Here's an update on what our current group of travelers from Onondaga Community College have been experiencing this week in San Lucas! Thanks to Mary Lee Berg for the post!
The Onondaga Community College nursing students from Syracuse, NY arrived yesterday after an exciting trip that involved a lost passport and a last minute run to the gate for two students. We are all truly grateful to have arrived. We sailed through security and customs at the Guatemala City airport and had no trouble finding Candace waiting for us.
On the day we arrived we walked around the town and even explored the cemetery. It was our first moment of really feeling the cultural difference or maybe even a cultural divide. One of the students had been to Guatemala before and right away was more comfortable in the cemetery. She began climbing on the mausoleums. The other students and I were concerned that this would be perceived as being disrespectful, but Candace explained that cemeteries in Guatemala are lively places where people gather and are not somber at all. It was perfectly okay to climb and explore. We were even serenaded by two roving musicians playing guitar and accordion.
Later that night we lugged all our giant suitcases into the dining room to sort the donations and count up supplies. We were amazed by the generosity of our college community and many supporters from back home. It was the first time we saw all the donations gathered together in one place. We took pictures and will post those when we can.
Today we actually toured the homes where we will be building fuel efficient, vented cook stoves. I think we were all overwhelmed a bit by the living conditions. We had seen pictures and videos of Mayan homes and had even had a Mayan woman speak to our class about her life in Guatemala, but you just can't grasp it till you are here. It involves all your senses. You don't just see the poverty, but feel it as your eyes and throat burn from the smoke and you smell a wide range of noxious fumes and odors. Even Transformational Journeys rules for stove construction seem to highlight the level of poverty here. One of the big rules is that you must have a room for the stove with four walls and a roof over it with a support beam. This is necessary to make sure the stove can be properly maintained and won't be damaged by the elements.
While we were touring the homes one of the students had our infant manikin that will be used in the reproductive health community presentation poking out of her back pack. It was like she was the pied piper. She had a trail of little girls following her and wanting to see her "doll". We did let some little ones play with it, but it broke out hearts that we didn't have a hundred dolls to just hand out. Even the women seemed shyly interested in our "doll".
We are finding that we wish we could fix all the major problems of access to health care, health information, good nutrition, clean water, and fresh air. We are humbled by the enormous needs and how little we can do in nine days with limited resourcrs.
You can all be proud though. Out nursing students are representing their colleges and the United States well. Today they also did a run through of their community health teaching projects with the local health promoters. They have had to make some adjustments in how they will do their presentations to accommodate the culture. This was a very good thing that will help them develop sensitivity towards diverse people throughout their lives and careers as registered nurses.
The students who are teaching reproductive health had initially been given the green light to talk about safe sex practices and the importance of condoms. However, when they did their presentation the female health promoter became alarmed and thought women attending the presentation would be put at risk for being beaten by their husbands. The thought that we could unintentionally place women in such danger was very concerning. We understand that intimate partner violence is a problem throughout the world, but I don't think we had considered or realized that a cultural misunderstanding might trigger family violence. We must be very careful and be grateful for the wise council of the local health promoters who do so much good in the community.
The students were very respectful about the health promoters concerns and were able to adjust their presentation on the spot. They also thought critically about how the health promotion/risk reduction needs of the community could still be met and found a culturally sensitive solution. They provided the community health promoters with information, pamphlets in Spanish and 700 condoms so that the health promoters could teach members of the community about this sensitive subject one on one. The students even provided the health promoters with large color photos of what herpes lesions and HPV warts look like to help them diagnose sexually transmitted diseases because the health promoters have limited training and education and are often the first health care resource sought. Most medications can be purchased in Guatemala without a prescription.
Our students really learned a lot today about being part of a multidisciplinary health care team that is sensitive and respectful of the unique needs of a diverse patient population. Though I focused on the students teaching about reproductive health, because the faced the most challenges today, all the students are doing well and are going to do a beautiful job teaching.
Tomorrow the oral health group will be teaching children how to care for their teeth. We will be giving out toothbrushes, tooth paste, dental floss, coloring books and crayons. We will also do fluoride treatments on the children too. After all that we will start building stoves in the afternoon. That's all for now, Lee