Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Dental Team in Action

Dental Assistant, Maria Consalvo, demonstrates teeth cleaning to young patient while Mom, brother, and Ursula, a volunteer from Santa Catarina Palopo, look on. Dr. Juan is in background attending to the Mobile Dental Unit, which was donated by Rotary.  

Coming to a place like this, the land of the Maya, one must park one's traditional views and expectations at the door or "suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune". Things hardly ever go according to plan and often more time and energy is spent on attempting to be "organized" than on providing the service.  We are quickly learning both patience and tolerance and realizing that appointments for treatment are more loosely regarded as "whenever they can make it!"  Some people show up on the wrong day or several hours late because something more important came up in the meantime.  Back home we also take for granted that the electricity coming out of the plug is generally 110 V but here it can fluctuate anywhere between 80-150 and our sophisticated dental unit moans when the voltage drops significantly.  We are now well recognized within the community, not totally because we are obviously from somewhere else and wearing "scrubs" but more importantly that we are providing a valuable service and those that come to the clinic are indeed grateful.  It is still very heart rending to see children whose permanent teeth must be extracted because they have never been taught the value of teeth nor given any instruction on how to care for them.  While our immediate concerns are focussed on the clinical side we all agree that education is the key to change.

We were fortunate to connect with a native Guatemalan, Monica Diaz, who is a nutritionist in this area; together we are going to collaborate on a teaching method that will bring understanding to the local people about diet, oral hygiene and the impact of dental health on whole health. This will be our greatest gift to give. Without knowledge and understanding there can be no opportunity of choice and hence responsibility. Our role must go beyond being "fixers". 

On a personal note I must express my deep appreciation to both Maria and Tricia who are totally dedicated to the management of all the records, patient comfort and the numerous duties required to keep everything sterile and in order.  Their days begin early and end late with phone calls and paper work.  In addition they should be commended for their tolerance of my brief moments of frustration when things go sideways. We are proving to be a very dedicated and effective team and we appreciate all the support sent our way by you.
Juan Jose

Guatemala's future in the hands of a new government

Check this Guatemala Human Rights Commission blog to get an idea of the direction in which new President Otto Molina Perez is taking the country.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Busy, productive week in San Antonio Palopo

Our Scholarship Students

Filling the bags - scholarship kids help at the Centre
What a productive week. All the scholarship students have met, handed in their school financial requirements, received their school supplies, had their inscription and tuition fees paid for January and have started school. There are 17 of them, 11 in middle school and 6 in high school.  I am trying to learn their names. Once I can see beyond the sameness of the traditional dress of the girls I can identify faces. With the boys there is a sameness of non traditional dress...T-shirt and jeans and that doesn´t make it any easier. About 100 other primary school children each received a bag full of school supplies that they are required to have. We thought we would be receiving 100 filled bags however the supplies came in cartons of paints, crayons, notebooks, pencils etc so we had to organize an assembly line.  A child would go down the line with a bag if it was a boy  or a servietta if it was a girl.  All women and girls carry these squares made of the same material as their huipiles or blouses.  Then they tie them up and carry things on their heads.  Their posture is unbelievable.  I was amazed at how smoothly the whole operation went.... thanks to most of the scholarship students and a few other volunteers who helped us out.

Meanwhile, the sun shines, the wind blows and it is incredibly beautiful here. Momentarily the pressure is off but it is only momentary! Next comes planning the Centro Qawinaq activities - all within a budget of course.  It is quite easy to get carried away as there are so many possibilities. We are looking at wages..... have to hire one or two part time people, painting the walls, buying a couple more sewing machines and a pila - a sink like fixture where dishes can be washed.  As well as a rent increase. The price of electricity in Guatemala (privatized) is always going up and our use of the Centre increases. Felipa, our coordinator, is anxious to get things going again after the holidays and the beginning of school. We are planning a meeting of the board of directors.  We will be looking for new members as some have moved on to other things. It is a bit tricky for us who don´t know much about the relationships in this tightly knit, interrelated village! But we will be meeting and planning a visit with the new mayor who evidently is educated and may be the first literate one!It  may help if they know about the Centro Qawinaq and about InnovativeCommunities.Org.
I have begun talking with CONALFA, the government literacy organization which gives classes to adults who haven´t managed to get their primary school education.   We have supported them in some way for the last 4 years.  They have been using the Centre for holding at least one class that meets twice a week for 3 hours.  There is a new coordinator and she would like to continue to be able to use the space.  So we will be factoring that into our schedule of activities too.  
And on it goes... . I keep seeing people who want to talk to me about getting some kind of assistance. Some of it is really basic, like food, clothes; others want to go on to school, or need money  to buy something, or a loan. The price of onions is down, no one is making money weaving.  There are very few tourists.  

