Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Closing Note from the Trip Leader

It has been a great week with students and therapists. The week has been full of service and learning. We have experienced much love, much compassion, and much caring. It has been a week full of hope. Our experiences have helped shaped our vision of how we can make a difference, of how we can make an impact in our communities, in our world. Now, a big thanks goes to all of you back home for standing behind us and lending support to make this trip possible. We leave Guatemala reluctantly, yet, look forward to our reunion with you, our family and friends.

Thank you.

Carol Scheerer (trip leader and occupational therapist)

Day 8: Final day in Guatemala and what a day it was!

Today was a very eventful and long, but all around amazing day. We began by loading in the van at 7:00 AM sharp, with our granola bars and juice boxes in hand. Our first stop was the Volcano Pacaya, and it took about two hours to get there. We got to the site, and rented walking sticks for 5 quetzales a piece. There were many men on "horse taxis" offering us rides up and down the volcano, for 125 quetzales each way. However, our group happened to be in tip top shape and we were able to stick it out for the entire journey. It took us about two hours to make it to the peak of the volcano, and we came across some interesting stops along the way, like the highest shop in all of Central America: The Volcano Shop. Here there was a man selling various colorful pouches and beautiful jewelry crafted from the last erruption. Sure enough, there were some buyers and proceeds went towards building houses for the people of Guatemala. Another rather memorable experience taken place on the volcano was our opportunity to roast some marshmellows on hot magma! There was even another group we ran into, and one man was making grilled cheese, HOW COOL IS THAT?! After taking about 1000 pictures, we made our 1 hour journey down the volcano. The trek down was much quicker as it was down hill and we took fewer breaks. Once we reached the bottom of the volcano, we piled into the van with our sweaty selves, and made our way to the Guatemala City landfill. There, Beth gave her presentation on the history of the landfill. Also, we heard from Steve's good friend Joel. Joel gave a lecture on the importance of not generalizing the residents of the dump, but instead looking at each as their own individual, while also appreciating their survival tactics. Also, as a bonus we were able to check out the local cemetary, even seeing a decomposing hip bone! WOW, now that's neat. After chilling by the dump's overlook we drove to the largest slum of Central America: La Limonada. It was a very eye opening and humbling experience for our team. We also got the chance to talk to a former gang member, and Guatemalan celeb, Shorty. He told us many stories, one specifically being when Christ came to him, saving him from committing suicide and ultimately turning his life around for the better. Currently he works in La Limonada with gang members, specifically the youth, in preventing their participation in the gang and all the crime it involves. He mentioned that most youths of the slum do not expect to live past 25. The stories he told us were very touching and put things into perspective for us. It was the perfect way to end our week in Guatemala.

Some of the therapists chose to stay back and explore the city of Antigua today. They began their day by going to breakfast in Parque Central at a restaurant called Cafe Condesa. At the cathedral in the park they were celebrating the Catholic holiday Corpus Cristi. There was a procession out of the cathedral with the consecrated host and all of the people who attended mass. There was live music, fireworks and a parade that they even got to take part in! WHAT A TREAT! The ceremony was very special because they were able to participate in something that the Guatemalans highly value. The rest of their day consisted of going to the runis and putsing around the city doing some light shopping and networking with another. Additionally, it was Sally's birthday which included cake, and it was the cherry on the top of their day (no pun intended).

So, everyone met back up at the Lutheran Center for dinner at 7:30 sharpish. We had a typical Guatemalan meal consisting of soup, chicken, rice and torillas. It was nice to hear about eachother day, share experiences, and process. We were also sad to say good bye to our amazing translators and drivers this evening, Norma, Milton, Gerson and Darvy. To bid farewell, we prsented them with chocolates, a card and a line of hugs. We will miss them a lot! We also gave the Lutheran Center staff a "shout out", accompanied with chocolates for their delcious food and accomodating service! All in all it was an amazing day, and even better trip. :-)

-Beth SOT, Andrea SOT, Nicole OT & Tracy SOT ;-)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Day 7

Today Anini was, once more, challenging...As my first day visiting the site I could not help but feeling sad and frustrated. The way some of these children are spending their "lives" (if that is considered living a life) is inconceivable for most of us. Children in Anini's casa 1 wake up everyday and are seated in their wheelchairs (most of them fitted inappropriately or missing parts, then head outside the house where they spend the morning being attacked by flies and bugs while they slowly slide off their chairs. Most of these kids are unable to adjust their own posture or control their extremities that keep flailing out in the air while their heads just hang on their sides. This scene takes places while the "tias" that are taking care of them (2 people for 12 severely involved children)fight against flies and try to get some of the kids out of the wheelchair for a few minutes. Trying to figure out how to help these kids has been one of the most difficult situations I have faced as an OT. One more day it is interesting to compare and contrast how different our experiences have been depending on the site we visited.

