Global Service Learning: Guatemala

Global Service Learning: Guatemala

Through the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing Center for Global Initiatives, students have the opportunity to participate in global service learning trips. A recent cohort traveled to Guatemala to complete several public health nursing projects. These students share their firsthand experiences and takeaways from their time in Guatemala.

Christian Jenkins

Our adventure began in Guatemala City, where our diverse team of students and faculty from around the world convened. Amidst the excitement, we delved into the local culture by visiting a small co-op for local artisans and indulging in delicious ice cream with unique Guatemalan flavors. The colorful culture of Guatemala unfolded as we explored Antigua, a UNESCO heritage site with cobblestone streets, historic buildings, and a vibrant town center that showcased the country’s rich traditions.

However, the heart of our trip lay in the service learning initiatives. We journeyed to San Martin Jilotepeque-Pacoxpon to witness the completion of a water and sanitation project initiated by a previous cohort. The closing ceremony, led by the Comité Comunitario de Desarrollo (COCODE), highlighted the tangible impact of our collaborative efforts, emphasizing the significance of sustainable community development.

The immersion continued with a visit to an indigenous women’s co-op, where we learned about their dedication to funding education through the sale of intricate Guatemalan textiles. Traditional dances, tortilla-making sessions, and the tasting of pepian de pollo enriched our understanding of the local culture.

The core of our work involved working alongside the local NGO, Nursing Heart, in San Martin Jilotepeque. Through a school clinic, we addressed oral hygiene, provided deworming medication, and conducted health assessments, catering to diverse needs within the community. Shadowing community health workers (CHWs) during home visits also provided valuable insights into the challenges faced by the community, particularly regarding chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

The dedication of the CHWs, who volunteered to check on their communities, left an indelible mark. Their efforts to build trust, educate, and recommend lifestyle changes showcased the power of grassroots initiatives in addressing healthcare disparities. We presented our findings and recommendations to the CHWs and Nursing Heart, and they gratefully acknowledged the importance of their vital work.

Beyond providing nursing care, we explored institutions like Obras Sociales Hermano Pedro, a hospital offering subsidized or free care for those in need. We also visited their sister organization, Hogar Virgen del Socorro, a comprehensive in-patient rehab facility, which showcased an exemplary level of care for individuals with developmental disabilities.

Guatemala, with its rich history and diverse indigenous cultures, revealed the challenges faced by rural communities. Limited access to healthcare, language barriers, and mistrust in the healthcare system underscored the urgent need for community-driven interventions.

This transformative experience has solidified my commitment to working in humanitarian aid, especially in a public health capacity for under-resourced areas. The resilience of the Guatemalan people, their commitment to community well-being, and the beauty of the country itself have left a permanent mark on my journey toward becoming a compassionate and culturally sensitive healthcare professional. The service learning trip to Guatemala was not just an educational endeavor but an experience that has broadened my perspective and fueled my passion for making a meaningful impact on global health.

Andrea Lizarraga

I had the opportunity to take part in the Service-Learning Mission Trip to Guatemala. This trip reminded me of the power of knowledge exchange, education, and human kindness. The local NGO that hosted us, Nursing Heart, acted as a liaison for us to see their work in different rural Guatemalan communities. It was interesting to see how the financial benefits of prior service learning mission trips have allowed their organization to apply the funds towards infrastructure that benefits their community through health and safety i.e., gutters installed to drain rainfall appropriately rather than having it accumulate and be stagnant near a school playground (which attracts mosquitos that could carry dengue), installation of toilets and sinks throughout different schools (to enforce handwashing and follow safe sanitary guidelines for students), provide safe water reservoirs for communities (to have access to potable water).

What I found to be the most enlightening part of my trip was the “School Clinic” or “Clínica Escolar” organized by Nursing Heart. This clinic focuses on health assessments for children ages 3 to 17, such as oral health assessments, skin assessments, height and weight, heart auscultation, lung auscultation, and measurement of heart rate and respiratory rate. The clinic gathers data on Guatemalan children’s health status rather than providing treatment. I found this to be immensely valuable since it created a database for their health community needs so that in the future Nursing Heart can provide care based on their population’s health needs rather than what they think might be helpful for those communities. This was an enriching learning opportunity that I know will help me in the future whenever I am taking care of any LatinX patient and when I decide to return to my home country of Peru as a Nurse Practitioner.

Mashuda Aly

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Center of Global Initiative’s Global Service Learning Trip to Guatemala as part of the January 2024 cohort. We collaborated with Nursing Heart Inc., founded by a Johns Hopkins School of Nursing Alum. We visited a school in Pacoxpon and met the COCODE (Community Council for Development) made up of community members elected by the people and parents of children from the school. This was an emotional encounter as it was our first interaction touching base with the people of rural Guatemala. This was a reconnection moment where we had the chance to see the Johns Hopkins water project come to fruition from the work put into rebuilding and renovating the water system at this school back in 2019.

Our next service-learning adventure was at a school health clinic in St. Martin Jilotepeque. We had stations that included deworming, dental hygiene, fluoride application, height, weight, BMI, skin assessments, and a heart and lung station. We were able to identify two heart murmurs and a young child who needed to receive medical attention urgently. We served nearly 120 children during this school health clinic.

