Well, we are home… Carrie in North Carolina and the rest of us in Iowa. It was hard to part with Carrie in Houston and everyone else once we got to Des Moines. The trip home was uneventful, other than one person’s phone disappearing somewhere between the plane and the restroom at the Houston airport.
It was a very successful trip, from all perspectives. To my knowledge the only person who really got sick was our driver from the Pastoral Team, Alejandro, and that was on the last day of clinics. He picked up some kind of a stomach bug, but was better by yesterday, when we left.
I can spout some statistics, like:
Despite the volume of patients, the physicians treated each person as an individual and each received the time commitment that fit their needs. The patients ranged from babies a few days old to seniors in their 90’s. There were families and singles, women and men, boys and girls. Some just needed some Tylenol for their aches and pains while others had cancer, Parkinson’s, congenital skeletal deformities or severe depression. Many heard they have a virus that just has to run its course. Others had high blood pressure, parasites, infections or found out they were pregnant. Others got reading glasses. Everyone received vitamins and a tooth brush and tooth paste.
My task for the week was to orchestrate the flow of patients. After registration each patient had their symptoms, temperature, blood pressure, pulse, weight, etc. recorded by a nurse and then sat in a waiting area. From there I would make sure they saw the next available doctor. When they came out from the doctor I made sure they got to where they needed to go next. Most of the time it was to the pharmacy to get what they needed and head home. But sometimes they needed a urinalysis test, or to see the chiropractor or physical therapist, or to talk to the Pastoral Team about emotional issues, or to see Simei, our Salvadorian doctor, in order to be referred for further treatment. It was my job to keep track of them and make sure they got to the next “station” when that person became available.
My position uniquely allowed me to constantly interface with everyone in our amazing group and observe how they worked as a TEAM. Quite frankly, it was a thing of beauty. I really find it hard to put into words. Without exception everyone had a genuine compassion for their patients. Our team members worked together seamlessly with each other, each doing their part to serve the patients.
I want to stop here and make sure you understand who all comprised this TEAM I’m referring to. It wasn’t just the physicians, nurses and support staff from the states. It also very much included Simei, the Salvadorian doctor who took time off to join us; the 7 Salvadorian translators who made it possible to communicate; the members of the Pastoral Team who provided sage advice, counselled patients, registered patients, fixed our lunch at each clinic, drove us to the clinic sites, bought medications and medical supplies locally and took care of us back at the Pastoral House; the leaders of each community who organized our patients, prepared the sites where we set up our clinics and helped with various needs during the clinics; and local Salvadoran “health promoters” who helped set up follow-up visits or further consultations or treatment for those who needed it. Every last one of these people pitched in with whatever needed to be done… loading and unloading heavy tubs of supplies from the big flatbed truck, setting up examination rooms, holding a baby while its mother was being treated or washing dishes at the Pastoral House. No one complained. It was always, “What can I do to help?” We all had each other’s back.
The medical delegates from the states weren’t just there to “see some patients”. They all wanted to know more about El Salvador, its history, its people and their lives. They asked loads of thoughtful questions. 10 of this year’s delegation members were repeats. For most of them this was their 3rd or 4th Our Sister Parish Medical Delegation (out of the 4 Our Sister Parish Medical Delegations that have been held). This a testament to their convictions and their commitment to this mission, especially when you consider that they not only paid their own way, but they took a week of their vacation time and many lost a week’s worth of income. I’m proud to say I was once again a part of this wonderful TEAM and can’t wait to go back again next year.
I hope those who are reading this can search out someone who has participated in an Our Sister Parish Medical Delegation or church-sponsored Our Sister Parish delegation and learn more about their experience, the Our Sister Parish mission and what you can do to help.
Today we served the community of Las Delicias. We arrived to unload at a lovely church with welcoming community members eagerly awaiting our arrival. The medical delegation had been here two years ago and noticed several improvements to the area. Within minutes our now extremely efficient team had the clinic set up and ready to run.
