Volunteer Connection: Alexis in Guatemala

Alexis is a current student at Cabrillo College of ADN Nursing Program, aspiring to work in pediatrics. She spent the month of June, 2017, volunteering in a children’s clinic in Antigua, where patients receive special medical care, physical therapy, medical and psychiatric consultations. Alexis had previous experience volunteering for several organizations as a member of the Public Service Academy in San Francisco in homeless shelters, charity groups, and in the emergency room of a local hospital.

She was happy to participate in an API interview after she settled back home for a few months:

Photo of me at Cerro de La Cruz viewpoint with Antigua in the background. A popular hangout spot in Antigua!

How does your background relate to the volunteer work you did in Guatemala?

I was looking into countries where I somewhat knew the language that they spoke, so that’s what drew me to Guatemala. I have three years experience in Spanish and I’m now trying to learn it in the nursing school where I’m currently studying because the area has a big Spanish-speaking population. There’s also a large Oaxaca tribe population, so I have been trying to immerse myself as much as I can into the language and learn medical-based Spanish. So that’s one of the backgrounds I had as far as picking the placement, in addition to the medical based placement that was available in Guatemala. I wanted to combine volunteering with my career path so that I can directly apply my skills. I had finished my first year in nursing school before going to Guatemala, but I did not have any experience with the population that I worked with, which was a mentally and physically disabled community. They lived in this hospital, so that was a completely new experience.

 How do you think this experience would have compared to a similar volunteer placement in your community?

 I was thinking when I was there, I don’t even know if there is such a hospital in my area in California. They take such great care of the patients for the limited resources that they have. The nurses that I spoke to, they barely get paid anything for what they do. In California, nurses make a lot of money in comparison. That was kind of shocking to me, I mean, they were doing the same amount of work, but they’re not getting paid very much at all.

I think also, how they fared with their resources was another difference I saw. They would recycle clothing or they’d have the same clothes that they wash fro the kids. I don’t know of any clinic, except for nursing homes, for example, that offer the type of care they do in the clinic where I volunteered in Guatemala.

Packed up and ready to hike up Volcan de Acatenango (13,000 ft tall volcano). We were expected to carry a 4 person tent, a sleeping pad, a sleeping bag, our clothes/cosmetics and 4 LITERS OF WATER! It was crazy heavy, especially carrying it uphill!

Can you describe a typical day on your volunteer placement?

We would wake up at 7:15, and my host mom would make breakfast. I would head to the Spanish school until noon and go back home to have lunch. I would then catch a bus to the clinic and get there around 2pm. I was in the wing of children between 4 and 8 years old, and when I got there, it was usually feeding time, so I would help the nurses feed. They would feed the children tradition foods like beans and rice. I would then usually visit with the kids individually and engage in physical activities with them. There was one child there, just so special. He always really wanted to play, so he’d grab a ball or a hula hoop and we’d play with whatever we had. We’d go out with those who were more mobile to the clinic courtyard to do activities outdoors; it would often rain in the afternoons, so we’d play and talk about the rain. Those are some of my favorite memories.

Olaria (my spanish instructor from La Union Spanish School) and me on my last day of Spanish class. We visited the Cerro de La Cruz event center.

 Think about a moment that you experienced during your program that you will remember forever. Why do you think it made such an impact on you?

 I have a very photographic memory, and I can picture all of the kid’s faces. A part of me just wants to adopt them all! I want to get into pediatrics, so it all brought me more into the pediatric direction overall. Working with the kids was the most meaningful part of all.

Aside from the clinical work I did, on the weekends I went on little trips and excursions. One of which is the volcano visit; it’s probably the only and last time I will ever hike a volcano. It was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. The girl who was staying with the same host family and I went together on the overnight trip; she was from Canada. It was a real confidence boost once I made it to the top. I will definitely not forget that.

Photo of the Obras Sociales del Hermano Pedro Hospital parade celebrating their 5th anniversary at the new location. The parade was followed by games, dancing and music.

*to preserve the dignity of members of the community, volunteers are not permitted to photograph the children of the clinic. However, Alexis has shared plenty of photographs of her experiences outside of the volunteer placement.

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