We also received a tour of an adult and children’s disabilities center, Hogar Virgen del Socorro, which doubled as a long-term care facility. The entire institution runs on the generosity of its donors, with some child residents relying on financial assistance to pay for their family’s transportation to come and visit them.

We then went to Hombres y Mujeres, primarily funded by the generosity of their leading donor, Patty. This institution provides a clinic to the community that includes prenatal care, pediatric care, reproductive care, a dental clinic, a pharmacy, a mental health program, and a school. Not only do they provide an opportunity for education, but they also offer transportation to and from their school.

Nursing Heart INC has a volunteer force of community health workers to help fill the healthcare gaps in Guatemala. We learned that there is 1 nurse for every 10,000 residents. Short-staffed doesn’t even begin to describe it! We spent a day shadowing these selfless volunteer community health workers and lived a day in their shoes. It was a hike both ways, to and from their patients, and the assessments meant a lot to those who were able to receive the medical attention provided by Nursing Heart.

We went to Hospital de San Pedro, Antigua Guatemala, where one of the leaders of Nursing Heart INC, Cesar, began his nursing career, which has now bloomed into humanitarianism. The services provided in this hospital are solely from volunteer medical teams. Each team spends one week at this hospital to complete as many surgery cases as possible within that timeframe, and then the next medical team comes in. The schedule of teams is booked a year in advance. I hope to one day be a part of a volunteer surgical team as a certified registered nurse anesthetist and provide care to the country of Mayan ancestry!

Haley Williams

In January 2024, I had the opportunity to go on a service-learning experience to San Martin Jilotepeque, Guatemala with the Johns Hopkins University Center for Global Initiatives. It was a wonderful experience and a great opportunity to consider the wide variety of factors that contribute to health worldwide. Upon returning home and pondering the collective insights gained from the experience, a particular image from the trip of a 56-year-old Guatemalan woman still remains fresh on my mind. Our student group had the opportunity to accompany local vigilantes, or community health workers, into her home and many other homes of the people living in a remote community called Magueyes.

Our patient had type 2 diabetes and a blood sugar reading of over 600, signally a need for immediate health intervention by any standard. Apart from words—words of explaining, teaching, and warning, we had nothing to give her. No daily medications, no self-administered insulin injector pens, no transportation options, no referral to endocrinology, nephrology, ophthalmology, or wound care. The closest healthcare facility was a public community health center, which was up to an hour’s walk on steep paths for many of the town’s residents. Later that day, when we approached the one-room facility, we found a handwritten note tacked to the locked door. The note read: “Fui al centro, se atiende manana—I went to town, I’ll attend to you tomorrow.” It was unclear how long the sign had been posted. 

That day redefined the true meaning of access to healthcare for me, despite the important lessons I had learned throughout my experience as a nurse. We all rely on the systems and institutions around us for health, whether we recognize it or not. Health is not a tangible reality without the resources provided by these systems— healthcare, money, laws, transportation, employment, insurance—the list goes on and on. This realization was a poignant reminder to me about our collective responsibility as global citizens to dedicate our time, talents, and careers to building solutions to the real problems, the big problems, the problems that feel unsolvable. It’s an effort that will take more than one person, one generation, or one idea, but it is the only way that real health will ever arrive to Magueyes and the villagers.

Ramitha Jonnala

I had the incredible privilege of traveling to Guatemala with a group of students from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing where we partnered with Nursing Heart Inc, a nongovernment organization that collaborates with nurses and nursing students to provide healthcare services to rural communities in Guatemala.

Throughout the week we met new people, visited communities, and listened to local community members tell their stories about the difficulties and challenges they and their communities face daily. For example, we visited a women’s cooperative where we heard a woman tell her life story and how she changed the culture of the community by pushing for education. She, along with other women from the community, has a textile shop where they produce and sell beautiful pieces of clothing, cloth, handbags, keychains, and many more items. It was an honor to meet these women and see how hard they worked and continue to work every day to change their community for the better.

We visited Pacoxpon, a community in San Martín Jilotepeque, where we saw the water project that was started in 2020 by the last group of students from Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. Hearing how impactful and beneficial this water project was in the community was beautiful to learn about. One of the days we were in San Martín Jilotepeque, we shadowed community health workers. The community health worker program, a part of Nursing Heart, includes trained volunteers from six villages in San Martín Jilotepeque, which are so remote that accessing healthcare services is difficult. These community health workers visit local families to take vital signs, blood pressure, and glucose levels, and talk about lifestyle changes that could help with health issues. Seeing the care, love, and passion these women have for their community was truly inspiring and reminded me of what nursing is really about. Furthermore, we visited Hombres y Mujeres en Acción, another organization that aims to promote health. During this time, we met and talked with more community health workers, and we gave a brief presentation about suggestions for improving the community health worker program.

I enjoyed every day in Guatemala, but one of my favorites was on Tuesday, January 16, when we held a school clinic that provided free health screenings for children. We set up the following stations: deworming medication, education about brushing teeth, a fluoride treatment, checking height, weight, and skin, and listening to the heart and lungs. Additionally, we made referrals to dental or medical services if there were any abnormal findings. It was amazing to help provide these services to children, who otherwise may not have had access to these services, but it was also heartbreaking to see how little many of those children had. Regardless, they seemed so excited and appreciative that we were there for them. Although it was only a week, this trip was incredibly inspiring and taught me invaluable life lessons, such as how important it is to appreciate even the simplest things

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