Down in the Dumps…

On March 6, 18 MedShare Board members and other donors traveled to Guatemala to learn, first hand, how MedShare helps resolve critical healthcare needs in the developing world.

Travelers started in Guatemala City with a tour of the only pediatric hospital in the country. There were about 200 patients sitting in the waiting areas; no one is turned away. When we later saw MedShare products in the warehouse, it was even more gratifying to have seen who they were helping.

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

Guatemala Trip Members
For decades, the poor of Guatemala City have been drawn to the city’s gigantic dump for a treasure hunt. Collecting reusable and recyclable materials (such as copper, glass, plastics and cardboard) does not necessarily yield great profits. A long but successful 11-hour day at the dump might yield $2-3 depending on your finds and the market. It’s hard to believe that these earnings are still above the daily international poverty line of $1.90/day… And many other people have it worse.
Unfortunately, many of these impoverished men and women are illiterate, have no education and many are tied into gangs and drug use. The residents in/around the dump are not used to the too-easily and far-too-often forgotten blessings we experience in the US. They are not guaranteed healthcare, electricity, running water, an education or government assistance. The poor residents live hard lives and they do not have other great paths to choose from.

In walking through the dump, their safety is often jeopardized in various ways – inhalation of methane gases, exposure to disease-ridden waste, a crushing collapse of the landfill, and even dangerous gang control of the arriving dump truck loads.

My guilty mind turns to self-reflection and realization of my own biologic footprint as the dump’s pungent smell swallows my breath, and with a choke, I return to the moment. In viewing the dump from afar, soaring vultures impress upon me the length of their 32-acre dump territory. As I watch them, movement below shifts my eye to the human, land vultures welcoming a continued supply of incoming dump trucks.
In 1997, Hanley Denning, a woman from Maine, volunteered to teach children and adults in this area. In doing so, she was immersing herself in this culture and becoming more fluent in speaking Spanish. Her purpose in Guatemala, and in life, changed when she learned of their struggles and the problems the dump created. You see, while the adults went to the dump, their children were left to the streets.

Hanley sold her belongings to fund an organization called Safe Passage (in Spanish, “Camino Seguro”) to take in and tutor these children. Unfortunately, years later, Hanley was in a fatal car accident. Her improved and ever-evolving organization thrives. On today’s tour, I could tell that Hanley’s spirit and vision lives through the guides, workers and students. Hanley would be extremely proud and overjoyed, but not finished.

Guatemala Trip Camino Seguro students

The public Guatemalan City Schools are not very good and Safe Passage noted a continued poor graduation and literacy rate among their initial participants. Instead of solely tutoring, the organization then started their own school to properly teach these children. They also found that good nutrition is necessary to learn well. Safe Passage now provides their students several meals a day. They continue to teach children and also their willing parents. This equips them with a new found self respect and better ability to sustain and foster their families.

In association with Safe Passage, the adult women students sell handmade jewelry made from recycled dump metals and papers. Their group, called Creamos, raises funds for these women directly. In supporting their efforts you not only get a fashionable necklace with a great story but also you provide them a continued education and a family’s path to a better life.

Dr. Carl Kihm