Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Update from Jacqueline

Nutrition Classes in San Antonio Palopo and Santa Caterina Palopo

Marie Cruz Arenales with the women of La Cruz, in their new "digs".
Having completed three weeks here in Guatemala, my enthusiasm for this great work has not dwindled. Our dental clinic concluded last week allowing time for me to concentrate more fully on other projects. Tricia is now with family in Rio Dulce and John is enjoying Tzununa. As an important  followup to the dental work, I enjoyed presenting lively participatory courses in nutrition and dental hygiene to 1000 school children in elementary classes last week. I was delighted when many little ones stopped me on the street to express their enthusiasm of the presentation. To change the health of a community we need, of course, to start with the children. Being an artist, I am drawn to the bright coloured threads of the weavers. Over  fifteen family groups are busily weaving the new scarf designs which you will see in the spring. Nothing draws us closer than creating the colourful patterns together with  passionate zeal. 

Nevertheless, my main focus this year is a new initiative in La Cruz, San Lucas Toliman, a coffee plantation village of 13,000. Probably the poorest village on the lake, these folk are ready to improve their destiny after years of neglect and abuse. The ramshackled wooden  shacks are bulging with very large families and no sanitation. These rented homes serve all year round, but employment on the plantation covers only two months of the year. Last year the women asked to have a centre; this year it is fast becoming a reality. 

I began with the objective of sustainability by igniting the power from within the group. With the generous help of your donations via ICO we have rented a cement block house central to all which will serve the expressed needs of the women. Each family that receives one of the efficient ONIL stoves contributes a moderate amount of quetzales to buy essential furnishings so that they may begin to call it theirs. The new centre is run by ten dedicated women who have already registered as a cooperative. They express their true intentions in these words:

1. The will to live freely day by day.
2. To be a successful  group of women.
3. To create a peaceful sanctuary for all women.
4.  To work together for the betterment of all by providing needed courses.
5. To be a leading example of ecological conservation.
6. To provide a place and equipment for women to sew marketable products.
7. To include women of all ages and status.

This is a profound beginning. I am engaged in helping to organize activities and to suggest  good designs for marketable products, both sewn and painted, plus some essential accounting advice.  We are installing inverted  plastic water bottles in the roof lamina to refract the sunlight. Hopefully this will be a model  that others will follow. We are looking for funding to house the outdoor "biffy" and to buy an industrial machine and overlocker. The finishing always makes the difference.With this strong motivation for success, these women will do well indeed, and will soon be independent of outside assistance. 

I gladly offer all the support required until I return to Canada at the end of March.                                             
Dental Education

 Submitted by Jacqueline Mealing

Monday, February 20, 2012

Well, that's a Wrap!

If you've been following the dental caper, you will know that during most of our clinical days we were operating at less than 100% as we awaited the portable patient chair and overhead light. These both arrived with Jaclyn and that is a story in itself. In both the San Antonio Palopo and Santa Catarina Palopo clinics we used a borrowed "birthing" bed as our patient chair, and the only light we had was the headlamp attached to my loops. One has to learn to be adaptable when working in the field.

The addition of the chair and light were a godsend indeed as we were then able to function like a truly complete dental office.  Both ease and efficiency were increased exponentially and exceeded all my expectations.  We would like to extend our heartfelt appreciation to both Rotary Clubs of Oak Bay and Nelson, who so generously provided all the essential components.  And to "Aseptico", the company who created the portable dental clinic and who provided ongoing technical support. We spent approximately 3 weeks in each village providing dental services that ranged from cleanings to fillings to extractions, with many of the extractions requiring challenging surgical procedures.  We managed all this without the aid of X-ray, but are hoping to find a way to fundraise to purchase a portable digital X-ray that can be connected to a laptop and provide essential pictures. 

This year we decided to provide all services to children at no fee and to charge adults 10 Quetzales ($1.25) for fillings, with surgeries and cleanings free.  One of the challenges we face is the overwhelming need for our services; hopefully we can attract other dentists to join us in this essential service in years to come. 

The educational component is about to begin as Jaclyn and a local woman, Ursula (who also assisted us), visit the schools with a variety of teaching aids.  

