Agape in Action, Guatemala
Agape In Action is centered in the city of Santa Cruz del Quiché, which is the capital city of Quiché - a department (province) in south-central Guatemala. The geography of Quiché contains highlands at an elevation of 6,300 feet with a year around, “eternal spring” type of climate. Temperatures during the day rarely exceed 80 degrees F and can dip into the low-50’s at night. Rainy season lasts from May to October, and the dry season from mid-October to the end of April.
Although Santa Cruz del Quiché is a city, it is a very poor part of Guatemala. During the twenty-year civil war, a majority of the killing took place in this region. Roughly 300,000 are known dead, mostly among indigenous Mayans. While Quiché has enjoyed peace since 1997, a great social and economical chasm still exists between those of Spanish decent and the indigenous Mayans.
Transportation Visitors fly into Guatemala City, the capitol of the country. A shuttle will be arranged for transportation from the airport to the Agape In Action dormitories in Santa Cruz del Quiché, which are about 4 hours away by car on paved roads.
Visa Requirements For current information, please visit the Guatemalan Embassy website appropriate for your country. American citizens do not need a visa in advance, but should check the “tourist” box on the entry and exit forms received on arrival in Guatemala. No special letters or documentation is required. Tourists can stay for a period up to 90 days.
Traveler’s health & safety Please check the CDC travel website for the most up-to-date health information: http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. HIV is unusual in Guatemala, and malaria is not a concern in Santa Cruz del Quiché due to the elevation, distance from the coast, and long dry season. Visitors should be up to date on all routine vaccinations, including tetanus.
Visitors are advised to regularly check the U.S. State Department website for the most up-to-date information regarding travel advisories: http://www.state.gov/travelandbusiness
Facilities The headquarters for Agape In Action is in the city of Santa Cruz del Quiché, which is located across the street from the national hospital, Santa Elena. The site includes comfortable, open-air dormitories for twenty-four people. Agape In Action conducts rural clinics at area churches and community centers. Patients are charged a very small fee, which helps them take responsibility for themselves, though no one leaves without being cared for.
Agape In Action clinics provide the full range of outpatient care. They also specialize in pre-natal care and use a portable ultrasound machine in this venue. Throughout the year, Agape In Action hosts surgical teams from the US who provide procedures for patients who are pre-selected from the Agape In Action clinics or referred by the national hospital.
Patients Generally, people in this region make a living off the land. They earn less than $5 per day and are barely making it financially. As soon as children are able to work - about age 4 or 5 - they go to the fields with their fathers or tend to the younger children in their homes. The predominant religion is a mix of ancient Mayan ancestral worship, Roman Catholicism, and worship of the “Corn God.” In the department of Quiché, there is a strong Methodist presence and also a solid number of non-denominational, evangelical Christians.
Most patients coming for care at Agape in Action are Mayan people, including the poorest of the poor. Most of them have families with 4 or more children living in one-room homes with no running water, dirt floors, and only occasionally electricity. Common health problems include burns, influenza, gastroenteritis, dehydration, cleft palates and lips, pre-natal complications, prolapsed uteri, malnutrition, goiters, and cancers.
Health Professional Staff Agape In Action in Guatemala is led by Heidi Bell, MD - an American obstetrician/gynecologist who completed her residency at the University of Texas at Houston and medical school at Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. She also received her B.S. of Pharmacy degree at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Languages All students and volunteers must be fluent in Spanish and able to function independently in this language. Patients do not speak English, and many of them do not speak Spanish very well. Translators are available for Spanish to Quiché - the indigenous language of the region.
Student Experience Students will have the opportunity to participate in every aspect of the work of Agape in Action. Training is quite hands on, with emphasis on developing clinical skills without the assistance of laboratory or radiology. “Watch it, do it, teach it” is the unofficial mantra when it comes to learning. The patient load is difficult to anticipate on any given day since many of the patients travel long distances to reach the clinics. If their elective coincides with surgical teams, students will be able to assist in surgeries and obstetrics.
Student Lodging & Meals Students are accommodated in the Agape In Action dormitories, which sleep 4 people to a room. Each room has a bathroom with a sink, western toilet, and hot shower. The rooms are simple but comfortable with bedding and towel sets provided for each person. Meal preparation and clean up is a group effort with everyone participating. Breakfast and supper are served family-style. Most days, breakfast consists of cereal, fruit, coffee, and eggs. Each individual makes up his or her own sack lunch to take along for the day.
Outside Communication The dormitories are equipped with wireless Internet access. Phone cards are available for very reasonable rates.
Diversion This is a geographically beautiful country with attractive sites to visit. However, weekends are usually spent doing clinics and there isn’t any kind of “night life” in Santa Cruz. It is rare for anyone to stay up past 11 PM. Alcohol consumption and smoking are culturally unacceptable behaviors in Quiché and are not allowed.
Facility Support INMED invites all participants to consider raising extra funds to donate to Agape In Action for hosting them. This is not required but allows INMED students to become involved in every aspect of medical missions.
Dress Visitor should wear comfortable, cool, modest clothing - no shorts or tank tops outside of the dorms or see-through clothing. Surgical scrubs of all sizes are provided. Bring along close-toed walking shoes, flip-flops, and collared shirts (men) and long skirts (women) for church.
What To Pack As a rule, travel light. Raincoats and umbrellas are always useful. Pack a warm sweatshirt and warm pajamas. Bring basic medical tools and a couple of reference books.