Humanity First Guatemala

Sirviendo a la humanidad.

"I was amazed to see that both students and teachers had a strong desire to make a change, to grow, and to be a part of a learning community."

On the last day of school, I packed up my classroom and left with an extra bag filled with children’s books and school supplies. I had signed up for the Gift of Knowledge program in Guatemala where I would be donating the supplies to different schools in need. When I arrived at the first school, I was overwhelmed by the students’ excitement. They wiggled and giggled in there seats and finally let out screams when we entered their classroom. Each of the 36 students greeted us with warm smiles and quickly reached for their one precious notebook. They shared their work and beamed with pride when we gave them a thumbs up or replied with ” Wow! Great job!” Their enthusiasm was contagious and when it came time to teach them a lesson I felt just like the six year olds - energized, elated, and excited to share.

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After our school visits, I headed back to the Humanity First office in Antigua. There I worked with my colleagues to prepare for our presentation. At 2:00 pm, 80 teachers walked into the classroom and immediately I could feel the same energy I had felt earlier in the day. We introduced ourselves and told the teachers to work in small groups to develop a student centered project targeting one concept or skill. Within minutes, teachers eagerly shared their ideas. The room buzzed as teachers brainstormed new ideas, planned out projects, and scrambled to create materials to share with other groups. At the end, each group presented and I was amazed to see how similar they were to the students I met earlier in the day. The teachers reached for their one poster and took pride in their new ideas that they would soon implement in the classroom. They explained that even though resources were scarce they were inspired to try something new, to improve their own practices, and in turn find ways to help meet the needs of their students.

I was in awe of what I had observed on my first day. As a teacher I found that their energy and enthusiasm was refreshing.  I was amazed to see that both students and teachers had a strong desire to make a change, to grow, and to be a part of a learning community. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work collaboratively with other teachers in Guatemala and to share effective teaching practices. Together we are stronger and if we continue to work hard, share knowledge, and exude a positive attitude we can greatly improve the education program for Guatemalan children.

— Daniella Nusblat - Gift of Knowledge, July 2014

"Empowering teachers by allowing them to express their own ideas was the most rewarding part of this experience."

While there were many memorable experiences during the gift of
knowledge, what sticks out most was the pride and joy teachers
expressed at the end of workshop presentations.

The teachers demonstrated their creativity and enthusiasm as they
created lessons, songs, interactive reading, puzzles, games, field
trips, projects and many other learning experiences to use in their
classrooms.

There was a dramatic shift in energy from the beginning to end of the
workshops. At first teachers seemed somewhat shy to express their best
practices, however after a bit of coaxing and discussion among fellow
colleagues this all changed. After their presentations they were
beaming and proud of their work. It was apparent that the presentation
on Tapping into Student Motivation had been a success.


Empowering teachers by allowing them to express their own ideas was
the most rewarding part of this experience. By witnessing all of these
teachers working hard to better their craft, I was newly energized.

We oftentimes forget the knowledge we possess within ourselves. This
experience has taught me that even at the most basic level all
teachers want to better themselves and do the best for the success of
the their students.

-Tracy Ortiz - Gift of Knowledge, July 2014

"We, as pre-med students, can have an impact in the community being served; all it really takes is compassion."

Do you know that it only takes one moment to make a meaningful impact on someone’s life? Do you know that sometimes the people who truly change our life can be someone you just met?

Last month, I embarked on a one week journey as a student volunteer on the May 2014 Humanity First Gift of Health trip to Guatemala. As a pre-med student, I joined the brigade to spend a productive week abroad helping those in need and at the same time , to obtain unique exposure to a new spectrum of health care issues that are often uncommon in the United States. My expectations of the knowledge I would gain through my participation in the brigade were clear from the beginning, but little did I know that this journey would be more than just a learning experience. It was a trip that opened my eyes… through this opportunity, I changed a life.

Wednesday was a typical busy day at the clinic. I decided to dedicate this day to shadowing one of the physicians because in the previous days, I had found that observing the process of clinical diagnosis in conditions common to the Sumpango population was very interesting to me. After we finished with the previous patient, a woman in her late 30s came in to see the doctor. If you looked at her, she seemed perfectly healthy, both physically and emotionally. I was expecting the usual process - patient sits down and starts presenting the doctor with his/her physical symptoms. This happened for the first minute, as she explained how she fell and scraped her left arm while walking home the previous day. She asked the doctor to give her pain medicine for what seemed to be a quite large scrape. The doctor, other student, and I were blind to this point. It was so sudden and unexpected that I can’t even recall how she changed from telling us about her physical pain to her deep emotional pain. Leticia had been a widow for a year; both of her daughters were engaged and moved out. With no friends and family, she spent her days alone at home.  Leticia said “she had lost her purpose in life.” I can only give you a brief and superficial description of the sadness and pain she vocalized, but you would have to be there to be able to listen and feel deep in your heart the meaning of all her words. Physically, her eyes were shining bright but emotionally, you could see her heart enclosed in rotating dark cloud. The doctor identified her situation and showed me discretely when she circled the word “depression” in the diagnosis form the patient brought. She then gave her a small counseling session explaining how we all go through hardships in life and what she needed is to get away from the sadness and interact with others, enroll in workshops that would help her regain her own sense of value and productivity. Leticia walked out of her appointment to the pharmacy to get the pain medicine “for the arm.”

