They call themselves the Guatemala Girls and they are a diverse team of nurses who embarked on a journey last June that changed their lives forever. Using their combined skills, education, and mindsets, they provided health care and teaching to almost 3000 vulnerable individuals in remote villages of Guatemala.
The team included Keltie Keir-Wilson (Nurse Practitioner, Central Miramichi Community Health Centre), Stephanie Lyons (Registered Nurse, Dr Everett Chalmers Hospital), Pam Thorpe (Licensed Practical Nurse, Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital), Jolene Wade, Kaitlyn Storey, Janel Russel, Amanda McCutcheon, and Stephanie Woodard (Registered Nurse Students at UNBSJ – all formally Licensed Practical Nurses). Coming from both acute and chronic backgrounds, the Guatemala Girls have the ability to care for people of all ages. And because of their creativity and team attitude they are able to provide care with very limited resources.
Jolene Wade is the team leader and has been nicknamed “Momma Jo” because she took care of all the details, arranging villages for clinics, transportation, accommodations, and flights. The volunteer work is intense, exhausting physically and mentally, and Momma Jo always refocused the team when needed.
Guatemala Girls Trip Preparation
The cost of medications and supplies is a lot in order to prepare for a trip like this and be as effective as possible. The team hosted dances and silent auctions to raise the necessary funds. They also gratefully accepted donations from individuals and local businesses willing to help. The Guatemala Girls continue to be overwhelmed with the generosity of their communities in Hampton, Blackville, Doaktown, Fredericton, and Moncton. During the trip, the nurses frequently updated their social media and answered emails as much as possible so those who donated could feel like they were part of the trip. They wanted the public to see the work being performed and show what the dollars provided.
As they prepare for their next trip in the Fall of 2016, they have numerous fundraisers planned from Open Mic and Karaoke Nights, to a Spaghetti Dinner with Silent Auction and 80’s themed dances. They are also accepting any donations of Tylenol, Advil, multivitamins (children’s and adult’s), hygiene products, creams, and ointments.
Guatemala Girls Memorable Moments
It is difficult to capture a trip of a lifetime into words, to even begin to explain the magnitude of the cultural experience. Many of the Guatemala Girls had never experienced travel beyond the borders of New Brunswick, let alone to the other side of the Atlantic. Upon arrival at the Guatemalan airport, the nurses quickly realized they were not in Canada anymore as the weather was warm and the English language was scarce. They arrived at their beautiful and quaint hotel to discover a “rooftop paradise” filled with hammocks, which became their nightly debriefing meeting area. Changing one life at a time became the motivating motto for the group.
A typical day consisted of waking at 7 am and being on route to the villages by 8 am. Each day was a different village with varying degrees of vulnerability. Most children did not have shoes, most had parasitic infections, and all were dehydrated, but still had smiles to light up a room. The day flew by with hundreds of patients lined up and the team never left until every patient was seen. The illnesses ranged from acute to chronic and patients were so grateful for even a Tylenol or multivitamin to help. Supper was served at 6:30 pm, followed by the team’s “block walk” where they would walk their village and meet up with locals along the way. The children would run to them and they would engage in the village soccer game of the evening.
The most tedious task for all of the Guatemala Girls was the nightly preparation of medications for the clinic the following day. In order to travel internationally with various medications, they had to be sealed and unopened, therefore preventing any preparation. Every medication had to be counted and individually packaged to give to patients. The team would prepare medications for 200 to 400 people daily, so this task took the remainder of the evening and everyone would be fast asleep by 9:30 pm most nights.
One of the most memorable moments for one of the nurses was being blessed by the local midwife. She had delivered most of the children in the village and was extremely grateful for the presence of the Canadian nurses. The moment caught all of the nurses off guard and everyone stopped what they were doing to watch the beautiful blessing.
Many orphaned children lived with various family members, neighbours, or friends.
The nurses saw that conditions were very poor, with many children being abused. One of the team’s translators was a Social Worker and he would often tend to the children needing that emotional support. Throughout the day, the nurses would take turns going outside and hiding behind the cement walls of the clinic to have a quick release of tears to help them get through the rest of the day. These were only some of the reasons that debriefing every evening was imperative for the nurses to continue with their mission.
The Guatemala Girls left that beautiful country feeling even more grateful for their own country of Canada. Every one of the nurses feels extremely fortunate to have accessible resources and a government to rely on for social services when needed. The trip was truly one of a lifetime and the team is very anxious to return. The nurses are leaving this Fall and would love any help or donation readers may be able to provide. To keep up to date with the numerous fund raising events coming up or for any further information please like their Facebook Page, “Volunteer Mission to Guatemala”.