All for now!

Two happy kids gratefully holding their new school supplies

Saturday, January 14, 2012

School supplies, scholarships, and cooking pots

From Kathy:
Day 7 or 8 in San Antonio Palopó and time flies.  With some urgency we are getting the scholarship students sorted out, trying to keep within our budget.  Felipa was up rather late last night figuring out school fees and school supplies.  This year we will include transportation costs for the students going to high school. In exchange, they will help  some younger children who are not doing well in school.  This will be a great savings for the families.  One young fellow is taking an exam to take a course in automotive mechanics.  Aside from nursing and teaching that is the most sensible plan I have heard!

At noon today I went to visit a family that we have been giving support to so that the older daughter could go to school rather than to work.  The Mum is a widow of 4 years now and we thought this would help her get back on her feet.  It is not happening quite as we had hoped and the daughter who is 15 and would only be going into grade 5 doesn´t want to go back to school.  Who can blame her -- she´s just plain too big!  I hope we can find some other options for her but she seems to want to go to Guatemala City and work as an ´ama de casa´, looking after children, cleaning, etc.  She and her 4 younger siblings live with their mother in a very tiny concrete block house.  I think the house is just getting too small.

While having lunch back at the hotel, a former scholarship student came to say she is not returning to school as she did not pass her year..... one failing mark and she has to do the whole year over again.  This gal is having difficulties at home with her parents she tells me, and she seems quite depressed.  There is a psychiatrist who comes once a month so I will try to get her an appointment.

After this I went to the Centro where 50 women who received stoves in December  were waiting to receive their pots and pans and have a little fiesta.  It was great, they thanked us and the donors profusely for providing stoves and pots.  We had cake and juice, handed out pots, gave speeches and then turned on the music only no one would dance except for one woman who got up to dance with me!  The rest laughed a lot.  One woman gave me a ´cinta´ which is a long hand woven colourful´thing´ most use to put up their beautiful long black tresses -- then she did my skimpy grey hair with it.  They laughed at that too!

As soon as the fiesta was finished we cleared the floor and chairs for the smaller group of scholarship students and their mothers (as it turned out, no fathers).  Some we helped last year but there are quite a few new ones and they are going in all different directions for school.  Felipa read  them  the ´rules´and they all signed papers saying they will comply!!  I took pictures of each one and then we  gave school supplies to those who are in the equivalent of middle school.  The others will get theirs on Sunday.  I get rather emotional when I see how much it means to them to have this (your) help.

Tomorrow I and the dental team will continue working but Saturday we will all have a day off, hire a van and go to Iximché, about 2 hours (and only 45 K) away.  Iximché is a Mayan Archaeological site, not very developed but quite a beautiful location and the last place to be built before the Spanish came.  I am going to check it out with the idea of taking a bus load of children from here one day.  Many haven´t been very far out of the village and being able to learn about a bit of their own history seemed like a good (and fun) idea.  Also it is a lot of wide open space, if I recall correctly, and I thought we could take soccer balls and the kids could run wild -- not much room to do that in this vertical village where there is no grass.

All for now!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dentistry at San Antonio Palopo

Today we had an early start to try to get through the list we had planned after screenings on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Mobile Dental Unit (seen in action in the Puesto de Salud at right) that Rotary so generously provided worked exceedingly well. We had a few start-up glitches, but overall the day went fairly smoothly. In the afternoon we had three no-shows in a row - not such an unusual occurrence - so we filled the spots with some walk-ins. Many people are keen to have the work done, but then get cold feet, or forget, or simply, for whatever reason, don't show up. Ursula (left in photo at right) from Santa Catarina was a great help all day long. I found standing all day on a concrete floor had its challenges. The room we are working in is extremely crowded, but you get what you get and make do.

