Recently, AMN Healthcare team members and volunteer healthcare providers participated in a medical mission trip to Guatemala organized by HELPS International. Brandon Martin, one of our Staff Care team members, participated as a member of HELPS Team Esperanza. We sat down with him for a Q&A session to get some of his experiences and thoughts on the trip.
What is HELPS International and what is its mission?
HELPS International puts together several medical mission trips each year to provide much needed healthcare services to impoverished areas of Guatemala. HELPS also has programs that help in education, farming and lifestyle improvements. I was part of HELPS Team Esperanza’s stove and medical team, which makes the trip annually with volunteer physicians and AMN team members.
What kind of services did the volunteer healthcare providers perform?
Our volunteer healthcare providers literally turned an empty hospital into a fully functioning hospital overnight. They performed around 90 surgeries between Monday and Friday evening, everything from gallbladder removals to eye reconstructions. They also saw 400 patients for non-surgical issues, and our dentist saw more than 100 patients. It was an amazing feat for the medical staff to be able to work as a team on such a short term basis. There is literally no room for error.
What was your role on Team Esperanza?
I was on the Stove Team. We worked in the small village of Coban, about three and a half hours north of Guatemala City, installing safety stoves. Building these stoves with adequate ventilation is a huge preventative measure for the families. They are used to cooking with open fire pits inside their homes which causes severe medical issues. Doctors say that within a month of a newborns life, fumes from fire pits will cause lung damage that will never be reversed. We installed 61 new stoves in family homes and one industrial stove in the school. And each family that received a stove also received a water filtration system.
What kind of response did you receive from the community?
When we arrived at the hospital, hundreds of people were already lined up and waiting at the. They were definitely happy to see us. In the town of Coban the whole community came out to great us and on our last day the local school put on a two-hour presentation filled with folk stories, traditional dances and lots of beautiful kids running around with huge smiles on their faces. It was such an amazing and uplifting experience.
How did you handle the language barrier?
We definitely needed translators who could not only speak Spanish, but also the other Indian dialects that are still used in that region. Fortunately, we had translators from American schools in Guatemala to help us out, most of whom were under the age of 17. We even had two translators from England on our trip.
What did you learn about the culture?
The area we served was a very impoverished farming community. On a typical day, the women will gather firewood in the morning while the men go off to work. It was surprising to learn that most kids only go to school half a day, and most only go through the 5th grade. We also met two mothers who were only 13 years old. Needless to say, it is a very different culture than we’re used to here in the United States. I went in thinking I would feel sorry for them and in ways you do. They don’t have access to clean water or healthcare that we take for granted here in the states. But when you realize how simple they live and how happy they are, you can’t feel sorry for them. In ways I am envious at how they live and can’t help but think that maybe they know something more about happiness than we do.
What advice would you give to anyone who might be thinking about participating in this mission next year?
It’s easy enough to tell someone what we did every day and how we directly impacted families in Guatemala. I can’t explain fully the significance and the inspiration these people had on me as individual. One truly will not grasp the effects until they have experienced the journey for themself. This is an amazing opportunity to give back and I would encourage anyone interested to apply for next year’s trip. I am already planning on returning with my wife on next year’s trip.
If you’re interested in learning more about HELPS International or volunteering for the next medical mission trip, contact Steve Wehn, AMN Healthcare's VP of Government & Community Relations, at email@example.com.
Staff Care also has a number of locum tenens job opportunities in rural or underserved areas of the United States where healthcare providers are desperately needed. Please take a look at our job listings and submit an application, or contact us for more information.