Adela (Occupational Therapist)

Marina Guirola
Wow! What a remarkable experience today!! We had our final day at Marina Guirola and we can't stop smiling. Today we created care plans and saw some of the kids we saw yesterday. One highlight of the day included: helping with snack time while doing the Macarena and jumping roping with the kids. We were lucky enough to have a dance instructor come in for the day and teach the children dance moves. He taught us a famous dance which moves included shimmying, pumping our arms and shaking our bums! But the children truly showed us up on the dance floor including Gerado completing the sprinkler while turning himself in his wheelchair. What was truly remarkable was that this dance instructor was also in a wheelchair and took time out of his day to teach the children.

Rose (Occupational Therapy Student)
Emily (Occupational Therapist)

Another highlight of our day was Gustavo. Gustavo has been a resident of Marina Guirola for over 18 years. Gustavo brought so many smiles to us while we were standing him for over 20 minutes. Gustavo was laughing and dancing while the student sang "Los Elephantes". During snack time while everyone was eating their snack and dancing, I went over to Gustavo to dance with him. During this time, Gustavo asked a staff member to come and talk to him. Gustavo left the area with the other children but then shortly returned and the staff member said that Gustavo wanted to show me a video. Gustavo then showed me how he can type with his head pointer and then the videos that were shown were about Nick Vujivic who was born with no legs or arms and how he knows that God loves him. Please see one of the videos shown here (be prepared to tear up):

The staff member then later on handed me a book of all of Gustavo's contact information and letters/emails from other people who have been touched by Gustavo. Of course, I gave Gustavo the link to the blog, my email address and I wrote down his email address and physical address.

When we were leaving Marina Guirola, one of the nuns told me that we changed the life of one of the kids (Gabby) since we recommended she stop wearing both her leg braces and foot braces due to pain. Then when she spoke to our entire group she said "We are doing God's work and working with God's little angels." Yes, I was tearing up. What an amazing remarkable and enlightening day! Thank you to everyone at Marina Guirola and thank you Gustavo.

Emily (Occupational Therapist)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Day 6

Today our group went to two sites beginning with Hogar Marina Guirola and ending at Amor Del Nino. Both homes for children were very different with a common theme: love. The love in both homes was almost palpable beginning with hugs from the sisters at Marina Guirola and ending with dinner time in a room full of infants having dinner. The first home catered almost exclusively to children born with special needs. These children demonstrated varying diagnoses ranging from Cerebral Palsy to severe Autism. There were only 15 children/young adults at Marina Guirola. Because of this, we felt like the caretakers were very attentive to each individual child. Every sister and tia really welcomed us and were open to our suggestions. They often put the need of the child over their tradition and set routines. This was really remarkable to witness. We even met a Physical Therapist at Marina Guirola that travels four hours each way to the childrens home. That is true dedication.
After we left Marina Guirola both groups met at Amor del Nino, which is the children's home that Steve and Shyrel run. This home has 50 children who are mostly typically developing. The majority of the children are newborns up to two years old. However, there are some older children who are waiting for their international adoptions to go through. They have been waiting since 2008 when the international adoption law changed. This is really sad, but at the same time each and every one of the children are being given such great care and love. One student asked Shyrel a question, "what is your favorite age group to work with?" To which Shyrel responded, "giving love to a child changes the shape of the brain." These are words to live by.
-Katie Finn, Occupational Therapist
-Annie Holubeck, Occupational Therapy Student.

Our group went to Anini which is a children's home with 65 children with severe mental and physical disabilities. The housing environment is different from the others such that they have six individual homes in which the children are grouped together based on their age, gender, and disability. Today we worked with children with cerebral palsy, autism, and cancer. We have many ideas for different therapy techniques; however the resources and staffing are very limited. This reminded us to be grateful for each small success, because even the smallest changes can enhance the children's quality of life. We were also reminded that everything is not a quick fix and change takes time. After an interesting day at Anini, Amor del Nino reminded us that loving the children can have a greater impact than any other therapy techniques we can provide.
~Kellie Tekulve, Occupational Therapy Student
~Valerie Hill, Occupational Therapist, Xavier Faculty
- Emily Mertz, Occupational Therapist, AKA The Ghost Writer

