Finding Your Place- Guatemala

My name is Bailey and I had the life changing experience of going to Guatemala this year. I am a student in the Developmental Services Worker program and I was selected to join nine nursing students on this adventure to Guatemala. One of the greatest lessons I learned on this trip was that the stars will align and you will find your place in this world and find meaning in your life wherever you are (as long as your heart and mind is open). This trip was centred around health initiatives so initially finding my place or role on the trip was difficult amongst so many amazing and caring nursing students. Besides being drafted the role of team photographer I felt I was contributing very little. I saw the majority of the trip through my Nikon’s lens. But when I was doubting my purpose one hot day in the community of San Juan the world presented me with my cause. I saw a young girl who appeared to have Cerebral Palsy watching the other children cut and trace fabric. This young girl could not properly hold her pen due to spastic movements. I gave my camera to a friend and went and helped the young girl. I finally got to use my skill set (as a special education assistant) to help teach this girl how to cut and trace. I used the method of hand over hand. The young girl was happy and excited to work alongside me. This very moment rearranged all my thoughts and feelings. I suddenly understood why I was brought on this trip, I could bring my skills and passions of working with the disability community to Guatemala. After a lot of research I learned that in many Mayan civilizations that once dwelled in present day Guatemala, many children with disabilities were idolized. But currently they are seen as second class citizens, unable to access education and proper healthcare due to family embarrassment an lack of resources. After my first interaction with this girl in San Juan I made it my mission to ask community leaders about disabilities. Luckily the world had aligned perfectly for me that I didn’t need to ask questions, opportunities were just created. In the third community a man asked me to come photograph his home and family. I was delighted! He took me to his home where his wife was working. They asked me if I could take a picture of their son for them, he was napping but they still wanted one. They took me to their son who happened to have hydrocephalus, contracted muscles and ocular problems. The family was so proud of their son and loved him dearly despite the stereotypical embarrassment many parents felt in this country towards their children with disabilities. I was blown away by their compassion and told them that back home I was studying to become a disability support worker in either the school system or employment services. They were amazed to hear that children like their son were able to go to school and have jobs in Canada.

I am blessed to say that this trip gave me experiences like the two above that have entirely shaped my career goals and dreams. Thanks to this GCELE I have shifted career paths and plan on traveling to various schools in third world countries to teach about classroom modifications and the need for special education and assistance.

I hope that everyone who has the opportunity to go on a GCELE is lucky enough to have it change their worlds the way my experience has.

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– Bailey

Guatemala: Heart of Maya World

I was thrilled to hear my professor Marg announce that she would be going back to Guatemala to continue her work. I submitted my application on the very first day, and was already planning my trip before the acceptance letter. A few months later, I landed at Flores airport. That was unreal.

The purpose of our trip was to teach the local midwives how to use a birthing simulator MamaNatalie, teach the local women how to make reusable menstrual pads, and provide First Aid training to the local health promoters. We visited six different communities throughout our stay, and each community was unique in its own way. Most of the communities we visited are Q’eqchi’, the Maya people, hence it requires double translation from English to Español, then to Kekchi. It was challenging, but in a positive way.

I didn’t really experience “culture shock,” definitely some “culture surprises” during our stay in Guatemala. Photos speak a thousand words, hence I will walk you through our wonderful journey through photos. Have some tortilla chips ready, sit back and relax.

Day 1: Our flight is TO -> Miami -> Guatemala city -> Flores, then finally a two-hour bus ride to Sayaxche, It was tiring, but we were warmly greeted by the heat wave in Guatemala.

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Landed at Flores airport at night. Finally! Everyone was exhausted after a long ride.

Day 2: Flores -2 hours smooth bus ride to Sayaxche
Meeting with Apidec (Programa Integral de desarrollo Christiano) & World Renew staffs. Had a crazy ride in a “cage” to our first village. I was chosen to be the first to do MamaNatalie (meaning I have to fake birthing). I knew I did an awesome job because everyone outside heard my screams from the classroom. Some said my hysterical screams scared some babies and kids oops. There is  no bridge to cross the river in Sayaxche, so we had to take the ferry. Unfortunately on our way back to the hotel, a truck was stuck on the ferry and we waited for an hour before crossing a small river. Apparently the government made big profits from the ferry, so bridges are unnecessary. We had to hide in the jungle for toilet break! We were still full of awesomeness but began to feel the heat wave eating away our energy.

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Typical Guatemala food: red beans, rich, eggs and salad. Thank all the communities for the lunches 🙂

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I was demonstrating MamaNatalie, a birthing simulator helps to create realistic training scenarios, it was awkward doing it but so much fun!

