Saturday, June 18, 2011

June 18 2011

So to begin the end, many of us spent our last day again enjoying and appreciating the beautiful nature of the Guatemalan landscape. We traveled via van to Volcano Pacaya. After procuring walking sticks from the local children we climbed (well, really hiked) steadily uphill for about an hour to the base of the volcanic rock. Our guide roasted marshmallows over a geothermal vent. After the hike that was rather fast-paced and strenuous for some, marshmallows never tasted so good. And, a visit to a natural sauna was enjoyed by all. As we left the volcano the clouds followed us and the rain refreshed us as we hiked back down. A ride from the volcano back to Guatemala City took us to the cemetery where we were going to meet the other part of our group.

The rest of the group went on a 2-city tour – seeing Antigua and Guatemala City. We began our tour by going up to the “Cross” where we looked out over Antigua. We then went on to visit a very snazzy restaurant that accommodated meals and all kinds of events including a visit from Pope John Paul. Some of us sat in the chair he used! We then went on to Guatemala City where we visited a cathedral, observed some protesters in front of the Palace and wandered about a huge city market of food and artisans’ goods. We encountered rain for some of the time; however, the rain is ever present and we really didn’t care.

Then the two groups met at the central cemetery in Guatemala City. As we drove between the tall mausoleums, finding ourselves deeper in the city and the cemetery, we arrived at our destination, an overlook of one of the largest scavenged dumps in Latin America. On a semi-abandoned corner of this cemetery lays a place where we were able to observe down below a huge dump full of life. The sight that met our eyes was one that cannot, in reality, be described in words. The ground moved with trucks, bulldozers, and people, all hard at work.

As we looked down on these humans who are looked down on by society, marginalized and often forgotten, we saw a system characterized by serious occupational inequalities. As Steve reflected during this observation, a world “below death” extended in front of our eyes. A system worked by some of the hardest working and most determined people, evidenced by their persistence in struggling for their place and life within their world. We realized that their world was ours and because of that shared existence it was our responsibility to work for change and continue our own struggles for justice on behalf of those with disabilities, and those who have been disabled by social, political and economic structures.

As we gazed on this unsettling “hell” our host, Steve Osborn, blessed us with wise words reminding us of their and our shared humanity, setting us on a journey as voices of change. As we prepare both physically and mentally to return home, we hope to continue struggling and working for justice, remembering our friends in Guatemala. We came to serve and to learn, and in leaving we now are changed in ways we might not yet know or be able to explain.

Ryan (student)
Carol (trip leader and faculty)
Sally (practitioner)
Pamela (practitioner)

Dear Family and Friends of Guatemala 2010 Participants:
It has been a great week with a great group. We have appreciated very much our in-country hosts – Steve Osborn of Amor del Nino and his crew of drivers, interpreters, and translators – Rolando, Darvy, Melvin, Gerson, Danny, and Josh. They got us where we needed to go and attended to our every need. They are the persons who made this trip possible. Additionally, I want to thank each of you for your support. Our hearts have been touched by your generosity and by your enthusiasm and encouragement of our work here in Guatemala. Muchas gracias.

Carol Scheerer

Friday, June 17, 2011

June 17, 2011

Today, a very small group of us (Sam, Ellen, Meagan, Carol, Renee, and Julie) went to Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos. We suffered from pinches and hair pulls, a broken headband, and three bites, all from one really cute kid. Although we were only there for about 6 ½ hours, it felt like a very LONG day because there is absolutely nothing to entertain the kids, other than a ball pit (not the easiest thing to get into when you’re in a wheelchair though). We can’t even imagine what life is like for the children there because there is little for stimulation or meaningful occupation. Many of the children turn to picking on one another for attention. The caretakers are calm and attentive to the basic needs of the children. This makes for an environment far different than anything we have seen before.

Before arriving to the orphanage, many of the children that we saw had suffered from severe neglect, malnourishment, and different types of abuse. While handling one of the most severe cases today, we successfully made the child laugh and enjoy himself for a short period of time, making the other things we faced today completely worth it.

Sam (student)
Meagan (student)
Ellen (student)

Our day began with fireworks at 3:18 a.m. It was explained to us that the fireworks were set off to celebrate Father’s Day, which is today in Guatemala. Ryan’s roommate Rolando told him that the civil war had begun again, but this was only a joke! Eighteen of us worked today at Misioneros del camino. In the out-patient sensorial clinic, we saw eight children and offered suggestions to both the two in-house occupational therapists and the parents of the children. We worked with several children with autism and Down syndrome, as well as children with neurological issues. After consulting with the therapists and parents, we worked on the biggest concerns that they had regarding the children. I spent the day interpreting for therapists, taking notes and photographs of the children as they worked with our therapists, and working with the students to prepare therapy plans on each child. The plans included photos and instructions. They were printed and left for each family in order for them to follow-up on our suggestions at home. All plans were also copied to the director’s flash drive and will be placed in each child’s records.

