Healing One Patient at a Time in Guatemala

The following entry was written by Viktoria Valikova, medical doctor, founder of Health & Help, and returning MedTeam leader.

l35a1955-edit-livejournalWe started our project in Guatemala about a year ago. The choice of country was not a coincidence – my first mission was with a Belgian NGO when I came to Guatemala and left my heart here.

We started to build a clinic in a small place called Chuinajtajuyub. It is a mountain village with a primarily indigenous Mayan population. The villagers, especially women and kids, don’t speak Spanish, our local language here is Kiche. For a population of more than 15,000, which includes ours and nearby villages, there is no health center, hospital or any other medical facility.

We are building our clinic with the help of the community; every day five local men come to the construction site as volunteers.

To prepare the local population for the idea that they will have permanent medical care, we opened a health post in the same school where we currently live. Our doctors and nurses are all volunteers who came with the same belief – to make this world a better place. They work without compensation, without any financial support, bringing bags full of donated medication and equipment from their home countries to keep us afloat.

I am a very lucky person. I had a very happy childhood; my parents were always with me, I always had food to eat, a warm bed, clean clothes to wear and all the opportunities in the world. I went to a great tuition-free school. I didn’t pay for my University. I had the best affordable health insurance. Right after my residence I got a nice job in the ER at a large hospital. I am a very lucky person.

On my first mission to Guatemala, I met the local people. Beautiful, smart, active, full of smiles. Some of them don’t eat food regularly. Most of them don’t have money to pay a doctor. But all of them deserve to be treated like humans.

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Me, our people, you, – we were way more fortunate in this life than millions of people living in poverty. I strongly believe that it’s a great thing –  to share. We can donate some time, donate some money, donate some of our kindness to make these people’s lives happier.

We are fighting for medical care for people that never in their lives have seen a doctor. We treat malnourished kids, we monitor pregnant women, we attend to emergencies and we run programs for chronic patients. We work 24/7 and we believe that we make a difference. And we want to thank MedShare for making this world better with us.

When we came to the MedShare office together with Karina Basharova, our project manager, all the personnel treated us like family. We were getting medical supplies that will save lives for thousands of people and everyone in the room understand it. It is not just syringes or bandages; for us, it is healing one sick kid and providing prenatal care for one expectant mother at a time.

– Viktoria Valikova

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Viktoria stocks the clinic with MedShare supplies that will save lives in Guatemala.

 

 

Emily Rymland Bringing Hope in Duffle Bags

The following entry was written by Emily Rymland, Nurse Practitioner at the East Bay AIDS Center in Oakland, California and Medical Director for Em’s Clinic in Uganda.

Each day, I work as a nurse practitioner at The East Bay AIDS Center in Oakland. That is my day job. My other, most amazing job, is as the medical Director for Em’s Clinic in Kiryabicooli, Uganda. In January, 2014, I was invited at the last minute to help a team of nurses and a pharmacist who were going to the bush in Uganda to have a medical camp for a week.

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After serving 1700 people who would otherwise receive no care at all, it really hit my heart. As I was flying home, back to my normal, abundant life, it became apparent that one week was not enough. It was in that moment that I decided to raise the funds necessary to build a clinic in Kyribicooli that is staffed by Uganda health care providers. It is open every day and affordable.

I had no idea what I was doing! “Learning as you go” was an understatement.

Somehow, after talking and talking, I was able to raise the funds through private donors, to build a building and hire a staff. But wait… what about the stuff?! What about the supplies to fill the shelves? As a private person raising money from private donors I needed to learn resources that would allow me to give the healthcare providers the supplies that they need to do their jobs! A nurse friend of mine told me about Medshare…a place that would allow me to get much-needed supplies for very little money. Amazing!

The first time I visited Medshare, I was amazed. I was thrilled as I walked through the warehouse, seeing all of the supplies that would allow me to open the doors. In addition to getting the supplies, the staff helped me to determine what I needed and what made the most sense to bring.

Each time I fly, I am allowed to carry two 50 lb. bags on the airline for free. Each January, I take a team of about 12 medical providers to help with care at the clinic and further out in the bush. The supplies include instruments, bandages, sutures, oh, so many supplies! Our shelves are stocked.

This would not have happened in such a timely affordable manner without MedShare. It’s because of MedShare that we are able to provide the care to our patients for such an affordable rate. We serve a population that is considered one of the poorest in the world. Our goal is to provide primary care, infectious disease care and prevention, health education and that which is most dear to my heart, HIV testing and linkage to care. Additionally, we are building a new HIV prevention program.

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The people of Kirybicooli are the most appreciative, kind and loving people that I have had the luck to work with and for. Our staff live next to our clinic so that care is available at any time of the day. These young health workers are 100% committed to serving their community. They have chosen to live a very isolated life in order to serve. So, it is so amazing when I bring the duffle bags to them. It’s like Christmas! They go through every single object and decide where it’s going live. Thanks to you, Medshare, our shelves are stocked and our patients are cared for.

