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.

Guatemala - Hospitalito Atitlan[2]

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.

Guatemala Richard Higgins

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