Here's a close-up of the mobile dental unit. We keep the sterilizer in the room across the hallway, as there simply isn't room in the procedure room. The Puesto de Salud staff have accommodated us as best they can, given the very poor circumstances in San Antonio Palopo. We have seen some incredibly healthy sets of teeth, but many of the kids, who seem to enjoy a diet of coca cola and sweets, have horrendous teeth requiring several extractions. Maria's experience as a Dental Assistant has been invaluable to the team.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

School's In - Almost! Planning is Underway in San Antonio Palopo

From Kathy in San Antonio Palopo:
Once again I find myself in this amazing village, working with delightful Mayans.  My experience is mostly with  women because we have hired women to work with women and children in the Centro Qawinaq.  However there are some great men too.  One, Rodolfo, who organizes our stove deliveries in Santa Catarina, his helper Martin; Francisco who is the President of the board of directors for the Centro in San Antonio; the directors of the schools, and lots more.
But back to the women.  With Felipa our Centro coordinator, I have just spent the better part of 3 days organizing scholarship students, new ones and on-going.  Everything from deciding on new candidates,  finding out how much their costs will be this year,  to pricing and ordering school supplies -- keeping all within the budget.  We are fine-tuning the process too.  The students are required to help out in the Centro during the year. And this year our coordinator will be able to keep a much closer eye on their participation and their school marks; school fees will be paid monthly instead of annually as before.  My biggest challenge is having to say `no ´ to the queries.  Amazing what they can´t do for want of under $200 (for a year in middle school).
This year we are going to shop locally for school supplies.  The `librería´ here in San Antonio is being extremely helpful.  And their prices seem comparable with the bigger store we usually go to in Panajachel where they are so busy this week that they spread right out on the street in front of them.  We will not only be buying supplies for our 15 scholarship students, we will also bag up enough for about 100 primary students and give them to families with limited resources.

School starts Monday for most students so this will presumably be finished then.
Then we move on to planning programs for 2012 in the Centro, hiring a new assistant or perhaps 2 part timers, preparing the budget,  and when that is all done it will be time to start finding more families that need stoves.  I will be ready for a vacation after that!   

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Screening Day 1 - Centro Qawinak

After the announcements were made over the Municipality loudspeaker to advise that a dental clinic would be held, we were unsure how many of the people of San Antonio Palopo would make their way to the Centro Qawinak to have their teeth checked today. We needn't have worried that the word hadn't been broadcast - at the end of the day we had screened 43 adults and children, most of whom will require treatment - extractions, fillings, cleaning and scaling, root extractions, etc.  We (Dr. John, Maria and Tricia) were going full throttle all day from eight in the morning, when we had to lug an examination bed from the Health Clinic to the Centre, till after five in the evening. We were assisted ably with translation (from Spanish to Kaqchikel) by Brenda from San Antonio Palopo and Izabel from Santa Catarina Palopo. Tomorrow we repeat the screening process and on Thursday we will start treatment and surgery at the Health Clinic. Here are a few photos from today's work at Centro Qawinak:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Introductions ... and cooking pot distribution

At the Qawinak Centre

This morning, Kathy, Maria and Tricia attended the Qawinak Centre to be introduced to the youngsters who take part in the Saturday program run by Felipa, an assistant and a volunteer. The kids took turns introducing themselves and telling us what they liked to do most at the Centre. Many of the thirty or so boys and girls were very shy, so  Felipa encouraged them to speak with confidence, which was usually accompanied by loads of giggling.  When we finished the children carried on playing card games, doing jigsaw puzzles and reading books until it was time to leave.
In the afternoon, we travelled via "pick-op" from San Antonio Palopo to Santa Catarina Palopo to distribute cooking pots  (a big one and a small one) to the women who had just received stoves.  Rodolfo, and Ursula of Santa Catarina and Brenda of San Antonio, organized the distribution at Rodolfo's home. The women patiently sat on the floor until everyone had arrived; some were feeding babies, some were holding small children; all were dressed in the beautiful colours traditionally worn by the women of Santa Catarina. The huipiles (blouses) they wear are made of an exquisite deep-blue intricate weave and usually the turban-like headwear is made of a deep burgundy velvet fabric. Before the distribution, a small candle-lighting ceremony was held and speeches were made. The women's deep-felt appreciation was palpable, and there was much hugging and kissing before they left to try out their new pots on their ONIL stoves.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Happy New Year to ICO Atitlan Supporters and Friends

Kathy, Maria and John enjoying beautiful Lago Atitlan.
The year has just begun, and already volunteers have arrived in San Antonio Palopo to take part in projects here and around Lake Atitlan. Kathy has had meetings with Felipa and Francisco to discuss and plan ongoing and new projects, and John, Maria and Tricia have been organizing to begin the dental project, with screening to begin on Tuesday in the Qawinak Centre. We will update you with how things are progressing on a regular basis, now that volunteers have arrived. Happy New Year to all our supporters and friends.