-Emily Rymland

Robin Chalmers Finds Friends at MedShare

The following entry was written by Robin Chalmers, regular volunteer at MedShare’s Southeast Distribution & Volunteer Center

Sure, you give a few hours, but what do you get by volunteering at MedShare?

Six years ago when my youngest daughter was heading off to UGA to start college I decided that, as a research consultant who worked from home, I needed to build some added structure into my schedule. I had dabbled in volunteer gigs here and there, but I never felt that I had time to spare. I decided that I should spend it on something constructive instead of wasting it.

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So I headed to MedShare in South DeKalb County –I had been there a few times during the Haiti earthquake– and I started a routine of regular Wednesday night sort sessions. Although many volunteers come with a group, I had a job with quite a bit of travel, so I decided to venture by myself. I have never looked back. When you show up solo, it leaves fewer excuses to back out (my friend isn’t going so I won’t go, I can’t organize a buddy to go with me…). Let me tell you, if you show up at MedShare a handful of times by yourself you will find that you’ve made a few friends there before you know it.

For starters, our Volunteer Program Manager, Alvaro McRae, is one of the most open and welcoming people that I know. He’s the steady hand. I’ve seen him with a group of 4 volunteers and with a group of 80, always keeping his cool, patiently answering questions and keeping folks on task without them feeling rushed or pressured. You can quickly count him as a friend. Then, there is Dr. Moctar Bayor, who enlivens the room with a bark that is worse than his bite! All the while smiling and helping volunteers get it right. He’s also your friend before you know it.

But if you return to volunteer a few more times, you’ll make your own MedShare buddies. The sessions can be social or intense, but by the end of 3 hours the group has achieved something that is tangible and will help someone who is facing a health problem in an underserved area.

 

MedShare volunteers range widely in age (10 to 90 or so), neighborhood, race, ethnicity, and reasons for service. It is very easy in a large city like Atlanta to interact only with people like yourself. For me that would be oldish, “inside the perimeter” dwellers who also have empty nests. Without MedShare, I would rarely cross paths with the many new immigrants who come to volunteer, members of small and large churches, members of Beta Clubs in high school, Boy Scouts, expat clubs from Nigeria, college students, the list goes on and on. I admire and appreciate the effort every one has made and hope to see them there the next time.

-Robin Chalmers

Notes from the Field: Annual Impact Trip

MedShare Reunion Celebrates the Little Hospital that Could 

The following entry was written by Spring Asher, a MedShare Southeast Council member, a six-time Emmy Award winning TV producer and founder of Speechworks. 

This year, 2016 is a special Medshare reunion for Hospitalito Atilan in Santiago Atilan in Guatemala. Ten years ago, 2006, Medshare then Board Chair Pat Robinson, Bonnie O’Neill, Diana Blank and then CEO A.B. Short visited the hospital on Medshare’s first mission trip.

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The hospital dates back to 1964 when it was constructed after a measles epidemic
killed over 600 Mayan children. Over the years, the area had been plagued by civil war violence and finally the the natural disastrous mudslide that destroyed the hospital.
At the time of their visit, the hospital was located in a six-bed hiker’s shack with a makeshift operating room.

The Medshare team was determined to help in the goal of a hospital serving the 75,000
Maya living in the area. The result is a joy to behold. The facility provides preventative clinical health services with emphasis on women and children and the only emergency and surgical care in the area.

Spring Asher 

Notes from the Field: Annual Impact Trip

Hospitalito Atitlan, Guatemala 

The following entry is from Richard Higgins, a retired college professor and administrator; he is also co-founder of Mundito Foundation.

The 30-year Guatemalan Civil War was over. In Santiago on Lake Atitlan, a team of local residents, including some expatriates, decided to revive the local health clinic. The clinic had been abandoned during the war after the army built a base next door, and the Mayans (the army’s main targets) no longer dared come to the clinic. After several years of hard work, Hospitalito Atitlan was open for business, and patients flocked in.

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Tragically, six months later the hospital was inundated by a mud slide following a landmark hurricane. Several hundred homes were destroyed and more than 200 lives were lost in the village.

What to do next? Rebuild. This is a resilient community. The expatriates and Guatemalan residents campaigned for private money from friends and foundations. A gifted architect designed an eco-friendly building that generates its own (solar) electricity and uses natural convection for cooling.

Five years later, the new Hospitalito Atitlan was again open for business, and patients come in large numbers from an increasingly wide area around and above the lake. In this volcanic area, living and transport take place on steep slopes, so a local health clinic is a huge asset.

One year after the 2010 opening of the new facility, our donors at the Mundito Foundation raised $25,000 for ‪MedShare‬ to pay for shipping and logistics for a container of medical supplies to Hospitalito Atitlan. I was delighted to visit five years after the Mundito-funded container shipped. Hospitalito Atitlan is a fine facility, with clean well-equipped examining rooms. Dozens of patients and families wait their turn patiently in the halls.