We served 144 people today with varying needs. I am constantly in awe of the ability of this team to work to meet the multiple, often complex needs of the community.
Lunch was held at a the home of a generous family just down the road from our clinic. We broke down the clinic in mid afternoon and started an adventurous trek home. The roads were narrow and winding and we shared a small portion of the road (got slightly stuck) with another truck as large as ours for about 25 minutes. With some problem solving, teamwork and skillful driving from our driver Mauricio, we were able to free ourselves and eventually return to the pastoral house.
We concluded our evening with a dinner out with the pastoral team, our translators and the members of the medical delegation in Allegria, a town about 7 miles from Berlin. We said our goodbyes (at times tearful) to our translators and the pastoral team.
Until next year, Berlin...
Mark and Carri
My name is Deanna Pingel. I am a registered nurse and I work in the intensive care unit back home in Iowa. This is my 3rd year in El Salvador on our medical mission trip. Below is my journal from today's clinic in Jicaro.
The city of Berlin is already wide awake. I hear the cars and motorcycles drive by. Horns honking, people whistling, children laughing. Minutes later my alarm goes off. I stretch in bed, muscles sore from the previous clinic days. As I look around the room I see my fellow roommates popping up one at a time like tulips in the morning. We all look at each other, and with the same passion get dressed and packed for the 3rd day of clinic in Jicaro. We are in the middle of our clinic day stretch, which can be the most tiring but we do not let this overcome is to help the people in Jicaro.
I walk out of the room to go downstairs for breakfast. The sun is already high in the sky with full force. Today is going to be a hot one. Walking through the pastoral house the wonderful smell of a breakfast made with love by the pastoral team is waiting for us. Hot scrambled eggs, black beans, and plantains fuel our bodies for the beginning of the day. Bless the pastoral team for waking up before us and preparing this meal for us.
“The trucks are here!!!”. We all load up the trucks and climb the ladder into the cattle truck. We take our daily clinic day picture (it has become a tradition), and embrace our wooden planks that will be our seats for the next hour to Jicaro. We absorb each bump on the half paved/half dirt road with our bodies and smiles on our faces the entire time.
As we pull up to Jicaro we are are greeted by the community leaders who help us unload and selflessly provide anything we need. Walking up to the building we already had 30 people waiting to be seen. The doctors set up in the building to make 6 exam rooms. This year I worked in the pharmacy. We set up outside with two tables as our pharmacy. Two tables were not enough for our supplies so we had to use an outdoor sink to place medications to grab. Creative effectiveness is what we do most days :)
Clinic rooms are set up and the day begins. Most of of scrubs are already different colors from the sweat from the heat. Pants rolled up, handkerchiefs in water placed around necks… anything we could do to survive the day so we could all stay in for shape to take care of these wonderful people. In this community we saw more chronic kidney disease issues, and vision problems compared to the previous clinics we have been to.
We also had the pleasure of having a chiropractor as well as physical therapist this year alongside with the doctors. One instant I remember from today looking up from the constant business of the pharmacy was an older lady being shown stretches for a hurt shoulder. The amazement of pain relief from just starting one stretch was indescribable! A simple stretch changed this woman's life.
Each family received vitamins for adults and children in the family, as well as toothbrushes and toothpastes for each member of the family. Even if they did not have a prescription for other medications, the appreciation on their faces will forever stay in our hearts. That is what gets us up and going everyday, not just helping with health but the gratitude of the people.
Our clinic day ends and we served 150 people in the Jicaro community. We end the day with thanks for the community and letting us enter their community. Praise and thanks is also given for providing us a wonderful lunch and making us feel welcome. We climb the ladder again into our truck to head back home to the pastoral house. It takes each of us twice as long to make the climb up the ladder from exhaustion from the heat and busy day. The bumpy road greets our bodies again with a quick hello. An hour trip back again we make, “we can do this” I say to myself. Then I look up and am blessed with a refreshing drop of rain on my face. As if God responded “yes you can”. Day 4 of clinic here we come!