But where is the medicine to aid emotional pain?

I had seen two patients with depression earlier that week, so I thought this case would be like the others, for someone to have the chance to talk to the doctor and relieve some of the built up emotions is like a little boost  for them to keep pushing through. I was wrong. Like one of the doctors told me the first day of clinic, “even if 20 patients come in for the same complaint, you can’t assume they are all the same. There are many external factors we have to look at in order to make a final diagnosis.”

When the next patient came in, there was a point where I had a gut feeling, something that I usually ignore, that this time it was different, it was something telling me “do NOT let her go, talk to her.” A few seconds later, I found myself desperately looking for Leticia around the clinic. Knowing how to approach her came naturally, because deep inside I knew I was doing this for a reason; I simply wanted to know more because to me, the narrative given to the doctor was not complete. I introduced myself and told her how I thought her story was so unique and that if she didn’t mind, I would love for her to please tell me more. During our 20 minutes together, she held my hand, cried, hugged me and smiled. During these 20 minutes, I learned the truth, I learned why I was there and I learned that God puts people in front of you for a reason. Leticia didn’t fall and scrape her arm the previous day, she did it to herself. Leticia didn’t plan to live today; she had attempted to cut her veins last night. Leticia had a mom that discriminated her for being poor. Leticia had three friends: one that thought drinking was the best medicine for her pain, another that thought that having a night could help her emotionally and financially, and one that thought that taking her to the Mexico border with drug lords could be her way to the “good life.” If you go back for a second, add what I just mentioned, plus being a recent widow, plus being alone all day, plus no job, plus no support. Is this real life? I kept asking myself as she continued talking. Never in a million years would I imagine meeting a person trapped in her own life, in a dark, revolving cloud of sadness. As a student volunteer, I didn’t prepare for this, but it was my only chance to give advice to a patient on the edge, someone that truly needed help, to a real suicidal patient. I know 20 minutes is a very short time, but I truly felt the bond with Leticia, it was like we had known each other for years, it was so “right” that we both acknowledged how we were there for each other at the right place, at the right time. I continued with the counseling that the doctor started, I tried to sympathize with her and told her how I’ve overcome some of my lowest points in life. I told her that my intention was not to advocate religion, but that in her situation the scape to her dark cloud was God. Faith goes a long way; God works in amazing ways.  At the end of our conversation, she smiled radiantly, hugging me goodbye. I told her to visit me the next day, I just wanted to follow up and make sure she was okay.

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The next day, Thursday, Leticia came unexpectedly into the clinic I was shadowing in. From a person you just met the day before, you expect a simple “hello!” but Leticia hugged me with such sentiment that I can only compare it my mother’s hugs. She then pulled out a decorative plate from her purse that said the words “Your friendship fills my life with happiness” and it was at that moment that I realized I had made an impact in someone’s life, that my “gut feeling” was right, and that believe or not, I have the ability to help someone see the positive side of life. This personally means so much to me because I know that as a physician this is what it will come down to, pure compassion.  I knew it was going to be a long road for her to regain her purpose, but that night I talked to the Humanity First USA coordinator, Saifra, and she completely took matters into her own hands. With her help, we were able to get Leticia’s contact information with the hopes of signing her up to the Humanity First Academy where she could attend different classes and seminars for personal development. This was the last time I saw Leticia and before I finally said goodbye, she grabbed my hand against hers and enclosed a key chain with a picture of what used to be her family. She told me “Don’t ever forget about me, always keep me in your heart because you are very special to me and I will never forget you.”

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Like I mentioned at beginning, I went to Guatemala with straightforward intentions to help people and gain basic medical knowledge. I have realized that joining a brigade can have more than its own outlined purpose. We, as pre-med students, can have an impact in the community being served; all it really takes is compassion. If you have it, you never know you might be at the right place, at the right time. Personally, after this experience, I have vowed to give care and attention to everyone I see. I figured it would make their day a little better, and who knows, it might save a life. When you realize the difference you can make for others, just by spending a few minutes together, your whole approach to life shifts.