We were very impressed by the organization of the director and the professionalism of the staff at this facility. It includes a school, an out-patient clinic and a home for children. Gabby was so happy to see all of the toys and therapy equipment. Experiencing such a facility where the children are stimulated was a rewarding ending to our journey of service for the orphanage homes we have visited in Guatemala. It is gratifying to see families that are so interested and involved in the care of their children. The wheelchair team provided modifications and/or new wheelchairs to 7 children. The “resources” (i.e.: parts, materials, supplies) became slimmer with each chair throughout the day. Our week of work has been worthwhile and will influence each of us for the rest of our lives.

Several of the students spent a few minutes in Antigua at the end of the day before dinner.

Gabby (student)
Diane (faculty)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thursday, June 16

“Little Brothers”

Today some sensory team and some wheelchair team therapists and students went to each location. On the way to “Little Brothers” a parade of children passed us on a street. 4 students, 3 therapists and our Spanish Professor went to Little Brothers. This orphanage has about 260 children, of which about 20 were children with special needs. These children were in one “house” with two large rooms, 3 smaller rooms for bedrooms and a bathroom.

Several of the children had severe autism with significant negative attention seeking behaviors (pinching, pulling hair, hitting). We were able to see changes in one boy with a structured behavior program in about 2 hours. He continued to revert to his negative behaviors periodically but was overall less aggressive. We also worked with several children for feeding. The staff was receptive but this location challenged all of us to stay focused.

The two therapists and two students from the wheelchair team focused on the new wheelchair for Fernanda the first half of the day. We transferred her into a brand new chair and made necessary changes. Overall she was much happier in her new chair; she stopped crying, laughed more and even enjoyed the music we had her listening to. We also attended to some of her other sensory needs.

For the second chair we added break extenders for easier access to Leo’s chair, a very happy and smart boy. Our third chair was given to Gloria, a young girl who goes to hippotherapy. The chair will allow her to get to therapy more easily. We also made some adjustments to a walker for a young lady.

Hasta Lugeo,
Joan (faculty) and Gina (student)


Missions of the Highway is a beautiful facility where the children are well taken care of. We spent the day collaborating with local therapists in their outpatient facility. We were impressed with the involvement and the commitment of the parents. For example, some of the parents carried older children on their backs for hours to get to therapy. Half of the group repaired wheelchairs for seven very deserving children. Some of the wheelchairs were very involved and took several hours to repair. Meanwhile, the other group provided feedback and suggestions for the local therapists and parents on new approaches for sensory processing, motor development, and feeding.

Angela (seen below in the photo with her mom and Lauren, student) is a seven year old child with Cerebral Palsy and incomplete Paraplegia. Upon receiving the repairs and updates to her chair, Angela was all smiles. She is a remarkable little girl who can independently get herself in and out of her wheelchair. Mardoqueo began his session in tears, hiding behind his mom’s legs. It took a long time to even get him to interact with us. However, the students worked some miracles on him. By the end of the session he followed Sam around like a lost puppy dog, and he gave us all kisses on his way out the door. It melted each of our hearts. We continue to fall in love with child after child and we are grateful to be able to be here and make whatever difference we can with each child.

Lauren M. Becker, Student and Babette Northrop, Practitioner (Physical Therapist)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


We left Antigua promptly at 8:15 AM and began our 2.5 hour drive up a mountain to take a tour of a Mayan village called Choabajito. We took a tour of this village to see the way the indigenous Guatemalans live. This village is sponsored by the Behrhorst Partners for Development (BPD) which helps improve the health and well being of Guatemalans in rural communities. We took a tour of their community center, two homes and the children’s school. The Behrhorst team provided the tour and taught us about their Running Water Project which included chlorinator, gray water filters and latrines. The homes also improved stoves with an exhaust system. BPD educated the families on sustainable gardening techniques in order to improve the health of the villagers. The children on Choabajito surprised us with a traditional dance and taught us how to play the game “Cat and Mouse.” Meagan was surprised to be the first gringa to lead the group with the “Chicken” song. Carol was second. Ellen won the gold star of the day when she pulled “burbujas” (bubbles) out of her backpack; the kids loved it! The visit ended with a traditional Mayan lunch prepared by women in the village, including: chicken, rice, black beans, guacamole, tortillas and horchata (a rice drink). Muy deliciosa!

