In 2012, I watched an infant die in his mother's arms in Aguacate, Guatemala. This baby boy—skin and bones with gaping eye sockets—breathed his last breath inside the local church. Living three hours from the nearest hospital, the mother had no medical options and so she fled to the village priest. Seeing the infant's malnourishment, the priest brought a bottle of formula to the child. But within a few minutes the infant died in front of the church altar.
Tragic stories like this death can be overwhelming because there often seems to be no way to effectively help the people. How can we have an impact?
The truth is that in Guatemala we already are having an impact, and the village of Aguacate is proof. Four years after that boy died, a new clinic is standing next to the very same church where he passed away. It is part of the healthcare outreach of the Orthodox Church, an effort undertaken through the blessing and support of His Eminence Metropolitan Athenagoras of Mexico and Central America. What makes this healthcare outreach unique is the emphasis on local leadership. Community health issues like infant malnutrition cannot be completely solved by the teams of visiting doctors who are serving at the Aguacate clinic; to have a lasting impact, we need local Guatemalan leaders. That is why the clinic in Aguacate is beginning a transformative new project: we will be equipping local people to become doctors and nurses.
Already one local leader named Juana has been accepted into medical school and will begin her first semester in January of 2017. When she becomes a doctor (God willing!), she will have the potential to transform this entire region of rural Guatemala. Through the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), we are raising funds to provide scholarships for her and possibly for other students in the future. By supporting these local leaders, we have the opportunity to completely transform the quality of life in rural Guatemala for generations.
Please consider becoming a supporter for this new scholarship initiative. Contributions can be given through OCMC, and must be earmarked for "medical education in Guatemala." Click here to donate, and make sure to write "medical education in Guatemala" in the section that says Tribute Gift/Special Instructions.
Thank you for becoming a supporter for the future doctors and nurses of Guatemala! To give you more details about this unique opportunity, we have prepared a detailed Q&A below.
Who will receive support?
We are focusing first on young students in Aguacate and in the surrounding areas of Western Guatemala. This is an indigenous Maya area, where people grow up in large families of ten or more children. Most families live on subsistence farming and are too poor to purchase a car or even a motorcycle. The vast majority of children cannot finish high school due to financial constraints. Therefore, becoming a doctor or a nurse is nearly impossible—until now.
Through the OCMC scholarship fund, promising students from this area will have the opportunity to attend medical or nursing school. High school students who wish to receive a scholarship for further study must show initiative by excelling in their high school classes and by volunteering at the clinic in Aguacate. By volunteering in the clinic, they will prove their commitment to serving this clinic as a doctor or nurse in the future.
By focusing on students in this area (Aguacate and the surrounding villages), we are making a strategic decision to influence the broader region of Western Guatemala where the Aguacate clinic is located. This whole region lacks quality healthcare and, now that the clinic is operational, patients already are coming from miles away to receive better care in Aguacate. The region surrounding Aguacate shares a common cultural-linguistic background, and the local volunteers in the clinic speak the same Maya language (Chuj) and understand the struggles of the patients. That is why we are seeking medical students and nursing students first in Aguacate and the surrounding villages; these leaders carry the greatest potential to have a large-scale impact on the whole region.
Who will be the first scholarship recipient?
At this point, we already have identified the first scholarship recipient: a young woman named Juana. She is a community health worker who grew up in Aguacate and now is in her early twenties. Since the age of twelve she has dreamed of treating patients because she played the part of a Cuban doctor in a school play. After that play, she began to volunteer at a nearby health post. Recognizing Juana's initiative, the village council asked her to become a community health worker through a training process in basic health, offered in a nearby village.
When the Orthodox Church opened the medical clinic in Aguacate, Juana immediately began assisting the visiting dentists and doctors. Although she is neither a formal nurse nor a doctor, Juana has learned a wealth of basic treatment techniques from the visiting teams over the past two years. Now, when medical teams are not present, Juana offers daily hours in the clinic where she provides a large variety of health services, including: general health consults, stitching for large wounds, blood pressure and blood sugar tests, urine tests for certain illnesses, tooth extractions and cleanings, and fluoride treatments. The women of this area especially flock to her because Juana speaks their Maya language and gives them confidence to speak about women's health issues with her in private.
Over the past years, Juana has discussed the possibility of becoming a registered nurse. At a certain point, she spoke to the clinic's leaders and said, "I don't want to be a nurse anymore." Shocked, the leaders responded, "you don't?" Juana smiled and said: "no, I want to be a doctor." She explained that she has seen the depth of the healthcare needs in her village and in the whole surrounding region of Guatemala. She wants to become as equipped as possible to help meet people's needs in the entire region.
In July of this year, Juana was accepted to various university programs in Guatemala. The medical program that she will enter is in the capital city of her province of Guatemala and begins January of 2017. Because of her proven talent and dedication over the course of years, Juana has been selected to be the first recipient of assistance through this scholarship fund.
How will the funds be used?
This project will pay for tuition, room, and board, for the length of a student's study program. Programs in nursing and medicine vary in duration across Guatemala, but the medical program that Juana will enter is a seven-year program. So the funds will cover the costs of that program and basic living expenses over the course of seven years.
If I contribute, where will my donation go?
All contributions are tax deductible and will be given through the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) and must be specified for "medical education in Guatemala." Upon receiving your donation, OCMC will earmark it for this scholarship fund. Each semester of studies, OCMC will transfer the semester's amount of tuition, room, and board, into the account of the medical clinic in Aguacate, Guatemala. Under supervision from OCMC field leader Fr. John Chakos and clinic project director Bob Kirschner, those funds will be used for the approved educational expenses.
Will the funds be used correctly?
Donating through OCMC adds a helpful layer of accountability because both the missionary department and the finance department at OCMC will check with the field leader in Guatemala (Fr. John Chakos) to receive confirmation of the correct use of funds. Receipts and proof of correct use are required by OCMC.
How can I make a donation?
Online donations must be correctly earmarked, so please fill out this form and make sure to specify that your gift is for "medical education in Guatemala." You can use the section that says “Tribute Gift/Special Instructions” to earmark your gift. Write “Medical Education in Guatemala" in that field.
If you prefer to mail a check, you then make it out to “OCMC” and write “Medical Education in Guatemala” in the memo line. Mail the checks to: OCMC, 220 Mason Manatee Way, St. Augustine, FL 32086.