Guatemala's Teachings - My Family Travels

              “¡Cuidado! ¡Cuidado!” my broken Spanish caused a grin to erupt on Lupe’s face. The hot plethora of mushy rice began to dribble out of the corners of her smile. I tried to wipe her face clean of the goo, but my apologetic expression and humorous warnings only entertained her further. Her laughter carried across the hospital ward, causing other teenage girls to look at our bed in the corner. After a few more moments of this, I realized resistance was futile and joined in her gay peals.

Lupe has severe muscular dystrophy. She has little to no control of any muscular functioning, causing her to be confined to a bed and at the mercy of other people for the rest of her life. She resides in a Catholic church-turned-hospital in Antigua, Guatemala called Hermano Pedro. The hospital is devoted to providing 24-hour care to the mentally and physically disabled members of the surrounding Guatemalan community. Hermano Pedro gives families with disabled siblings, spouses, grandparents, and friends a chance to give them the proper care they need.

I was there for a mere two weeks to volunteer with the missionary group Students International.

I felt as though I dove headfirst into a well-oiled set of machinery. One of the most incredible constituents of this was the Spartan group of nurses working around the clock, seven days a week. These men and women had an infinite amount of patience and persuasion, as I was taught while assisting them. They bathed, fed, exercised, cleaned up after, and entertained patients from the age of infancy all the way up to the zenith of life, without complaint, with compassion. My task: to assist these heroic nurses in any way possible. This included taking the elderly gentlemen out on walks in the fecund gardens, painting the fingernails of the abuelitas, and bottle feeding teenagers with cleft palate and mental retardation.

The entire hospital was a constant beehive of activity. It pulsed with a life and light that was unparalleled by any hospital I have visited in the United States. The volume of care and precision it operated with, as well as the magnitude of disability, was astounding. Each activity was carefully planned and ordered according to each individual’s needs. For example, one infant needed to be fed in the middle of the day rather than morning, when all of the others were fed. Rather than being overlooked and forgotten, as in many large urban hospitals, the nurses were carefully tuned to her needs, knowing that she would not eat unless fed around noon. Every single person was treated with respect and unique methods, despite the large quantity of patients.

This steadfast commitment to an individual is something I had never seen before, living in the United States. It was incredible to me that such focus was made to every person, and left me feeling like I had no idea how to behave. It was a vulnerable experience. I was immersed not only in this concept of the importance of people, but also in the Guatemalan culture itself, sans English. It caused me to shed my American skin and adopt a Central American perspective of how to treat people and behave around others.

The intense submersion into a completely foreign culture was such a unique event that it must be experienced to be brought to justice. Guatemala changed the way I viewed the world today, opening my eyes to the underserved people and indelible joy they contain. To emulate their perseverance despite hardship was the beginning of my newfound perception toward humanity.

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