Day 3: Meeting with the Ministry of Health of Guatemala (Gobiernode Guatemala Ministerio de Salud Publica y Assistencia Social) in the morning. Visited our second village “San Juan Acul” in the afternoon. This village has a huge shelter outside. Sweat was pouring down, but the hot & humid breeze meant so much to us! I’ve said “mi nombre Beidi” so many times. Awesome but the heat was unbearable. We definitely had an awesome time at this community all thanks to the shelter that they have.

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Meeting with Ministry of Health. Learned a lot about Guatemala from this meeting.
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Roya was teaching First Aids to the local health promoters.
Muchas gracias shelter!
Muchas gracias shelter!

Day 4: Third village “Herencia Maya” meaning Heritage Maya. Most residents only know Kekchi, a Mayan language, so we have to translate from English to Spanish then to Kekchi (most communities we visited are Q’eqchi’ so triple translations hence triple the fun, and most of the communities were receiving visitors for the very first time, not to mention first foreign visitors). I used leftover fabrics to make  and stars to the kids and they love it so much. This heat was overwhelming… people were starting to get sick 😦

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DSC_0882 Both girls and boys were so helping with menstrual pads. Muy bien! 🙂
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Group photo time! Wearing scrubs wasn’t that bad at all. Slowly getting used to the heat.

Day 5: Visit to Tikal, the Mayan ruins! Everyone was excited though we were not feeling well. The heat was not bad, bearable. Awesome day!

Scary stairs, took us forever to get down.
Scary stairs, took us forever to get down.
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Guatemala national tree: Ceiba

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Amazing view of Tikal

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Tour guide & selfie stick

Day 6: Boating to the zoo in the morning, and had a fabulous view of Flores from far. Was a little upset that we had to cancel our afternoon trip to another ruin 😦 but at least we went to a good restaurant and I got a super yummy chicken sandwich and a Jamaican Rose drink. Got a super-itchy spider bite, and the rash was crystal-like. Finally started raining on the way back to Sayaxche, it cooled down the heat.

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Flores island

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Day 7 & 8: Can’t remember what exactly happened during these two days. I was drained, and totally shutting down. I remembered the tables were so small and low, I have to bend down all the time while surrounded by groups of women and children. The noise, the heat, and the environment was sweeping over me like waves after waves. Due to the heat and long bus ride, more people felt unwell. I forced myself to drink lots and lots of water, and I survived the hardest period during this trip.

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UV light our water
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Teaching CPR

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Day 9: Visited the last community! The kids there were overwhelming. They dragged you everywhere, touched your hair, put their little hands in your pocket digging for stuffs. I went to the bathroom with ten kids surrounding the door. Last time using MamaNatalie, my energy level left only 10% while doing it. A long day ended with kids holding my hands, grabbing my leg, and singing my name.

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Day 10: Meeting with Ministry of Health again with reporters, and many cameras. Seemed like we’ll all be in Peten news! Our efforts had been paid off. Our MamaNatalie, menstrual pads, and First Aid sessions benefited the locals so much that the MOH will continue teaching the midwives and women with MamaNatalie and menstrual pad making. I felt so grateful. Drove back to Flores and finally SHOPPING TIME!!! (didn’t buy a lot because I was… exhausted). Day ended with a two-dollar ice cream.

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Team work makes the dream works!

Day 11: Guatemala City was raining and flight was delayed. Almost missed our Miami flight back to Toronto because of that. One American said “look at those crazy Canadian girls running in airport.” First thing back home is feeling extremely cold in 20ish temperature, but home sweet home :”)

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5am at Flores, adios Guatemala!

I have to thank Centennial College for this amazing opportunity.Thank all the staffs from World Renew. Thank you Marg, Roya & Jo! Although we faced many ups and downs in this trip, extreme deprivation of veggies, tears and laughter, it was an experience that could only be experienced. It made me question my values, tested my limits, and forced me to grow. Thank you Guatemala! Someone told me this quote during this trip “You have to do other won’t, so you can have other can’t.” and of course my own quote “IT’S ONCE IN A LIFETIME!!!

Cheers hasta la próxima!

Beidi Zong

Nursing Student Centennial/Ryerson

here’s a little more amazing photos, enjoy 🙂

Last day at Guatemala
Last day in Guatemala

DSC_0974 (2)our daily breakfast

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first night!
first night!
Halo Marg!
Halo Marg!

Flores street

Even the Pastor was working with us making the menstrual pads. A big THANK YOU to you Sir :)
Even the Pastor was working with us making the menstrual pads. A big THANK YOU to you Sir 🙂
hahahaha our feet were swollen, have to lift it UP!
hahahaha our feet were swollen, have to lift it UP!

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