Volunteer Experiences with Guatemalan People a True Reward

Greeting Guatemalan PeopleI volunteer with Medical Teams International (MTI) because I want to give back to my community and the world through means available. The Martin Luther King, Jr. quote “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” explains how I feel.

So my son, Gabe, and I went to Ojo de Agua, Guatemala for 10 days in March to help people who immediately became friends. I don’t speak Spanish and they don’t speak English. Yet, you build close relationships with the parents and children instantaneously. The people in this remote village, high in rocky, mountainous country, were thrilled that someone would come from the United States and bring his son. I suspect we were the first Americans they’d met, and yet, we had few communication barriers. I already look forward to going back next year and seeing these wonderful people again.

The goal of this first mission was to build cooking stoves that vent out of each family’s simple home. It’s a first step in the objectives of preventing and managing malnutrition, diarrhea in children and pneumonia in children under age two. The latter is caused by children living in smoke-filled homes because women cook over wood fires daily. You can read more about the actual work we did in the previous post. I’d like to talk more about the relationships within MTI that make our volunteer work successful. I was struck by the trust established before our team ever arrived.

Local MTI Workers and Volunteers Create Success

Imagine families who live in primitive structures with dirt floors and no running water. Each home in the village is separated by 400-500 feet of narrow goat paths. These are traditional people. The women have cooked over wood fires for generations so they have some resistance to a new stove that some outsider says is better. Yet, when we arrived, each home had an empty place in the home where their traditional stove had been.

That’s because strong relationships and trust preceded us. Local MTI workers are Guatemalan, which I love about the MTI approach. They build relationships with these villages over time. They have a village mother who trains the other mothers and nurses come in to help. Plus, village elders help explain the health benefits of stoves that remove smoke from the home. The people are more accepting when the village mother or elder says “this is the way to go.”

So all of 70-some families participated and got a stove. They were required to pitch in a small portion of the cost, which I’m sure seemed like quite a bit of money to them. Local MTI workers and volunteers will follow up with the families weekly and monthly to see how they are doing with the new stoves and if they need any help or adjustments.

I really respect MTI and enjoy being one of the many people who make these missions successful. You can give to this organization in many ways. You can donate money, supplies or a little bit of your time. Explore the stories of volunteer experiences on the website and you might be inspired to sign up today.