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Day 5: Mayan Village

Today we had an excursion day and visited a Mayan Village. We traveled for about an hour and a half through some curvy, steep mountain roads to reach the very remote village. The children greeted us with smiles and laughter and it became evident to us that our visit was a special occasion not only to us, but also to them. The Mayan village is supported by Behrhorst Partners for Development which has helped them to build a system which brings fresh water to their homes, and has supplied them with ovens for cooking inside their kitchen structures. Before these newest developments, they had to walk a significant distance for water ( one hour round trip) and down a steep mountainside. For cooking they had to buildfires inside the kitchen, with little ventilation for the smoke. The women prepared us a special, traditional meal which was amazing. Highlights included handmade tamales, rice, hibiscus juice, and soup. This was espcially generous because everything they prepared was from their own crops; and we are not a small group. We also played games with the children; which fortified that smiles and laughter are univeral, even though languages are not. THe Mayan people have their own language which is differnt from the Spanish language, so we had 2 interpreters translating for us; one from Mayan to Spanish, and the other from Spanish to English. Next we headed back to Antigua for some retail therapy in the markets. Each vendor we passed, promised a "special price for you!" We ate dinner at a lovely restaraunt. The owner is an American man who sold his buisnesses and retired to Guatemala. He started a school for children from the remote community in which hae had a farm. He became aware that the children needed occupation, but had no place to work, so he started new buisnesses to create jobs for the children. THis was very successful and now his school has grown, and several buisnesses have been established, including the restaurant, Epicure. It is interesting that the young men and women who make the food and run the restaurant are not typically eating the type of food they prepare, but they have great skill and desire to create positive dining experiences for their patrons. As occupational therapists and students we understand the value of occupation and doing for others.
Sally Trumpy Occupational Therapist
Emily Mertz Occupational Therapist, AKA The Ghost Writer

Excursion day: Mayan village

Today we woke up and had breakfast at seven which consisted of black beans, fried plantains, scrambled eggs, and one of Guatemala's many different juices. After breakfast, we began our bus trip to a town close to Patzun. The car ride was fairly long and very bumpy. This village is located pretty far into he mountains so the roads were rough! Needless to say, we did a litle off roaring in our vans. We were visiting the village wih an organization called Behrhorst, which installs gray water filters, provides access to drinking water, and constructs safer stoves and sanitary latrines in villages around Guatemala. It is a great organization that provides extremely beneficial resources to villages in rural Guatemala. When we arrived we were greeted by the auxiliary mayor of the town and several other organization members, in addition to approximately twenty children shouting Hola!!! in unison. It was adorable. We then went on a tour of the village which was full of many fields of crops, such as broccoli, corn, snow peas, and many others. It was extremely impressive. We then went down into the woods and saw the spring they had made allowing them to have access to running water. The set up wa extermely impressive. We then got a chance to play with the kids, sing songs, and play duck duck goose! Then the people of the village made us traditional food of their village. This was a corn based broth with chicken, rice and vegetables, and tamales. It was very good and very generous of them. We then got a chance to look at their houses and see the stoves the organization installed. These stoves have a little chimney that allows the smoke from the stove to go outside the house. This allows the smoke to go outside and the house to be ventilated, helping women and children to avoid respiratory illnesses. The town was amazing and we were so lucky to have a chance to see what Behrhorst does to help the people in rural Guatemala!
Rose (Occupational Therapy Student)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Day 4

Today was another great day working with the kids at Little Brothers! We started the day with a tour of the entire facility, including the 7 Montessori one room school buildings and the trade school for the middle schoolers. We were amazed by the opportunities offered to these children who have been given so little earlier in their lives (and especially appreciative of the pastry chef program and its samples!). We spent the rest of the day working with the special needs children and wrapping up our projects from yesterday. Luckily we fit in lots of outside play and some crafting with the kids before saying goodbye and thank you to our new friends at Little Brothers. After work, a few of us ventured out in Antigua to enjoy the sights. We are excited for tomorrow to have some more time to enjoy this beautiful country! Hasta Manyana!
Anne Simonton, OTR/L

The group of students and therapists who went to Missions saw 12 children at the clinic today. This location has the structure, similar to outpatient clinics in the US which was unexpected by the students. The therapists had the opportunity to be at Missions yesterday so we were more efficient in offering suggestions for the parents and therapists with each child. One of the children we saw today was 2 1/2 years old but had the developmental skills of a 2 month old and was very small for his age. He has had a rough past, battling 5 heart attacks, cleft palate, underdeveloped esophagus, n-g feeding tube, and 3 surgeries. He had very limited movement and strength. With the therapy interventions we were able to get him to quiet down (he had been crying most of the time), he was able to roll from his back to his stomach, he was reaching and grasping for a toy. He made amazing progress during that time. Additionally, we enjoyed the time with children and then 3 therapists from Cincinnati (including Joan), several students and their physical therapist, occupational therapist, sensory therapist and speech therapists all sat and shared ideas as well as information. This was a great opportunity to expand all of our understanding. Meanwhile two of the therapists were battling with the computers and printer with MUCH frustration. We just LOVE technology, especially when it works. The computers from Xavier have not been friendly.