We arrived back in Antigua with just enough time for round two of speed market shopping. We ended the day with a lovely candlelit dinner at Epicure Restaurant. Steve, Shyrel and family from Amor del Nino joined us as well. After a busy and educational day we are ready for a goodnight sleep before continuing our work at orphanages. Hasta Luego!

Mackenzie (student) and Natalie (student)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday, June 14


Tuesday was our second day at the orphanages, the sensory team visited Marina Guirola and the wheelchair/tech team visited Anini, then both teams met up at Hogar Amor Del Nino. We spent a half day at each orphanage and squeezed as much as possible into our a few short hours.

At Marina Guirola, we provided sensory motor input to several children, provided education and hands on training to the caregivers to support positioning, safe feeding, and swallowing. We were also lucky to collaborate with Marina Guirola’s physical therapist. A few highlights included, helping Gustavo stand (if you read the blog last year then you may recognize his name and face), giving him a communication device with voice output and using prolonged positioning with stretches to facilitate relaxation in our friend Ingrid’s right arm.

At Anini, we were able to distribute/modify 8 wheelchairs in our short amount of time, as well as educate the Tias regarding wheelchair modifications, proper positioning, and techniques to assist in carryover once we left. A few children were absolutely thrilled to receive their wheelchairs, especially one 'little guy' Freddy - whose eyes lit up as soon as he saw his Hot Wheels wheelchair. Therapists and students worked extremely hard to practically tear down and rebuild a few chairs, which was quite a feat and learning experience for all. Its amazing how much a team of 12 can get done in less than 4 hours - especially when tools, drills, and suitcases full of random wheelchair parts are involved!

There was so much to do and so little time but we really felt like we made differences that can be carried over into their everyday lives. The joy on the kid’s faces was captured beautifully in the pictures below.

Renee and Gustavo trialing his new communication device

Sensory team problem solving during lunch regarding swallowing with Gaby

After Stephanie & Natalie completed Freddy's fitting for his new Hot Wheels wheelchair - which he can propel independently forwards and backward! Talk about independence :)

The wheelchair/tech team at Anini

The Xavier "X" proudly painted on the walls of Anini

At Hogar Amor Del Nino, we played and interacted with approximately 50 children, ranging from infancy to 12 years old. Always the best part of our jobs!! Most of the children were typically developing; however, a few of them needed our expertise for problem solving through Mama Sheryll’s concerns. We positioned babies to support use of the non-preferred side of her body. We assessed cognitive status of an abandoned infant and encouraged lots of belly time. We got to observe a room full of toddlers and older children during mealtime and all of their messy fun! It’s hard to believe they can fit them all in a room.

Overall, we observed many very loving, concerned, and willing to learn caregivers at both orphanages. It was as hard for us to leave as it was for them to see us go. Tomorrow head to a Mayan village, called Berhorst, to begin yet another adventure.

(P.S. - fear not family and friends, despite almost smashing into the car in front of us we all survived and made it to our destinations - welcome to Guatemalan driving!)

Renee & Stephanie (terapistas)
Brie & Lauren (estudiantes)

Monday June 13


Today was our first day at the orphanages, which was very exciting! The Sensory/Play team is currently on our way back and still need to stop by the grocery store to buy supplies to make tomorrow’s lunch sandwiches. The Sensory group went to Anini while the Wheelchair/Technology group went to Marina Guirola.

We began our day with a wonderful breakfast at 6:15 a.m. that consisted of French toast, yogurt with granola, papaya, cantaloupe, and Guatemalan coffee. Everyone left at 7 (Guatemalan time- meaning closer to 7:15ish).

The road to Anini was just like every other Guatemalan road we’ve experienced thus far: bumpy and curvy. The hour and a half drive went by quickly though because the therapists were preparing us for what we were about to experience, and prepping us about the children with whom we would be working.

When we arrived, we passed by one of their courtyards and were excited to see the Xavier X painted on the wall from the AB group who went a few weeks ago. Go X! Our team split up into three groups, and each spent time with the children’s caretakers in order to find out what their major wants and needs for the children were. Anini was split into five “casas”, categorized by the age/level of ability of each child.

Anini had rooms for speech therapy, physical therapy, a dentist, special education, psychology and hydrotherapy, which was a pleasant surprise. However, we noticed that none of these rooms were in use due to the lack of staff. It was sad to see children sitting around and doing nothing. There were very few toys, and not a whole lot to stimulate their senses or imagination.