The local staff is professional, competent, and caring. A team of doctors from University of Pennsylvania was visiting for several weeks. I now understand the phrase “medical mission.” Doctors sacrifice their time and income to fly in with crates of medical supplies at their own expense. They perform procedures on patients and collaborate with local doctors to enhance local expertise. Now that is a mission.

Ten years ago when my wife and I last visited Guatemala, the Mayans living in the highlands did not seem well integrated into the mainstream. This time I found Mayans increasingly in positions of responsibility.

Here is an example from Hospitalito Atitlan:
Visiting the analysis lab (sparkling clean with modern equipment), we waved at the director, who was busy with a procedure. He began working there as a security guard. One busy day, a lab technician asked him if he could help them read and record simple test strips – pregnancy, diabetes, etc. He did it so well that later they asked him to help look into the microscope at stool samples and identify ones with amoebic infections. He did it well. Several promotions later, he is director of the analysis lab.

Guatemala deserves our concern and financial assistance:
The (non-government organization) NGOs and private donations help circumvent issues of government inefficiency and corruption. The local communities have the will and energy to do good things with our help.

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A site visit is an excellent way to evaluate how an NGO like MedShare makes good use of our contributions. I observed MedShare’s strong on-the-ground partners, who help speed containers of medical supplies through customs and bureaucracy.

As a result, partners in the local medical facilities can help the sick with first class supplies and equipment. Doctors were overjoyed to receive an ultrasound machine, a diagnostic treasure in Guatemala. Little things also count. A doctor said it well: “A suture for stitching a wound costs a few dollars in the USA. For us, it can mean that a life will be saved.”

Richard Higgins

Notes from the Field: Annual Impact Trip

People: The Heartbeat Of A Heartfelt Mission

The following entry is from Vele Keyta Redding, an award-winning entrepreneur, journalist, media professional and author.

I really didn’t know what to expect before embarking on this MedShare journey through Guatemala, but I asked God to open the eyes of my heart so that I’d see what He wanted me to see.

What I see are People — people with joy, hope, heartfelt gratitude and commitment. It was a constant on every path taken. No matter the plight or struggle, the light and strength of joy on the faces of the people I encountered  shines brightly here. Whether through a doctor, who has  made it a life mission to do good or a child whose face lit up as our eyes locked and shared a greeting or smile, the preciousness and value of life alone triumphed.

I could see joy, in all it’s subtleness, rising to create a sense of hope and an anticipation for good. Every effort made by MedShare and all of its partners to make life better for our Guatemalan neighbors is cause for optimism. From the Guatemalans’ evident belief that good is prevailing, emerges genuine gratitude — a gratefulness that resounds every time the word “Graciás” or “Thank you” is uttered for every box of medical supplies, every gurney or medical machine that arrives just in time to save a life or prevent a medical condition.

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It’s a special calling, this mission to truly be our neighbors’ keeper. It takes commitment and MedShare and all of its collaborators are dedicated to the cause. All throughout our journey, life-changing and humbling stories could be heard. In all of them, the commonality is the heartbeat of and love for the People.

So, when a young hospital administrator ended her talk, saying “Thank you for seeing us through the eyes of your heart,” I knew that God had answered my prayer and I had seen what He wanted me to see.

Vele Keyta Redding 

Gracias MedShare!

The following update is from Dr. Carl Kihm, a podiatrist who leads regular medical mission teams in Nepal.

This afternoon’s San Juan climb was gentle, with rests for those interested in shopping along the way. “Bienvenidos” was politely repeated…each time, accompanied by the universal greeting of a genuine smile, inviting us inside.

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My pack got heavier as I supported the locals, picking up canvas reminders. Motorcycles zoomed by and watch out for the tuk tuk! Coolness of the higher elevation rewarded us as we reached the hilltop’s cathedral.
On descent, the trip was winding down too. We were delivered to Bonnie’s vista for a tranquil end to the evening. As the boat turned us back, Lake Atitlan saluted us with a sunset to remember. One last dinner together, we then reminisced. Fed and full, our hearts were expanded and full as well.

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The people of Guatemala remain in true need and the angels of MedShare are further inspired to improve the quality of life here. As a physician, I witnessed how this group’s far-reaching and worldly impact is greater than I could have in my stateside clinics. MedShare is truly improving healthcare systems and the lives for those across the world… in places where people need it the most.
Personally, it was the most special of honors to accompany MedShare’s great group and to be one of their ambassadors. Sadly, I now mentally prepare to say goodbye to my new friends who, without doubt, will be future partners in continued humanitarian efforts.

Thank you for the experience and life-changing Guatemalan perspective. I will sleep well tonight, more confident than ever, knowing that we are doing something very right which will have a continued and forever impact.
Dr. Carl Kihm