Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jacqueline and John arrive in San Antonio Palopo

A new team has arrived in San Antonio Palopo providing a transition from all the wonderful work Kathy has achieved over the last three months. The 2011 initiative will provide energy efficient stoves, much needed medicines, support for our vibrant Social Center, donations of school supplies and repairs to the temporary school to provide a safe and healthy environment for the 450 young children. Dr. John Snively (below) is new on the team this year as the first community dentist, providing already some excellent groundwork for this initiative, and bringing promise and hope for many.
Consumable products are necessary for the volunteer dentist  to begin his work, and ample medicines are needed to fill the empty shelves in the local clinic for 10,000 people. All our preliminary paper work was approved, my volunteer secretary spoke personally with the wife of President Colom, we had an interview in the palacio, but the medicines remain in customs after two weeks. Still, I do not give up hope. I found a female doctor in the clinic today willing to be persistent on the case, the mayor has volunteered to take a full day  to  drive to the capital and get the last permit from the Minister of Health, and then go to the airport four hours away. Positive thinking, good responses, but still no medicines. These medicines are a sizable gift for Guatemala, consisting of $10,000 in medicines selected by the town and a large amount in dental consumables and anaesthetics. We have partnered with the established organization of Health Partners International which covers the bulk of the cost of supplies, and with the generous help of Nelson Daybreak Rotary and ICO Foundation. Who knows, maybe tomorrow, or next week, it will happen and you will be the first to know! Such is the style of Guatemala. It is here we learn the lesson of patience. [UPDATE:
Yesterday, January 26, was a happy ending to a difficult three weeks of correspondence from SOSEP. Luis Ruiz, the First Lady's secretary called the aduana to advise them to give us a break. Although it took over two hours the meds were released for $120 US. This is wonderful as all the transports were done with no charge.]

Arriving back after a years absence  from this once idyllic village is a journey to a very different reality. A pervading sadness lingers over the community. I am pulled aside constantly in the village for the dear
residents who, each in turn, share their story of the disasters that occurred in 2010. So many have lost loved ones in the mudslides, many are still digging out or living in temporary accommodation. The economy is at an all time low, and the picturesque village is now a sea of rubble and dust. Roads are barely passable but life must go on, so we are here to bring smiles, listen carefully and assist wherever we can within our limitations.

Kathy's presence in the community has been so very well received over the last three months. Despite her injured knee (that resulted from too many ascents up the steep mountain paths of the ever expanding village) she managed to bring an excellent program together, present more opportunities to develop young leadership in the town, giving greater confidence for all concerned.

Everything takes longer than expected here. Banking should be simple but it took us three hours and three banks to finally cash a money order even though we have established accounts.

Today was delightful as Dr. John (Juan José) accompanied me for the first time up and around the mountain paths of the town. During this one full morning we were invited into many small casitas all ravaged by the storms, but making the best of what they have with their incredible resilience, so strong to their character. I was offered two more babies to become the madrina, which regretfully I must pass on to some other loving arms as I already have 25 godchildren. We were gifted weavings, told many stories that required compassionate listening, and were able to promise stoves to seven needy families and place orders for some of their beautiful weavings. A day of smiles for all of us.

 Back to our shared Casita, a kilometre away, for a short rest on the hammock overlooking the lake, and then more appointments beginning at four when the sun is less aggressive. John and I were taken aback by the very poor condition of the teeth of both children and adults. There has been no dental education and therefore no brushing, combined with a generous amount of sugar to balance the somewhat bland repetitive diet of the very poor. The results are damaging indeed. Many children have already got missing or rotten teeth. We have selected a wonderful young village girl, Carmen, who will be trained by John in this work. The public clinic has opened the opportunity for exclusive use of one of the rooms in the building for our dental project. There is a very great need indeed. John  will use a table to examine patients, pull teeth and clean. It will be a challenge, but if anyone can make it happen he will indeed. At least we have access to running water and soon the consumable supplies will be let out of customs. This is only the beginning of something good and beneficial for the children.

Today marks our first week on this project. We are so blessed to be here and have the resources to make a difference, thanks to all of you who have taken the time to be apart of this endeavour. We look forward to the arrival of two Rotary couples who will be here in February to help with the stoves and in painting the clinic and school rooms.

Jacqueline Mealing

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