 year old woman who came simply because she had never been to a doctor before, and wanted to make sure she was okay. I checked her from top to toe and could not find a single thing wrong with her; it was truly a privilege to get to be the first health care encounter she had, for though I know the day was long, we greeted each other with smiles and I got to tell her she was healthy and strong. There are surely as many stories like this as there are patients, but since I’m writing the blog, I get to tell you mine!

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Meanwhile, the construction crew has been making fantastic progress (hence, the name) at the school site. Joey keeps referring to the “footprint of the school”, and while I have no idea what that means and keep getting an image of a school wearing shoes, it is apparently very large and yet the team is starting to get bricks up all around it. They got the first section of the bodega done, which is VERY important because it means that the Guatemalan men who are guarding the site no longer have to sleep outside in the (frequently) driving rain. They have also poured and cemented half the footings of the main school. This is all such great news, especially considering they had to spend the first day and a half baling out water. On that note, I am so happy to report (via the construction team, of course, since I haven’t set foot on the site) that the trenches are water and mud free!!!

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Oh, and a fun mix of our two missions happened today: at clinic today, we saw a beautiful boy with Down’s Syndrome. Rita was able to tell his mother about the special needs school that is being built in El Progreso, and her eyes absolutely lit up to hear that there was going to be a place for her son to go to school, and that he will get to have the same chance to learn and be a child as other children.

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SPANISH LESSON OF THE DAY: “Lentes de la sol” means “sunglasses”. This was important to learn today because IT WAS SUNNY ALL DAY AND DIDN’T RAIN AT ALL!!!

 

Postscript: Being me, I need to mention food (again). Every day thus far at the clinic we have been absolutely blessed to have delicious local Guatemalan food brought in for us by the mayor in appreciation of the work we are doing in the village. And, just as excitingly, tonight for dinner we are having pizza! Just wanted to let you all know how well we are eating!

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Miracle Moringa

Posted on 21 October 2015 | 3 responses

Another amazing day of clinic- we were able to see 216 patients, and actually still leave the clinic at 5:00 pm, making for an extremely happy medical team! On the down side, it did downpour on and off for much of the day, which put a bit of a damper on spirits over at the construction side. However, the crew did such a great job digging trenches to ensure the water didn’t pool on Monday that the rain didn’t cause too much of a setback. Ever hopeful, when the construction team showed up at the clinic at the end of the day, it turned out that we were more upset on medical thinking about them in the rain than they had actually been themselves!

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Moringa is a plant that has many properties that are beneficial for health, including lowering blood sugar, high in protein, magnesium and calcium, and lowers blood pressure, among others. It is also a plant that is easy to grow and is quite hearty, and can be used in salads and soups, dried out and sprinkled on rice and tortillas.  After noticing that many of our patients have diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as are deficient in many nutrients, Rita and Geoff arranged to have Moringa saplings available to give to every family who comes through the clinic. These saplings will be planted in their home gardens, and the seeds can be shared with their family, friends, and neighbours, thus ensuring longevity of our mission long after we’ve left!!

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One of the men seen at the clinic today came in complaining that he could not hear out of his right ear. Kaeli looked in his ear and saw that it was completely blocked by ear wax (cerumen for you fancy folk). She spent about twenty minutes irrigating his ear, and both nurse and patient were extremely pleased with the result: he could hear! (I, however, was less pleased when I found the two dixie cups full of ear wax-water on the table…).

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We ended the day today with the requisite “highs and lows”. I just want to share with all of our friends and family who are reading the blog what an amazing, positive group this is. Every single team member, including the Doppenberg family, expressed such gratitude for being here, working along side people who are teaching us patience, joy, and to appreciate the blessings we have been given in life.

SPANISH LESSON OF THE DAY: “Lo Siento” means “I’m sorry”. Joey learned this today while playing football with some local kids at the construction site. His arm was just a little off, and he accidentally beaned a 13 year-old girl. He rushed over to say “LO SIENTO”, but she was already cracking up laughing. We on medical have requested that he stop injuring the locals, as we’ve already got a full patient load.

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And she’s okay!

