Health care in Guatemala is a bit of a "merequetengue." That's your Guate-Spanish onomatopoeia for the day-- "A confusing, messy, or problematic situation that is difficult to resolve." The public system offers free hospitals, but they are always overcrowded, understaffed, under-resourced, and unsanitary. People wait in line for hours to be seen by (maybe) a doctor, and they may or may not have enough anesthesia to get you through an operation, enough food for their patients, or the right medications to give you. Those who are wealthier can pay to be seen at clean, well-staffed private hospitals and clinics, but that's not a large proportion of the Guatemala, where 75 percent of the population lives in poverty. Free health clinics do help some communities with immediate needs, but without income there aren't enough resources or staff to have continuity of care, or to educate the general population in basic health matters. Malnourishment, diabetes, HIV, general hygiene, cancer, and open flesh wounds are very common here and are compounded by the lack of access to health care and health knowledge. What's more, many people’s health problems are related to deep emotional and spiritual problems and they just need to feel touch, feel cared for, and know that they are loved in light of the Gospel.
TEAM sent two nurses to Guatemala in 2015, with the tall task of discovering how health care can be available in a way that holistically helps and empowers poor communities, and how TEAM missionaries can partner with local Guatemalans in those kinds of efforts.
Salud Que Transforma (literally "Health That Transforms") is a Christian non-profit providing medical care and health education about an hour's drive south of the Capital in Palin. Many towns in the area are hours away from the nearest hospital. Salud Que Transforma, has established a two-story clinic which allows medical care, dental care, and medication to be available to the general public at very affordable costs (usually around $3 for an exam by doctor or dentist), while relying much less on outside donations. They also provide health education to community health workers, mothers, and students, and have a small, certified nursing school on their campus to empower locals to gain employment in health care. Once a month, a team of doctors and nurses goes out from Salud Que Transforma to offer health care in under-resourced clinics in remote areas of Guatemala. It's certainly a "diamond in the rough" in the Guatemala's merequetengue of health care, which is why TEAM missionary nurse Amie Bockstahler finds it so fulfilling to dedicate her time there:
“It’s a blessing to work alongside of Guatemalan doctors and nurses who care for their patients with the love of Christ! At the end of a long day in one of the rural mountain clinics, a child came in for malnutrition. He had already been hospitalized for malnutrition previously, but was back home and not improving. The entire staff helped care for this little one and provided much needed education to the mother. The needs are great and can be overwhelming, and at times it seems like there is little we can do. But we serve a God who is bigger than us, and our prayer is that caring for physical needs opens doors to care for their spiritual needs too. Ultimately, we trust that the Lord knows and cares for each individual; they are in His almighty hands."
God cares deeply for the wounded and hurt in body and soul. God cares deeply when unjust systems bar His children from being cared for. If we can help build the capacity of places like Salud Que Transforma and help them better care for bodies and for souls, we think the God "who heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds" (Ps. 147) smiles.
As TEAM digs deeper into how we can help with health care in other communities Some hard questions include: How can health care for those on the fringes be sustainable without (or with less) donations from other countries? How can models of care increase (not take away from) the dignity of the patients? How can members from the community participate in health care and health promotion? How can the soul and spirit be cared for as well as the body?
Your prayers on this front mean a lot. From all of us in TEAM Guatemala, thank you.
To learn about more opportunities to serve with Guatemala, click here.
To read more about Amie's trips to mountain clinics, click here.
Written by AJ Westendorp
Photo courtesy of Amie Bockstahler
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