The main diagnoses we saw were various types of Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, Mental Retardation, and various genetic disorders. Each child had many sensory needs. We addressed their main sensory needs through having them roll on large yoga balls, bouncing on the trampoline, placing weighted lap pads on various body parts(for deep pressure), giving them chewy tubes (to prevent them from biting themselves), stretching, and more. We learned so much from the therapists with whom we worked. They were great about explaining everything they were doing, and letting us get involved.

Alejandrina was the most challenging child we saw today. She was usually secluded from the rest of the children because of her violent behavior, such as biting, pinching, and pulling hair, which Meagan (student) and Diane (faculty) each got to experience firsthand! We do not know for sure what her diagnosis is, but we are sure that she has behavioral problems. As the day progressed, we noticed that her behavior problems stem from a lack of attention from her tías. She spends most of her day by herself, swinging and receiving hot and cold massages for proprioception. The therapists decided to take her out to the trampoline, giving her traction in her joints. She absolutely loved it and was smiling the whole time!

It was amazing to see the children’s faces transform into huge smiles after doing simple activities with us. While Meridith and Babette (both therapists) were dealing with a tantrum in one room, Ellen (student) got to entertain several children in another room by playing music and playing toss with two children, one of which had cerebral palsy and was in a wheelchair. It was so much fun and all the kids seemed to be having a great time!

Shoutout to Adam Weber! Happy 18th Birthday! Love you!!

Ellen (student)
Meagan (student)

Marina Guirola was the technology team’s destination today. This is a much smaller home than ANINI, run by religious sisters, only housing around 15 residents. The ages of the residents ranged from teens to adults. As we entered we found a beautiful courtyard with bright flowers, however we saw limited opportunity for stimulation. We found most the residents parked in their wheelchairs, with only a television for an activity. Once we arrived, we received a little information about the facility and immediately began working.

We found many of the residents were in need of repositioning and adjustments to their wheelchairs. With tools and wheelchair parts strewn about the room (we will try to be better organized tomorrow) we began tinkering, removing, and changing various parts of various wheelchairs.

One team focused on one particular young man named Gustavo. We were able to, with six people, support him enough to allow him to stand for the first time since last year’s group. His smile was priceless. His wheelchair was a bit more of a complicated obstacle. We formed a new seat, we repositioned seat back, arm rests, and leg rests, moved the head rest, made new straps for his chest, and Pamela, the wheelchair genius, came up with a new invention for leg support, it’s called an apron.

Many of the residents required similar adjustments resulting in a frenzy and flurry of hustle and bustle as Carol so regularly reminded us that our time was short. Using advanced technology like pool noodles, hello kitty tape, and zip ties we were able to create some really great adaptations for the chairs. Finally, just before we had to leave, we discovered that the home had a treasure trove of discarded wheelchairs and parts in a back room. We attempted to use as many as time permitted.

In the end, our accomplishments were obvious in a resident named Ingrid. As we looked over our new friends when we left, she was sitting straight, supported, and smiling.

When we returned to the Lutheran Center, tired and hungry, we ate a dinner of vegetable and beef soup and rice. Then we sat down with the entire group and discussed our experiences. And as we begin that collaborative process we hope that we can support each other in finding sustainable technology, working to find meaningful occupation for the residents, and together working towards occupational justice.

Ryan Lavalley (Student)

Tressa Leahy (Practitioner)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday, June 12 2011

¡Hola amigos y amigas!

We had an early to start to a long and ultimately exciting day. We started the day with a 6:15am breakfast and a 7:00am departure for Lake Atitlán. In van número uno, which included tonight’s blog writers, Tracy and Gabby (students), Spanish songs were sung on the long and bumpy ride. In van número dos, which included the other writer for this evening, Meridith (practioner), we rocked out to the Epic Playlist (created by yours truly). It seems that singing was a common trend to help pass the time and the amount of physical injuries due to the curvy, bumpy ride, especially if you were in the back of the van.

We arrived at the lake, in the town of Panajachel. We proceeded to the shore where we split into two boat teams. We rode across the lake for about 30 minutes and, besides the sharks, alligators, and water spiders, it was a lovely, beautiful morning (just kidding about those animals). We did see some trash floating in the water, which was quite sad. We saw some beautiful lakefront homes, which brought out the stark contrasts which we have observed thus far. Our lovely boat drivers stopped in the middle of the lake which allowed us to capture our inner Leonardo DiCaprio from Titanic.