— Ann Pacheco - Gift of Health, May 2014

"Even the smallest gesture of kindness can bring joy and peace to the heart."

While working on the last day of the clinic, my hand was being crushed by a young girl scared to have her tooth extracted. It took 20 minutes for her to calm down, and the only thing that crossed my mind was the lack of resources and education for this child to help her prevent future extractions. Would she go back to her regular life, without brushing her teeth? Most likely. It blew my mind at how easily the patients were willing to have their adult teeth extracted and not think twice about having a full set. Such an eye opener to the life they live!

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From playing with the children of Sumpango, to attentively watching Dr. Kimberly Ford work in the dentistry clinic, you always felt the amount of gratitude from the citizens. Even the smallest gesture of kindness can bring joy and peace to the heart.

- Sana Latif, Gift of Health - May 2014

Enrique's story.

hfgiftofsight:

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The Gift of Sight team has treated at least 30 patients with cataracts or Pterygium and the result will be life changing for them. I talked with a few of the patients and their relatives and how the gift of sight will affect their lives. I would like to take you through the process and talk…

Fortaleciendo mi convicción de dedicar mi vida al servicio de la humanidad.

El cuerpo diminuto del niño estaba cubierto de suciedad y de heridas abiertas. Muchos de nosotros nos acercamos a la sala de pediatría mientras los médicos le quitaban cuidadosamente la ropa para limpiar su cuerpo, aplicarle  pomada en la piel y cubrir las heridas con una gasa. Siendo demasiado joven para comprender que los médicos estaban tratando de ayudarlo a pesar del dolor, se aferraba a su madre en medio de sollozos que hacían eco en la habitación. Las lágrimas llenaron mis ojos al ver cómo intentaba calmar a su hijo, meciéndolo de un lado a otro, y pensé en las dificultades que su madre había tenido que atravesar  cada día sin tener ninguno de estos medicamentos o recursos.

Le pedimos que volviera al día siguiente, el último día de la jornada. Antes del viaje, estuvimos recogiendo donaciones de suministros médicos y recibimos un gran cargamento de gasas para vendar. En aquel momento, pensé que aquello era excesivo para nuestro viaje, pero ahora parecían ser una bendición. Mientras esperábamos a la tarde siguiente, finalmente llegó con su hijo, y eran los últimos pacientes en la clinica. Cuando el niño se dio cuenta de lo que iba a ocurrir, abrazó a su madre y las lágrimas brotaron de nuevo. Los médicos limpiaron sus heridas y volvieron a aplicarle los ungüentos y gasas. Además le dimos  a la madre todas la pomada, gasas sobrante y ropa de algodón para él. El valor y afecto de la madre eran inimaginables, y presenciar este momento - uno de los  muchos acontecimientos de esta semana - fue una experiencia conmovedora. 

Estas experiencias continúan fortaleciendo cada vez más mi convicción de dedicar mi vida al servicio de la humanidad. Que hagamos nuestros corazones mas sinceros y mas generosos, y nos conceda la fuerza y los medios para servir a los que sufren graves carencias.

- Saifra, Humanity First Guatemala 

I am a nurse to serve others, humbly and unconditionally.

Being a part of a healthcare team in the United States as a registered nurse (RN) has shown me the complexities of both the positive and negative characteristics of the healthcare field. It is not uncommon to hear doctors, nurses, and aides feeling overworked, under-appreciated, resulting in, at times, resentment towards the population being served. It is not uncommon to treat health services like a business. It can be challenging to serve consistently graciously, without judgement, and with benevolence. Additionally, it can be more challenging to validate and sympathize one’s coworkers, while staying true to one’s own principles of staying compassionate and positive.

Those challenges were wholly removed in Alotenango, Guatemala. After seeing and talking with only a handful of patients on the first day of the Gift of Health camp, all I could feel was unadulterated joy. That feeling did not fade a shade from me for weeks.


I will never forget how the population made me feel. I felt overflowing love and respect for each and every patient that sat down in front of me. It confirmed everything I thought I ever wanted. This I took back home: I am a nurse to serve others humbly and unconditionally because, despite anything else, they are in need.

- Anila Bhatti, Gift of Health - March 2014

"Tres veces al día."

Tres veces al día.

The three words I must have uttered over 300 times today, script after script calling for Motrin for individuals with muscle aches, arthritis, or any other pain.  Despite the plethora of prescriptions filled and patients seen, one patient in particular stood out today.  An 8 year old Guatemalan boy came to the pharmacy area carrying his script for an antibiotic and cold meds, nothing surprising about that, until I read the patient history indicating he had muscular dystrophy.   The boy showed no sign of his illness until he walked away from the pharmacy and I noticed his gait.  I later came to find out from the physician treating him that the boy does not go to school simply because he cannot walk there.

