Saturday, January 26 – Orientation to Faith In Practice in Guatemala and Exploration of Antigua:
We met for a wonderful breakfast at 7:00 a.m. in Las Farolas’ restaurant, our folks filling a good part of the room. As we finished eating, Dr. Bob, our team leader, invited each of us to introduce ourselves by name, where we’re from, and our role on the team. Various members of the administrative team, Pam, Scott, and John, outlined the day. First, we would be going to Casa de Fe for an orientation to Faith In Practice’s work in Guatemala. Following that there would be a tour of the Associacion Obras Sociales facility for new volunteers. The afternoon would be free time, with taking an Elizabeth Bell tour of Antigua a possibility.
At 8:30 we took off on foot for Case de Fe. During the presentation on Faith In Practice, the question, “Why Guatemala?” was answered. Guatemala has huge health needs. It has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition of any country in the world. Fifty-nine percent of its population lives below the poverty line. Medical care for poor is non-existent. (Statistics from the United Nations World Food Programme.)
We had a tour of Casa de Fe, a facility that provides meals and a place to stay for Faith In Practice patients and their families before and after surgery. It has 100 beds and four rooms, split by gender. Prior to the establishment of this facility, patients had no place to stay after their surgery to recuperate finding whatever they could – a place on the street, in a doorway, or bouncing eight hours in a truck to get back home – none of which makes for a successful recovery.
In a projected presentation we learned about Faith In Practice’s various special programs: dental, hearing, traditional birth attendant training, cervical cancer screening and training, and the relatively new wheel chair clinic.
Following these presentations, those who have been on previous Faith In Practice trips were free to spend the day as they wished. Because we will most likely be arriving back from Petén fairly late in the afternoon on Friday, there will be little time for such things as shopping at that time.
Those of us who are new volunteers were encouraged to go on a tour to Associacion Obras Sociales, a facility for disabled people of all ages that Faith In Practice has been involved in building. On this tour we learned that the people now living here had been rescued by Franciscan monks from the streets, where they had been left by their families who were unable to take care of them. The monks housed and fed them in an old church in central Antigua. They were cared for in a loving manner, kept clean and well-fed, but their living conditions were crowded and sub-standard. These people have various conditions – cerebral palsy, dementia, diseases of old age, and mental health problems. Now they live in a spacious, clean facility with separate spaces for children, young people (divided by gender), and adults, again divided by both gender and mental capacity. The staff is very loving, and we saw many hugs and friendly, personal conversations exchanged by staff and residents. It was a heart-warming experience, knowing that these men, women, and children will, most probably, spend their entire lives here.
Upon our return to central Antigua we divided up to spend the day as we pleased: lunch in various restaurants, shopping, resting, and, for some of us, going on a several hour Elizabeth Bell tour. On the tour we visited important historical sites in Antigua: various church ruins, the jade factory that makes replicas of Mayan artifacts, and some museums. We stopped to view and listen to the musical teamwork of four older men who were playing a traditional marimba on the steps of the municipal building.
This evening we met to walk to a restaurant for dinner. It was a relaxing end to our first full day in Guatemala. Returning to Las Faroles, we retired to our rooms to pack for an early morning departure for the Department of Petén (like a state in the U.S.A.), where we will be offering our medical expertise in two villages.