On October 26, we serve the communities of San Felipe de Bajo. Upon arrival there already a long line of patients waiting to be seen. They were anxiously anticipating the day. We serve 203 people from these communities. There is a variety of illnesses including a lot of skin disorders. There were a lot of children in this community which made our day rewarding.
The weather was incredibly hot and humid. And then a storm with rain came through and the temperature drops significantly. Our exam rooms were under a tin roof with a dirt floor and sheets to divide the rooms. The sheets were blowing into the patients that were waiting to be seen.
An incredible meal was prepared for us including meatball, pasta, rice, and a sweet corn drink. We completed our day by driving back to the pastoral house in the dark. This year there was no rain though During our ride home.
Hema and Stacey
Our first FULL day in El Salvador
We woke up bright and early for our first full day in El Salvador. This is a day spent in learning a bit about the history of the people we plan to serve.
We started the day with a delicious breakfast at our Guest House. Our trusty microbus driver Alfredo picked us up and delivered us to our historical sites. This morning we went to the Divina Providencia to see where Monseñor Oscar Romero lived while he was Archbishop and the chapel where he was assassinated. Romero was canonized on October 15th of this year and is now El Salvador’s first saint!
Then we drove to the UCA (University of Central America) to see where 6 Jesuit priests were killed along with their housekeeper and her daughter. They have an impressive museum for not just them, but for other martyrs throughout El Salvador and the world. We were very lucky that a student was able to accompany us in the museum to explain the exhibits to us. A bonus for me is that she spoke English so I didn’t have to translate!
By then it was time for lunch – we always enjoy going to the Artisan Shops where they have a buffet with an assortment of very good (and safe) food at a reasonable price. Since it is part of the artisan shop compound, we are able to purchase some crafts for our loved ones back home - or even for ourselves!
From here, we loaded up the microbus for the 2+ hour drive to Berlín. We arrived at the Pastoral House about 4 p.m. and almost as soon as we landed, we started organizing for our clinic days. All the medicines need to come into the country in their original unopened containers and we needed to count and divide them up into little zip lock baggies. We are talking about 10’s of thousands of pills. We have acetaminophen, ibuprofen, antihistamine, children’s and adult vitamins, pills for acid reflux, Tums, anti-fungal creams, etc. The Pastoral Team purchases the antibiotics and parasite medicines we need.
We also had to count out several thousand toothbrushes and tooth paste to put into our daily pharmacy tubs – everyone gets these items!
After we filled all our baggies, we needed to count and organize those bags in the quantities we will need for each day’s clinics. We worked between 4 p.m. and about 10:30 p.m., taking only a small dinner break. ALL 13 of us worked through the night. What a great team!
Everyone is excited to begin!
Thank you to everyone who collaborated with this Medical Delegation; either with funds, goods or prayers. Please continue to keep us in your prayers so that all our staff stays healthy so we can serve our brothers and sisters well throughout the week!
With love and gratitude,
Hello Friends and Families,
We are excited about our fourth trip down to El Salvador to do our medical mission work. We have a group of 13 people. So, today is our travel day.
Warren Pitcher has been our chauffeur for the Covenant Presbyterian Church members to and from the airport. The last three years, we had to get up at 3 o’clock in the morning for our flight. This is the first year, that we had an afternoon flight.
Thank you for your love and support!
Latsamy Hilliard RN, BSN
The 4th Annual Our Sister Parish (OSP) Medical Delegation departed for San Salvador, El Salvador today. They arrived in Houston, Texas late this afternoon and should arrive in San Salvador later this evening. We are so thankful for the thirteen member team. Please keep the delegation in your prayers as they share God's love one clinic at a time.
Check back throughout the next week to hear about their adventures, struggles, and success stories!
As a support person, I have been fortunate to witness each delegation individual in action throughout the week. I can’t imagine being on this journey with any other group of individuals. It warms my heart knowing that each of the medical delegation members have given up their time, family, and job to be here to help the much-needed individuals and communities. Some have experienced a trip or a medical trip to El Salvador in the past. For others, it is their first trip to El Salvador.