And suddenly, something as seemingly obvious as “taking the simple things for granted” has a whole new meaning.

- Dr. Zujajah Shaikh, Gift of Health - March 2013

"His small hand grasped her finger, but his grip slowly loosened."

As exhausted as I am right now, this day has been yet another amazing experience with Humanity First. After not nearly enough sleep, each and every dedicated team member worked from 8 am to 6 pm running the clinic. Luckily, we were in an air-conditioned building that kept the heat from adding to our exhaustion, but the 10 hours on my feet seemed to last forever. At the same time, the day seemed to end much sooner than it should have. Getting the opportunity to see numerous unusual and amazing medical cases kept all of us motivated throughout the day. The instance that sticks with me the most is when a small baby came to the pediatrics room because he was wheezing and having trouble breathing. After giving him a breathing treatment, we sent him on his way.

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His mom brought him back, though, after his breathing worsened. He was having so much trouble that we had to arrange for him to be taken to the hospital. While that was going on, though, Deeana was giving him another breathing treatment. His frail body was motionless and his eyes were barely open. His small hand grasped Gabriela’s finger, but his grip slowly loosened. Watching this made me realize the fragility of his little human life. We were able to stabilize his breathing and send him to the hospital, but have no way of knowing what happened next. I can only wonder how he’s doing now.

- Shazia Ijaz, Gift of Health - March 2013

"It is amazing to see so many miracles of sight."

hfgiftofsight:

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Coming to Guatemala has been an abundance of life lessons that I will cherish forever. Thank you to everyone who helped get me here. I am extremely grateful for the Humanity First team. Everyone in Guatemala has been so kind and hospitable to me. It is amazing to see so many miracles of sight…

"I realized that dentistry is a form of art."

Yesterday I was able to work on and utilize my Spanish speaking skills, however today was my first day of being with the doctors. During the first half of the day I was with one of the Guatemalan doctors, Fernanda. I learned so much from this experience as she was open to explaining what each patient was undergoing. Problems ranged from gastritis to fiber deficiency to kidney stones. We even had the opportunity to listen to the heart beat of a pregnant woman’s baby!

During the second half of the day I rotated to dentistry with Dr. Ford. I have always wanted to be a dentist but after what I experienced today in clinic I truly fell in love with dentistry. I realized that dentistry is a form of art and it takes patience not only from oneself but also from the patient. This was the most hands-on experience I have had so far. I, along with my fellow peers, Rihana and Shazia, assisted Dr. Ford by applying gauze to bloody areas, handing the doctor instruments, loading syringes with anesthetic, sterilized the instruments and more than anything, providing comfort and a sense of safety to the next brave patient. We saw a lot of children who had baby bottle tooth decay. This occurs when liquids that contain sugar (like milk) are left in a baby’s mouth for an extended period of time without being washed out. This causes several cavities, usually on the top front teeth, making it very painful for children to eat.


The one patient who stuck out the most to me was a four year old girl. Four of her top front teeth were rotting, had dark pits and were nearly broken, a clear case of baby bottle tooth decay. The only option was to extract all four of the teeth. The girl was already tense up before Dr. Ford applied the anesthetic so we knew this case would be difficult.

Teja Neral, Gift of Health - March 2012

Chaos, mayhem, eye-opening, and enriching.

WOW. That’s just the first word I think of when trying to describe today. Chaos, mayhem, eye opening and enriching could also be used, but I think wow sums those up. Walking in to the school there was around 100 people already lined up. The feeling was indescribable. It was really a moment I will remember forever. We saw around 200 patients today. It felt like so many more because of all the kids running around and people coming with families of 15+. Complete chaos! I worked in the pediatric room with Dr. Salma and the pharmacy with Dr. Bell. I was so happy to discover that I do love pediatrics and want to keep it in mind for the future!

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It was really hard to see these kids come in and weigh almost half or less than half of what they should we weighing. I’d say about 90% had symptoms, usually stomach pain, caused by worms. Almost every patient we saw had something that could easily have been prevented with a healthy and clean lifestyle. It was heartbreaking to see these hurting kids that didn’t know anything different. The pharmacy wasn’t my favorite station (sorry dad!) but it was interesting to learn more about different medications. Dr. Bell has a lot of useful information to share. My favorite times are talking with the doctors/dentist about their experiences and humorous stories. Overall, I would say it was a life changing day that I will never forget.

Alissa Caramella, Gift of Health - March 2012