We arrived on the other side of the lake in the town of Santiago Atitlán, where we were immediately bombarded by Mayan artisans who were trying to sell us everything from key chains to huipiles (which is the typical Mayan women’s blouse) to shoes. In the chaos of docking the boats, Mackenzie had a clumsy moment and watched her camera submerge into Lake Atitlán, just like old Rose dropping the big diamond at the end of Titanic.

After grieving Mackenzie’s loss, we were greeted by Francisco who is a member of the Cofradía, which is part of the Mayan cargo system. The Cofradía is a social ranking system. A man’s status is partially dependent on how much money and time he gives to your religious beliefs. Francisco took us via pick-up trucks (yes, we were standing on the back of open pick-up trucks). There were approximately 12 people per truck. We traveled to Parque de Paz (Peace Park). Francisco then told us of the violent Guatemalan history of the civil war and the atrocities that the Maya suffered at the hands of the military. We then traveled by truck around Santiago before heading back to the boats. We ate our lunches on the boats in a rush to get back to the vans to depart to the Mayan Ruins, Iximche.

We made it to Iximche just in the nick of time (shout out to our drivers, Darvy and Melvin for being awesome) before closing. The highlight was watching a pack wild street dogs chase each other around the ruins. The security guard asked us to leave, but Darvy used his powers of persuasion, and we were allowed to view the area where currently Mayan rituals and offerings are still performed. We saw four main plazas with many temples that have grass and greens growing on them because they were rediscovered about 50 years ago.

The gang was quickly routed back to the vans to head off to dinner. We ate dinner at Rincón Suizo, a local Guatemalan steak house. The team split into vegetarian and meat lover’s tables where each person ate enough meat, cheese, and guacamole for a small army.

The team has made it back to the Lutheran Center where they are preparing for tomorrow’s first day in the clinics.

Meridith (practioner)
Tracy (student)
Gabby (Student)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

June 11, 2011 - Arrival in Guatemala!

June 11, 2011


The majority of us have arrived! Julie, Tressa, and Sally have been rerouted and will be joining us later on this evening. Although getting through customs was a bit difficult for those bringing down the wheelchairs, everyone succeeded in bringing their chair! Since we were unable to claim our wheelchairs and other items as donations, we had to get a bit creative to pass through. Natalie, Gina, Brie, and Ryan ironically all had the same back problem and can now be called the “group with the sick backs”. Stephanie has “asthma” and, therefore, needs to use her chair down in Guatemala when she gets tired. The remainder of those bringing wheelchairs simply wheeled their way through customs.

After meeting up at the airport, we split up into two vans/trucks and drove towards the Lutheran Center. Sam , Tracy, Gabby, Ellen, Carol, Meridith, and Renee all traveled with Steve and stopped at Pollo Campero (Guatemala’s version of KFC) and had their first meal in Guatemala. The other van, which consisted of Leslie, Lauren, Mackenzie, Meagan, Babette and Pamela, was passing by firemen standing on either side of the street and got a little too close to one of the firemen! Yes, they accidentally hit the fireman. (oops!)

There are men outside several restaurants and stores holding guns, which was very intimidating and a culture shock to most of us. The driving is also a bit different…let’s just say they drive wherever they want to and there is no sense of staying in one’s lane. You might think being cut off in America is bad, but it does not compare to the driving down here!

We arrived at the Lutheran Center and it is absolutely beautiful! It is surrounded by trees and flowers with a courtyard in the middle. What we have seen of Guatemala so far is amazing. We traveled through both Guatemala City and Antigua and were able to see some of the country in between. After settling into our rooms, we had the chance to walk around the Lutheran Center and explore. We are lusting over the beauty of the center! There is a small shop with weavings made by the Guatemalan women who work at the center. Some of us would like to purchase one of everything in the shop! It is all very pretty and well done!

After the chance to explore, we sat down for a delicious dinner! We had a traditional Guatemalan dish that consisted of a pepian sauce with rice, carrots and chicken. Little did we know, we were supposed to put the chicken, rice and vegetables in what we thought was soup! We also had DELICIOUS fruit (cantaloupe, watermelon, and papaya – YUM!) After dinner we split off into groups, each taking a job. Some packing lunches for tomorrow (PB&J – we cannot wait!), some packing donations and we are blogging!

We have a long day tomorrow with an early start – breakfast at 6:15 am! Once we fill our stomachs we will be setting out to visit Lake Atitlan and the Mayan Ruins. We are all very excited to be here and cannot wait to see what this week has in store for us!

Adios for now!
Sam and Leslie (Students)