Our days are long. It is hot and humid. There is no air conditioning, fans, or even windows at times. Yet, everyone is here to share their talents, knowledge, and skills with our brothers and sisters. The individuals we see can share their stories of struggle, stress, and concerns. Some of these individuals have never known what it is like to be touched by a doctor – a touch on the face as someone looks at their nose/mouth or a touch on the shoulder as someone listens to them breathe. Through the delegations’ actions, words, and follow through the individuals in each community that we visited know that someone cares about them and their health. Ultimately, they know that they matter to someone.
During one of our closing meetings, Wilfredo (San Isidro community member) said, “We are the ones that are thankful for all of you. I noticed that every person leaving the clinic was happy and smiling because you treated them very well. You being here and helping us, is not something that we can pay you back.” What Wilfredo forgets is the hugs, kisses, smiles, and mucho gracias (much thanks) that we receive from each of the individuals we saw.
There are so many thank yous to share:
Thank you to the Pastoral team who made this trip possible. Specifically, for the pre-planning, organizing, delicious meals, words of wisdom, and for traveling to each community each day!
Thank you to our temporary mission co-worker for being our boots on the ground, keeping us focused on the work at hand, and for motivating us throughout the trip!
Thank you to Our Sister Parish and the Presbyterian churches who financially supported the delegation. Without your donations, the medical delegation would not have had any medications to dispense to the patients!
Thank you to our translators – without them we (literally) would not have been able to do our work or help the community members!
Thank you to our drivers. They ensured no matter the weather, type of road, or time of day - that we arrived and returned safely!
Thank you to our families and friends for your love and support as we ventured off on this incredible journey!
Thank you to the medical delegation for traveling to El Salvador, providing care to those who need it most, and for showing your love to our brothers and sisters!
Thank you to our readers! We apologize that we were not able to give you timely updates each and every day. We hope that our sights and stories have given you a chance to learn more about our brothers and sisters in El Salvador, our work, and why we chose to travel so far to help those in need.
God bless! Kaela Phillips
Santa Cruz is the destination for our last clinic day. It was a day of ups and downs for us. As we set out to meet the people of Santa Cruz it was a mix of paved roads, cobblestone roads, dirt roads, and mud holes. Up and down in the back of the stock truck. Again, we were dodging branches. Just to add some excitement, we hit a nest in one branch full of insects that appeared like flies but were sticky and got stuck in hair and clothes where they would bite. Braids were soon little fly nests.
We were greeted by friendly smiles when we arrived at the gates of the community center in Santa Cruz. All pitch in to get the clinic set up. Up go the ropes and sheets to divide to large rooms into 6 provider rooms. The pharmacy gets organized and the vitals station gets set up. We are ready for business. We see all ages. Many have headaches and backaches from the hard-physical labor in the hot environment with little safe water. Others have diabetes, high blood pressure, blindness, eye irritation, and skin irritation. There are not many people over 65.
We had a trek up a dirt path, across a soccer field and to a home of one of the community leaders. Cecilia, a member of the pastoral team, made sure that we had a filling lunch of pasta salad, fruit and seasoned loose hamburger meat. The home had a new water filtration system with a 5-gallon bucket with a filter at the end of the hose about the size of a toilet paper roll. This is how they filter water to drink and cook. Then back down to finish attending to patients.
Clinic was soon completed and we said our goodbyes. We were excited that it was our last day of clinic, but sad that we will not see our El Salvadoran communities tomorrow. Up and downs the rough roads and back to the pastoral house. We were soon in a new change of clothes and back in the back of the Kia truck to go up the mountain. Allegria is a tourist town where we enjoyed good friends and teammates, a great supper, and many goodbyes to out translators. Then back down the mountain. We are heading out of Berlin at 2:30 am for our journey home.
Stacey K. Neu MD