In order to further teach the value of dental health and services we are considering charging a fee of 10 Q next year for all services, including children.  We are convinced that "giving things away" does not lead to "responsibility" which is our ultimate goal. Knowing what I know about the implications of dental health on whole health, I am deeply satisfied with the work we did in these villages, in particular, the surgery rendered to remove chronically infected teeth. We witnessed things that most dentists in Canada never see and while ours was a basic and simple approach, it was most fulfilling and health promoting.

Tricia has been indefatigable in her compilation of treatment data which will provide an valuable historical reference and I am deeply grateful for her organizational skills and attention to detail.  Ursula was invaluable not only as a translator into the local dialect of Kaqchiquel but also for her willingness to step in as a chairside assistant. Jaclyn was our "go to gal" when we needed supplies during our clinical days; and a late addition, Dianne, a nurse from Victoria, provided compassion and help wherever required.  Not enough can be said about the inestimable contribution of Maria, a certified dental assistant from Victoria, without whose direction and expertise none of this could have come together as well as it did.  I am especially grateful to her for making my job so much less stressful. ICO, our parent support organization, has been totally helpful in all regards, including fundraising, and we are all indebted to the many volunteers behind the scenes for making this opportunity available to us.  Mil gracias a todo!

And to you the reader, a special expression of gratitude for your prayers and your financial support so that we can continue to be of "service above self".
Juan Jose

Friday, February 10, 2012

February 5th...From Kathy:

We are now here a whole month and there is never a dull moment. I seem to be in constant communication with Felipa (seen above right with new employee Isabel), our Centre coordinator, as there is a constant need for cash transfers! We discuss everything from food for the ancianas’ lunch to a new sewing machine or a pair of shoes for a scholarship student. We have hired Isabel, who has been volunteering part time for the last few months, as assistant to the coordinator. We interviewed 3 other young women and Isabel was by far the best candidate. She will be working a lot with our pre-school program for 4 & 5 year olds three days a week. It is quite a big leap for many of the poorest children to come from their homes where there is absolutely nothing to prepare them for the world of school.

Now that we have the scholarship students all set up, the school supplies doled out, the assistant hired, and the programs planned, we can actually start implementing the classes. They will start this week. For women there will be the ancianas’ (elderly women) lunch on Mondays, in between high school scholarship students tutoring primary students who need help with specific subjects (probably reading comprehension and maths). The high school students are required to participate in this in exchange for transportation money as they have to take a pick-op or van to school - there is no high school in San Antonio Palopo. Tuesdays there will be more tutoring in the morning, and in the afternoon there will be a group of women coming who want to learn useful conversational Spanish through dramatization, games, and whatever else we can think of!

The rest of the week in the mornings there will be the preschool (or escuelita), and in the afternoons more groups for women. There is one sewing class that includes embroidery and crochet and an introduction to sewing with electric sewing machines - and making little things. Women can make money embroidering their traditional clothing, table cloths, bed spreads, etc. Another afternoon there will be a cooking class combined with the not so hidden agenda of nutrition, health, hygiene, and family planning. (In fact all the classes will include some of this.)

Fridays in February will see a volunteer, Cathy Hargreaves from Nelson, BC, teaching a group of young women to sew sanitary napkins. They are really keen and it would be great to see them turn it into a small business. They are also making cushion covers and aprons.

Saturday mornings will be reserved for activities for about 20 children aged 10 to 13. It will be fun to see what they get up to in the next couple of months!

Meanwhile, rent for the Centre is to be negotiated… we are trying to figure out what is fair. We are making an effort to turn the Board of Directors (seen below meeting with Kathy) into a more active group with more responsibility and involvement.

Dianne Perry (below), a nurse from Victoria, arrived a week ago and has been making the rounds to see how she could help in the Puesto de Salud (health clinic) and the schools; she is teaching First Aid to teachers and grade 6 students.

And finally, Tricia Timmermans from Victoria is teaching English in the Centre Monday and Wednesday nights to a keen group of students. During the day, she joins fellow Victorians Dentist John Snively and Dental Assistant Maria Consalvo along with Ursula Cumez Calabay (of Santa Catarina Palopo) in the Lake Atitlan dental project where there are presently treating patients from San Antonio and Santa Catarina. 

Next installment in a few days!