Sunny Days are Here Again…

Posted on 20 October 2015 | 2 responses

Over on the medical side, another VERY busy clinic day, in fact a STIMMA first: 267 patients were seen! We also managed to have some fun, and also got the patients who were waiting doing some yoga!

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The construction team was blessed with amazing weather with cloud cover for most of the morning.  Though the rain stopped in the middle of the night, the team arrived at the site to be greeted once again with thick mud covering the majority of the work area.  Of course, this was not enough to deter our construction team from doing what they love.  Every member dismounted the vehicle and immediately picked up their tools and continued their work from the previous day, which consisted of digging out the dirt covering the footing and foundation.

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About an hour into our work, we were pleasantly greeted by two families that came from the village of El Salitrillo.  It is about three hours walk from the village half way up the mountain down to our work site.  Four of the local workers that we hired to work at the school site are from that village and haven’t been home for weeks, so being able to see their family gathering definitely lifted everyone’s spirits!

When the sun appeared late in the morning, the team’s motivation and dedication did not falter.  Since everyone is passionate about being here and what they do, the team made a commitment that we will be consistently looking out for each other throughout not only the whole day, but the whole trip.  This kind of mentality and the way of thinking of the team eventually led to the team to mesh together, sharing jokes and laughs throughout the rest of the day.

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The construction team demonstrated this teamwork by creating the “Guatemalan Games”!  With the first game being the ‘Rebar Tying’ race, which Randy and Kinder finished a close second behind Geoff yesterday.  Today the team introduced the ‘Wheelbarrow Sand-sifting’, this consisted of Ken, Kemie, and Greg sifting through mounds of dirt with the best style and technique!

Our construction team only hopes that the tropical storm that is scheduled to pass by El Progreso tonight will be diverted so that we can progress with filling in the footings with cement and beginning the next stage of our school!

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Editor’s Note: Ken wrote the above, and unfortunately his sunny optimism did not work for us… as I type this, the skies have opened up and the rain is pouring again. We can only imagine the foundation being filled up with water again. On the bright side, at least this rain is filling up the water tanks where the STIMMA team has quickly depleted the supply of shower water!

SPANISH LESSON OF THE DAY: One of our translators, a 15 year-old boy, was asked to translate “vaginal discharge”. He promptly looked at me and said “I CAN’T TRANSLATE THAT!”. And so, there is no Spanish lesson today because I don’t yet know how to translate that…

 

 

 

Historic Rainfall Can’t Stop Us!

Posted on 19 October 2015 | 2 responses

STIMMA awoke this morning to the sound of pitter-pattering rain on the roof… or should I say the hammering of another day of historic rainfall? Construction headed out a few minutes early in order to stop by the market to get rain boots and ponchos to help protect them while they baled out the newly formed lake at the construction site.

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Construction made a lot of progress today despite needing to start at Stage -1: removing the water that has pooled in the foundation over the past few days of rain. After hearing their stories, it sounds like everyone managed to have fun while working hard. And let it be known that Geoff was able to finish his rebar column faster than Kinder and Randy, thus claiming the win in the first rebar race!

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Over at the medical site, the team set up a clinic for patients from the nearby team of Jutiapa. 220 patients were seen today for a variety of illnesses, along with  education on health and hygiene and assessment and distribution of reading glasses. We had a lot of returning stars on the medical team, and some new talent, such as Ana, who quickly showed she has a strong future in urine dipstick interpretation. Suzi, Daphnis, and Maggie, who started the day digging a trench in the mud with construction, came into their own when they joined the dry people at medical, and proved to be invaluable and multi-talented, quickly making themselves useful in multiple areas of the clinic.

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It was a long (yet dry) day for medical, and we were happy to make our way home to join the still-sopping wet construction team for a very nice dinner, punctuated by “highs-and-lows”, a “Doppenberg requirement” according to Rita. Everyone loved hearing what the other team did, and we all got very excited for the days to come: despite our tired and wet status, every team member to a person couldn’t think of a place they would rather be tonight.

Oh, and we were also following two very important events back home: the Canadian federal election, and Game 3 of the ACLS Championship series… Go Blue Jays Go!

 

 

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