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
Thanks for taking the time to read our blog and learn more about our medical delegation. You might have a few questions. For instance, how did this group get started?
Let’s start from the beginning! In 2013, Latsamy visited El Salvador for the first time with Covenant Presbyterian Church’s annual delegation. On her trip, she realized that the rural communities desperately needed medical attention: general practice, chiropractic, dentist, optometry, etc. As the individuals lacked easy and adequate access to health care. When Latsamy got back to the United States she began working on the logistics and recruiting individuals to join her on a medical mission trip. In 2015, Latsamy brought down old and new friends for the first El Salvador medical delegation. Our trip marks the 3rd annual trip!
If you have questions that you would like us to answer, add the questions below using the Comment feature.
We all slept well after the long, wet day yesterday. A few woke up with cold symptoms from the trip home in the rain. Regardless of the how we felt physically we were excited for the day of adventure and meeting another community.
We had a shorter drive to Santa Felipe and the trip had some very scenic views of the countryside. Our clinic was at the community’s school. Since it was our third clinic day we had our setup a lot more streamlined. Within a short time we had things up and running. Three years ago this community hosted our last clinic day, and I remembered this community well because it had so many children. I knew we would have our hands full trying to keep them happy and occupied. We handed out coloring pages and crayons to keep them busy and the girls in the pharmacy made a deal with the children that if they cleaned up the trash around the school they would hand out sunglasses to all of them. They had the schoolyard cleaned up in no time and it was fun to see all the kids waiting for their checkup wearing their shades.
Since we were returning to this community after two years it was fun to see familiar faces. I recognized a couple of children from this last trip and I was fortunate to get to care for a 78 year old woman that I had met on the 2015 trip. It was fun that we both remembered each other. It is this connection even that it is only for a short time that makes this project so special. I it so amazing to me the mutual impact we can all have on one another in this world no matter how much or how little we have in common.
We finished up the clinic around 3:30 in the afternoon and we made it home much before dark today. We even had time to to take a walking tour of Berlin and go to the scenic overlook and to the local ice cream shop. It was just the break we needed to get re-energized for our final day of clinic tomorrow.
- Written by Mark Hilliard
Doug and Peppermint Patty
Preface: Every day as we venture into a community we pick out a dog to be our “mascot” for the day, whom we name. Today we had two and we named them Doug and Peppermint Patty. Doug was injured and hopped around all day long on only 3 legs, but still had the enthusiasm as one with 4. Peppermint Patty was the same breed as Doug and followed him around.
I awoke with the sound of oranges dropping onto our tin roof and rolling off onto the ground. Another day to do the work of God and help out the community of Corozol. I look at my clock 5:29am it reads, right before my set alarm was to go off. I get up out of bed, sore muscles all over. For a moment all I wanted to do was go back to bed from the exhaustion from the day before, but this community deserved just as much effort and commitment as our community we served yesterday.
Praise to the pastoral team for the scrambled eggs, beans, platanos, and homemade bread to give us the strength and nutrition to perform at our best today. We know they get up earlier than we do to prepare our breakfast and come along with us for the entire day to our community as well as taking the adventure back with us. The energy they have during the day is remarkable and we are blessed to have them by our sides with every stride on this incredible journey.
We hop onto our transportation truck, with smiles on our faces for the excitement of this 3rd day clinic. Another bumpy ride we have we know for about an hour and a half, but its all worth it for the smiles on the faces of the community of Corozol that we will see at the end of the day.
We pull up to the school in the community of Corozol and we were welcomed with open arms and open hearts. What looked to be hundreds of people were already lined up to register for the clinic. Just seeing this gives us full warm hearts, whether they are here to see us for high blood pressure or just a physical. To take time out of their day to travel and wait is so humbling. We haul our bins out of the truck for the day and start the infrastructure.
I am a nurse back at home, and this is my second year being able to serve communities of El Salvador. My job this year was to run the pharmacy. The pharmacy at this site was set up in a separate shack de-attatched from the school. I know I have mentioned before how welcoming this community was, but to have them scoop up our heavy bins full of medications, toothbrushes, and reading glasses with no hesitation was so appreciative. When we got into our shack, the community leaders did anything they could to make us comfortable, from offering chairs, sweeping and even offering to fill our waters for us. The kindness of their hearts remind us that there is hope in the world and that hope inspires the people around them. This hope was absorbed into all of us for this day and we were able to take on another full day.
