Patty Hinton – Midwest Regional Coordinator, St. Louis Chapter
I had the good fortune to travel with three other Affiliates—Susan Porrovecchio, Jim Comes, and Gerry Mullaney—on our post-MAC tour to the Coatepeque region of Guatemala.
First, we spent time with Sister-Doctor Dee Smith, MM, and saw her tremendous accomplishments—finding and treating those diagnosed with HIV in and around Coatepeque. Most of those infected live in extreme poverty and also must deal with the stigma of this disease and rejection by their families. With a caring and dedicated staff, Sr. Dee has developed an outreach program to educate not only those in schools, but also families dealing with an infected family member.
Sr. Dee began the Santa Maria center in 2004, where attention is given to improving not only physical but also emotional care. They provide counseling, spiritual support, nutrition education, and physiotherapy as those inected continue their anti-retroviral treatment. Part of their holistic approach is to encourage the families to establish gardens with vegetables and healing herbs, as nutrition is key to strengthening immune systems. The center needs two new exercise bikes to help counter the various degrees of paralysis the disease can cause.
Then we were on our way to Catarina, San Marcos, to visit Sister-Doctors Jane Buellesbach and Mary Lou Daoust, MM, at their clinic where they see patients on Mondays. The rest of the week, they travel to 15 pueblos in rotation. They have a pharmacy and lab as well as a diabetic clinic which offers testing, treatment, and monitoring. While there, we also met a group of health promoters who were having a training session. They are educated by the sisters to diagnose through observation and treat common illnesses. They can dispense the basic medication the pharmacy provides.
Several of the outlying clinics are associated with fincas (large farms), where the workers, usually with several children, live in substandard housing and work under deplorable conditions, making about $7/day. Despite working long hours, they volunteer their time to staff the clinics one day a week. The sisters also have a vented woodstove project, as well as a water filtration project, where the families pay half and the Maryknoll Sisters pay the other half of the cost of home water filters. These projects help alleviate a variety of lung and parasite problems.
As with all mission trips, I discovered the connections that exist between all of us, and that even though we are many, we are one!