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A Guatemalan Adventure

in Shiftlandia

Last month, the 103-member Team Esperanza headed to Huehuetanango, Guatemala, for an 11-day volunteer mission to provide aid to Guatemalans in need.

For the fourth consecutive year, AMN Healthcare participated in this medical and community trip to administer dental, mental health, obstetric, pediatric and other types of medical care to residents of Guatemala’s rural highlands.

ShiftWise’s very own Terrell Kent traveled to Guatemala with Team Esperanza to lend a hand!

What was your first impression upon your arrival to Guatemala?

Terrell: When we landed in Guatemala City it was somewhat of a surreal feeling, because there was a lot of build up to that point when we all met at the airport. To be amongst all the doctors, nurses and various volunteers from countries as far as Belgium, Venezuela, and even Russia, I had no idea what I was in for over the next 10 days. I was overwhelmed with everyone I felt obligated to meet, but I made it my primary goal to first get to know the AMN team and the sponsored AMN clinical team. Our first night we stayed at the Hotel Real Inter Continental in Guatemala City, the meet and greet ceremony that night got everyone prepared with a glance at the week.  At that point I started to prepare myself to be more embracive of the culture and work load we had cut out for us. Once I realized I was not the only one who had not been on a mission trip before, I was excited to experience the week with others for the first time as well.

How did the locals react to your presence?

Terrell: All the families were very welcoming and grateful; many went out of their way to prepare us meals after we had installed the stove in their home. A lot of the kids were excited to see us in the villages, and I myself cannot speak much Spanish but a smile along with a gift went a long way as far as communication and seeing their appreciation. Those who were receiving healthcare, many for surgical procedures, were very grateful for the help that was brought to the villages around Huehuetenango. Many assumed we were all either doctors or nurses but that only showed how much help was needed in the community. The military soldiers were also accommodating as well. I know it gave them a different routine when they were able to get off the military base and escort us to the villages, whether it was for stoving or with our clinical outreach team.

What tasks did you help accomplish on your visit?

Terrell: ONIL designed safety stoves were installed in 77 houses in roughly 20 villages surrounding Huehuetenango. The stoves we installed to prevent many health complications that their makeshift stoves (open fire pits, smokers and brick burners) could cause, including; breathing/respiratory problems, severe burns, home damage and even deaths. I was also able to stay at the hospital for a day and help with patient transport after surgical procedures. I was not able scrub in but I did get to see a couple surgeries including a gull bladder get removed, uterus that was falling out be removed, and a cyst the size of a tennis ball be removed from an eye socket.

What was your biggest challenge?

Terrell: For me (and many others) it was the cleanliness at the military base and the sleeping accommodations. The barracks housed the majority of us males; we slept on hard small cots in a cold long barrack along with other mosquitoes and unknown bugs. With cold nights and snoring men there were not many good nights of sleep. The bathrooms were not ideal, but we all had to suspend our clean living habits for 6 days which I had no problem doing. It seemed as if the week would be the longest I’d endure. Another challenge was the workload, there was always something to do that kept us all busy and working with one another. The busy week definitely made the days go by fast. One last challenge, mentioned before, it was difficult turning down meals that were prepared for us by the families after we built their stove. I felt it hindered a lot of us from fully embracing the culture.

What was the most impactful experience you had while in Guatemala?

Terrell: Getting the opportunity to see what the people of Guatemala experience daily has had a humbling impact on me, in terms of what I took for granted with my assumptions of how they live. I’m happy that now I am able to share with others my experience firsthand, and I am learning that is what makes all the difference. All 110 volunteers that came along with HELPS definitely made an impact on my experience, because each and every person made an impactful memory I keep in mind from this journey. It’s interesting to think about how in the beginning of this trip I was overwhelmed with everyone I thought I would have to get to know, but with all the help that was needed, stoving, assisting in the kitchen and in the hospital there was enough work so that everyone made an impact on each other working together. I can’t say enough how influential every one’s work ethic was on each other. We all had to get down and dirty, literally in someone’s kitchen, when stoving, and keeping in mind this is all for the greater good.

The clinical volunteers helped create a temporary acute care hospital and then took part in 112 surgeries and 1,178 patient visits. The corporate volunteers helped install 76 stoves for impoverished families. All of this in fewer than six days!

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