Our new experience today was inviting the students from the occupational and physical therapy program (yes a combined program) and their two professors to dinner. They stayed for about 3 hours total including the time at dinner. All of the students had a "rambunctionally fun" time with conversations in "spanglish" (at least for some of the students and therapists). Thankfully, we had wonderful interpreters who stayed for dinner and to help with the conversations.
Joan (faculty)
Lia (student)
Emily Mertz, Occupational Therapist, AKA The Ghost Writer

Monday, June 4, 2012

Day 3: Tres Dia

This morning we woke up, had breakfast at seven and left for our first day at the Children's homes. Our group split up into two vans and each one attended a different Children's home, Missionaries of the Highway and Little Brothers. On our way our leader had a little surprise in mind, something we would never seen in the US! After 15 minutes of driving, we pulled onto the side of the road that had a view of Volcano Fuego. Which was actively erupting! We couldn't see actual lava, but there was a lot of smoke and the view was amazing. Missionaries of the Highway: Missionaries of the Highway was mainly an out patient facility, where we saw about 20 kids throughout the day. This made for a very busy day and was probably double what we were expecting. But as XU OT students we rose to the challenge! We saw kids with Cerebral Palsy, Autism, developmental delays, and other types of conditions. One of the biggest accomplishments of the day was fitting a 12 year old boy with a much better fitting wheel chair, allowing him to be more functional and comfortable in a supported seating arrangement. The other thing that was remarkable about it was that we didn't have the proper tools, but with help from our in country contacts, Steve and Harrison, we were able to make it work. This boy and his mother learned how to disassemble the chair so that he would be able to take a taxi to therapy. One thing that we noticed was the dedication of the parents and caretakers of the children. Many of whom walked, took buses or taxis or other transportation methods that were not convient or easy to bring to children to therapy. Many of these families are working to substain their food and shelter everyday, and earn money for the family. So having a child with a disability is an extreme hardship. The parents continue the therapy at home, even though they have little time, resources and the living conditions are poor. Many of the houses we saw are very small one roomed structures with tin roofs and dirt floors. But these parents still want their children to progress and lead a meaningful life, just like parents in the US.

Rose Goyette (Occupational therapy student)
Sally Trumpy (Occupational therapist)

Little Brothers: Today we visited Little Brothers. Over 400 children live there, many typical and some with developmental disabilities. We worked with children with autism, cerebral palsy, and mental retardation. Many were non-verbal, but each had a dedicated "Tia" (caregiver). We were happy to learn that they continued to use suggestions made by last year's team throughout the year! Carol (XU trip leader) commented that many of the kids just "looked better". I was surprised how we take for granted little things in the US. We couldn't find a binder clip to use with a easel we made out of a box. This one little item would've made putting things on the easel so much sturdier! I've started a list of these kinds of things to suggest to the 2013 Guatemala team. We had the opportunity to speak with the speech therapist. She was from Austria. On our walk with a student, we saw eucalyptus trees and cilantro. Across the valley were greenhouses for roses that are exported to the US.
Leah Dunn (Occupational therapist)
Mandy Milburn (Occupational therapy student)
Emily Mertz, Occupational Therapist, AKA The Ghost Writer

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Excursions! Day 2

We started our day off extra early and left the Lutheran Center around 6:00 a.m. after learning some songs and talking about the Peace Park in Santiago-Atitlan. The first stop of our day was picking up Jackie (14), Nicole (12), Fernando (11), and Danny (7). These children are sponsored by our in country contact, Steve Osborn, and refer to him as "Papa Steve". We took very windy roads to our first restaurant where we had a buffet style breakfast, which included beans, taquitos, plantains, salsa, eggs, tortillas, and fruit. Son muy deliciosas!