Yes, it was hot for all of us today, but the heat wasn’t going to interfere with our care for these people that inspire so much hope in us. From the first patient to the last, we served each person with care and compassion and if it was the first person of the day. Eyes lit up with joy, and smiles grew from cheek to cheek as we were able to hand out medication to the patients. Children colored with us and were so proud to show their work and take a picture with it. The joy, oh the joy was so rewarding. The ages ranged from 3months to 89years old, and we served 206 people today. This has been the most we have ever served in this medical delegation in one day, ever. 206 hearts we bonded with today and God allowed us to be connected to those hearts.
We get back onto the truck to head back home for the night. This has been the longest clinic day we have ever had. Bodies and brains wore out, we could not wait to get back home to rest and reset for the clinic day ahead of us. 5 minutes into the ride, mother nature had another plan for us. A trickle began and the droplets felt so good on our skin, refreshing us from the long day. The drops get bigger and bigger, and can I say bigger? The downpour begins and we think, its the end of rainy season this should pass within a few minutes. Remember we are in the back of an uncovered truck. A few minutes passed and the rain beat down on us more and more. This wasn’t going to end. Aside from the rain it was dark and we all had to take on the challenge on slipping and sliding in the truck as well as ducking and dodging tree branches in the dark.
Once we came into realization this storm was hanging on with us all the way home, we took a tarp out and cloaked it over all of us, each person holding onto a piece so it wouldn’t fly away. Darkness instantly takes it’s presence once the tarp is draped over us. No faces can be seen, all that can be heard is the rain beating down on the tarp. The only glimpse of light was the lightning flashing through the cracks in the tarp. God keep us safe so we serve other communities this week and return home to our families. Nothing is more uncomfortable than being in a country you don’t know and being in complete darkness. Our only senses are the bumps and holes we encounter on the dirt road. The storm continues the entire trip and within our last 5 minutes home we we able to uncover ourselves. A thought went through my mind that we looked like a can of sardines being peeled open. The one good joke I could make to myself to lighten the mood.
We arrive back home at the Pastoral house safe and sound 2 and ½ hours after we planned on returning. What a day we all had. The team once again after enduring this journey with us had dinner prepared for us. We all go to our rooms and change our soaking wet clothes to enjoy or dinner together as a team and as a family. We are all exhausted as the day before but have another clinic day ahead of us a few hours of sleep and the oranges will be hitting the tin roof.
We were so fortunate to serve the patients of San Isidro today. After a breakfast of pancakes, rolls, coffee, and eggs, we headed out at 0700 for San Isidro. Our trucks brought us to the ECO San Isidro clinic, built in 2015, the first new clinic for the community. The rooms were clean and the building was complete with indoor bathrooms and running water. Dr. Eric, Nurse Ana, and health promoters were our coworkers today. We hiked to lunch and enjoyed a beautiful mountain view with our hearty soup of squash and beans, served with tortillas and homemade blocks of Parmesan cheese. We were delighted for the meal and felt the need for siesta afterwards. With hopes for rest soon, we had work to do, many more patients to see. The Pastoral team planned ahead and had cold (which is very rare) Gatorade for us to drink mid-afternoon. We are very thankful for all of the planning that the Pastoral team put in prior to and during our trip. Our day ended at 4pm, and we headed to the Pastoral house. We saw 129 adults and lot’s of children.
- Blessings, Amanda :)
Note: Due to WiFi connection issues, this post was uploaded a day late.
Our day began with fried plantains, fruit, tortillas, coffee, and juevos revueltas con pimiento (scrambled eggs with peppers). We loaded into our trucks for a bumpy and beautiful ride into the mountains. Dodging tree branches as our driver expertly maneuvered around pedestrians, cows, horses, and dogs. We anticipated our destination as our sit bones (ischial tuberosities) cried out. We arrived at El Rescate and were greeted warmly by the presidente of the Directiva, the consulta (legal work), and tesorero (treasurer). The Directiva is similar to an elected community government.
The presidente showed us how coffee is made. Currently, El Rescate is part of the Comus coop. The presidente explained the dream of the community to process the coffee from plant to sales. They purchased a machine to separate the coffee beans from the pulp inside the pod. The community’s next step is to charge five cents per pound to a family for use of the machine. This will help save for the next step of their dream. The community gave us a tour to show us where organic fertilizer was made and stored. They make the organic fertilizer using discarded coffee pods. They have set up solar panels donated by a Presbyterian church in Atlantic, Iowa. Two men in the community are trained to maintain and trouble shoot the solar panels. They told us that when the lights come on at night, they thank God. Before this system, they had only candles. Now the children can do homework at night. The solar panels were life changing.
