Monday, April 18, 2011
a Healthy Reminder
Born in February 1910, Don Jesus recently completed 101 years of life. When I told him he looked 80, it wasn’t just flattery. His smile radiates a peace that must be difficult to sustain after all that he has seen and experienced, but his smile comes so easily and doesn’t carry the least bit of evidence of the hardships he has surely endured. What is your secret? We all wanted to ask. I studied him during our week in La Paz. He reads his Bible every morning and he is sometimes seen supervising workers, writing letters, or singing as he relaxes in a hammock. When he fell slowly and hit his elbow to save his head, I was fascinated to see how his worn skin had just ripped and peeled away, leaving an open wound that he promised wasn’t all that bad. His skin was thin, like the paper in an old Bible. It was convenient that he made the fall on precisely the same day that a team of medical professionals arrived at his home. They used their first aid skills, which we would later teach to a roomful of eager participates, to clean and cover his delicate wound.
When we arrived to El Chaperno, the Children’s Medical Project of Seattle (CHIMPS) team had an agenda which included a day of introduction and several charlas on parasites, dehydration, water, and nutrition. Our first day, however, was spent getting to know the community with the pastor of the local church, and the rest of our days were re-planned after listening to the needs of the community. Day two started with a crowd of people, ranging from young school children to mothers and grandmothers, who gathered in the church to express their interest in learning more about health. After breaking up into smaller discussion groups, we learned that we had participants from four different communities--El Chaperno, Concepcion, Paraiso, and La Ceiba. Everyone’s greatest concerns for their communities involved accidents, and they shared a collective desire to learn basic first aid.
Being surrounded by people who want to learn, hope to better their situations, and know that with the right resources they can improve their quality of life reminded me why I chose to study public health. All week, I felt at home in El Chaperno and so incredibly grateful for my time in El Salvador. With the help of an amazing social worker from ABRAZO, a local non-profit based in San Salvador, we taught the interested community members about first aid techniques, dental hygiene, sex education, home birth, water sanitation, hand-washing, parasites, diarrhea, dehydration, and nutritional issues through dramas, hands-on learning, educational talks, question and answer sessions, and personal conversations.
When we all joined hands and the committee sang a hymn for us about being united, it was difficult to shake the feeling that we had always known these friends. As they gathered around us to pray and tearfully say goodbye, I was reassured that our time in El Chaperno wasn’t just a week of passing through, but the beginning of something greater.
See more pictures of our week on my photo page!