Next, we travelled to Lake Atitlan, which is the biggest lake in Central America. This lake is at least 3000 feet deep, but it has never been explored. It sits between two volcanoes, and people refer it to the most beautiful lake in the world. We have learned, however, that it is extremely contaminated. We saw many village children playing in the water despite the garbage floating near by.

During our day, we were easily recognized as tourists and were approached by many venders. At least half of these venders were children, which made it difficult to turn down their offerings. While some of us bought bracelets, purses, and pens, many of us turned the venders down politely. One of the products that we bought was a personally designed weaved pen. A man who rode on the boat with us across Lake Atitlan weaved a single pen in less than five minutes. It was extraordinary to see such an artwork be made in minutes! While we were in Santiago-Atitlan, we were surprised by the transportation that awaited us. Fifteen people crammed on top of the bed of a pickup truck and navigated through the narrow streets until we reached our destination. We saw that this was a common way to travel, especially for the Mayan people. After passing many people, markets, and stray dogs, we arrived to El Parque de la Paz. Here, we learned about the massacre that occured during the 36 year civil war in Guatemala. On Dec. 2nd, 1990, 13 innocent Mayan villagers were murdered by militants, among them a 5 year old boy. There is no longer any type of government presence in that town, and Steve informed us that the distrust of the government is spreading through many towns outside of the capital city. We made a quick stop at la Paz, otherwise known as the village surrounding El Parque de la Paz, and saw the remnants of the 2005 mudslide that killed 600 people in a matter of seconds. Some frameworks of buildings had been dug up, but most were underground and all were vacant.

We made our way back in our new favorite form of transportation (the trucks!), and crossed the lake once more. Back in our vans, we quickly made our way to Iximche, the Mayan ruins that were discovered in the 17th century. It was pouring, but we powered through the walking tour of what is left of this ancient city, even seeing a sacrifical site that is used daily on the way. These sites are used by the Mayans to revive and practice their cultural beliefs, and often involve the sacrifice of fish and chicken (we saw the remains of both of these animals being eaten by dogs when arrived, yuck!).

Dinner came soon after Iximche, and we dined at a Swiss Steakhouse that is a local (and group!) favorite. We broke Carol's No-Ice-Cube Rule, but we were assured by Steve that the ice was from purified water (and no has gotten sick yet!). Our dinner included a platter of various Guatemalan meats for some, such as barbequed pork, Argentinian sausage, and chicken, as well as several vegetarian options like cebollinos (little onions), quesadillas, and black bean soup. Our table (Erin, Stephanie, Rachel, Beth, Mandy, Rose, Kellie, Lia, Valerie, Darvy, Emily, Harrison and Steve's kids) also had the pleasure of ordering french fries--an American treat! After dinner, we made our hour and fifteen minute trek home. Some slept, some heard stories from our guide, and all were exhausted. We took Steve's children home which was sad, but the promise of seeing and working with children for the first time at the homes tomorrow will be very exciting. Overall, it was a very successful and enlightening day. We are fastly learning that Guatemala is a very different culture than what we are used to in the United States, and we are excited to continue our service learning journey throughout the week.
Erin (Occupational Therapy Student)
Stephanie (Occupational Therapy Student)
Rachel (Occupational Therapy Student)
Emily Mertz, (Occupational Therapist), AKA The Ghost Writer
Sally (Occupational Therapist)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Day One in Guatemala: Phew, We Made It!

So far everyone has made it into the country safe and sound, but we are awaiting the arrival of three more people. We have experienced Guatemala's version of fast food. Our review is that it was delicious! The Lutheran Center is full of bright colors, a scenic courtyard, and the staff friendly. Also, we have purchased tapestries from the women's cooperative. Currently, there is about three people making our lunches for tomorrow, five people unpacking/sorting 700 pounds of donations, and others are taking a walk in the rain.
-Tracy Chappell, Occupational Therapy Student
-Jackie Joyce, Occupational Therapist
- Emily Mertz, Occupational Therapist, AKA The Ghost Writer

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The 2012 Edition of the Xavier Guatemala Adventure

Hello blogspot followers!! This is the first of many posts from the group of 22 enthusiastic goers (11 occupatonal therapy students and 11 occupational therapist)!! We have finished our packing, all received our passports, and now we just need to complete our own last minute to-do lists :) I persoanlly need to get on it :) Everyone (except the wonderful XU faculty) will be heading out on Saturday, June 2. The faculty are leaving earlier this week. We will do our best to post nightly with updates and photos but please remember "No news is GOOD news"!!! Thank you very much for following our blog and can't wait to update you more!

- Emily Mertz, Occupational Therapist, AKA The Ghost Writer