We listened to their stories, how life is for the sixty-five community members. Wendy, a mother of four, wakes up at 0400 to start breakfast for her family. She walks two of her children to school in Berlin, two hours away. The other mothers in the community take turns with this trek. So many examples of the people caring for each other touched our hearts. When a family can’t afford water for a sick child or a doctor visit, other members of the community sell a chicken or leave the farm to work and earn extra money.
The community created a delicious lunch for us. The women lovingly served us a soup of vegetables, chicken, beet salad, rolls, and tortillas. We felt so fortunate to drink a cup of the organic and delicious coffee produced by Comus coop. We walked to the home of a community member before setting up the clinic. He told us his home was humble, but it was what God has given him and they are blessed.
It was so evident spending time with this community that they functioned selflessly, each person putting the benefit of the whole ahead of the individual self. We thank the community of El Rescate for welcoming us, making it possible for us to come serve the population & showing us their progressive thinking, ingenuity, and love for God.
- Blessings, Amanda :)
Note: Due to WiFi connection issues, this post was uploaded a day late.
Our second day began early with an El Salvadorian breakfast at the guest house in San Salvador. Once we were fueled up, we began our day of historical sight seeing. This portion of the the medical trip my seem out of place but it is really a well planned teaching opportunity for all of us involved. When we learn about the history of the country and its people we can better understand who they are and how they live. It is only after we have this understanding of the people that we can help care for them.
Our first stop was at a park in the center of the city that has a mural and memorial wall to those that were murded or went missing during the years of the civil war in El Salvador. When we see the long list of names on that wall it is a stark reminder of how many perished at the hands of their own government.
Our next stop was to the home and chapel where we learned about Oscar Romero and his importance to this country. We were able to see the church where he gave his last mass. We walked the same path the lone bullet travel when in went up the center isle of the church and struck Oscar Romero just above his heart. This painted a very powerful picture for all of us.
We then drove to the University to visit the sight of a mass murder of priests in 1989. The surprising thing to me was that the country does not try and hide these events in shame. They want everyone to visit and see for themselves the struggle and the sadness the people of this country have had to endure.
Even though the morning had been filled with these tragic events we were told that the people of El Salvador are a proud people and do not want pity or hand outs. They want to be understood and to be respected and that is why we spent the time this morning.
Our group then traveled to a local artisans market for lunch and an opportunity to purchase local crafts. It was a nice chance for a break before our drive to the headquarters of our medical mission. Our afternoon drive took us out of the city and into the countryside to the mountain side town of Berlin. Berlin is the home of the Pastoral House and the workers that make up the Pastoral Team. Our medical mission could not take place without the in-country help of these people. They help us coordinate the clinic days and get the word out to the cantons (villages) about the times we will be visiting. The Pastoral Team also give us a place to stay and cook for us during our stay. Our team was able to get settled in our rooms. We had dinner and a brief meeting before our nightly chores of preparing supplies for the next days clinic trip.
This is my third medical delegation trip here and it is fun to watch all of the personalities come together for a common goal. Every group has been a different mix of people and experiences and that is what makes it so rewarding and fun.
It was an early start to this years mission trip. We arrived at the Des Moines airport before 5:00 am for the first leg of our flight. I'm hopeful that this being our third year we can have an even greater impact helping the people of El Salvador. I think we have a good mix of people helping this year. Many of us have been here before but there are enough new people that it will be fun to see the experience through their fresh eyes. Our leaders Mike and Kathy Basset are such a blessing to have along. Their experience is priceless. Even though they won't admit it, we could not be successful without their guidance and knowledge.
One of your new concerns this year is how we will continue to fund this medical delegation in the years to come. Due to the recent budget cuts to one of our churches mission work, it is time to realize we must find a way to continue to fund this important trip. Our group will have to find some creative ways to help others to see the value in contributing to the cause.
It was 9:30 pm when we arrived in San Salvador. We will Stay the night here. Tomorrow we will visit many historical sites in the city. Learning to history of this country is so important to helping us understand the people so that we may better relate and offer our assistance.
- Written by Mark Hilliard
Note: Due to WiFi connection issues, this post was uploaded a day late.