| Nov 12, 2014
This post is unedited and republished with permission from Providence Heart Beat Magazine.
by Kate Vanskike
The tiny room had dirt floors, and the daylight that shone through slats in the wooden walls was the only source of light. More than a dozen people joined the homeowner, Mercedes, in watching foreigners install a cook stove that would end the centuries-long tradition of having an open fire indoors. When she lit the first fire and the smoke escaped the home through a ventilation pipe, everyone shouted and clapped. Mercedes was deeply moved. Through a translator, she said, "I want so badly to tell you in your own language how much I thank you. I want to tell you how wonderful it is that you have sacrificed to come here — that you left your country, your home, your own families — to help us."
Living out the mission in Guatemala
Twice each year, a dozen Providence employees travel to remote Mayan communities in Guatemala with Providence Health International. One team provides surgical and health care services at local hospitals, and the other installs clean-burning cook stoves and sanitary latrines. Both projects are part of Providence's commitment to building healthier communities within the five U.S. states where it has hospitals and clinics, and well beyond those borders.
In Guatemala, Providence works alongside Medical Teams International (MTI), a Christian non-profit organization serving communities affected by extreme poverty and natural disasters. MTI's staff includes Mayans who know the language and customs and who provide year-round support to the local people. Together, Providence and MTI seek to eliminate preventable illnesses like chronic diarrhea and respiratory distress. They also address malnutrition with training for women of the community who serve as "Monitoring Mothers" to help families track the growth of their children and address concerns.
In Sehaquiba, the village where Mercedes lives, teams have installed clean-burning cook stoves in 85 homes, serving more than 300 individuals. The benefits of these stoves are many: Not only do they provide proper ventilation so the smoke is not breathed inside the home, they also burn significantly less wood, which means less labor for the women who chop and haul wood to their homes.
Sehaquiba residents showed their enthusiasm for the American visitors with ceremonies that included marimba music and traditional Mayan dances. They decorated the guests with hydrangeas and covered the community center's dirt floor with a carpet of fresh pine needles.
One local leader said, "Thank you for the love you've shown us and for your help in community development. We're so happy having you here working together with our people. We have understood the need for these stoves — no more smoke in the house — this is important for our good health."
A two-way street
"We love Americans ... because they become our friends."
That quote was shared by one of Sehaquiba's leaders after working alongside the team of Providence caregivers, which included hospital executives, nurses, a doctor, a social worker, a writer, a chaplain and a board member.
In the trips up and down mountainsides to complete the work, there was much camaraderie — Americans and Mayans laughing and enjoying the company of one another, despite not sharing a common language.
Providence nurse Kendra Darnell describes that connection as revolutionary on both sides. "The first home our team visited was very generous with gifts of plums, coffee, pure water and a ceremonial drinking cup," Darnell shares. "It seemed wrong to accept such luxuries, but it was obvious that their joy was in the giving. Their neighbors were equally gracious in their blessing but apologized that they did not have anything to give."
She continues, "How to adequately express that we were the ones receiving a gift that would also revolutionize our lives? It seemed impossible to adequately translate our deep emotion."
Sharing dreams with the women who serve as Monitoring Mothers was equally moving.
"These women know what they want for their community," says Darnell. "Not wealth, more jobs, less taxes, bigger homes. They want clean water, healthy children and an education.
"Certainly they know their priorities, and hearing them caused me to consider my own hopes and dreams for my family," she says.