Second week at UPAVIM

Hello again from Guatemala City! It has been a busy week at UPAVIM. The big news for the clinic is that we received a delivery of much-needed medications! We purchased these medications through donations from DGFUMC, via Guatemala Connection and the MJC (missions, justice, and community) Work Area. Dr. Hector, Nurse Johana, and the directors of the clinic committee are very grateful for our church's generosity, and they are excited to see the pharmacy's shelves much more full than usual. We still have about half of the donated funds left, which we will use to buy more medications and supplies for the clinic.

Part of my job at the clinic is to help Elena, the other health volunteer, with the Programa de Crecimiento (Growth Program). On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, we weigh and measure children ages 0-5 to screen for malnutrition. Elena has also implemented some questions and simple tests to screen for delays in mental, emotional, and social development. It was amazing to watch her interact with a 4-year-old girl, who had shown signs of physical and social delays. Over the past month, Elena has been working with the girl and her mother to improve her nutrition, speech, and social interactions. Elena and I hope that parents in the community will continue to bring in their young children with disabilities or developmental delays, because early intervention can make a huge difference.

Wednesday is día de deportes (sports day) at UPAVIM, and it was exhausting but fun. Elena and I led a 30-minute P.E. session for every class, from Montessori (ages 2-4) to sixth grade. Since UPAVIM does not have a gym, we were confined to a small patio, but the kids still had a blast. For the younger kids, we brought out the parachute, which provided endless smiles and screams of joy. The older kids practiced trust and communication by guiding their blindfolded partners through an obstacle course. We taught some yoga poses to the 5th and 6th graders, and then they created their own balance poses with a partner. Although a few students were either out of control or refused to participate, the majority had a fun time playing outside.

In Reforzamiento, we mostly worked on math this week. The preschoolers practiced writing the number five, the first graders practiced basic addition, and I helped the 3rd and 4th graders with multiplication and division. I made a word problem about buying fruit at the mercado (market), which involved multiplication and addition. It took them a little while to get the hang of it, but I helped them set up the problem and they were all very proud when they reached the correct answer. On Thursday, they had a "fun day," which involves a variety of board games, puzzles, soccer, pillow fights, and general goofing around. Everything was fine for the younger kids in the morning, but the older kids in the afternoon started playing too rough. I think it is important for them to have fun and get some exercise, but the way they were playing was starting to become dangerous. I tried asking them to settle down, but the teacher said that they always play rough like this (the other volunteers have also noticed that the children are very physical with each other). I started to feel frustrated, because I think that letting them interact so aggressively only adds to the vicious cycle of violence in the neighborhood. The teacher noticed I was upset, so she asked the older kids to stop hitting each other and to apologize to me. I forgave them and explained that I just didn't want any of them to get hurt. As a short-term volunteer, it is not my place to tell them how to play, but I am genuinely concerned about the community's nonchalant attitude towards violence among children. Since this was not an isolated incident, I'm guessing it will happen again, and I'm not really sure what I will do.

Friday was a holiday at UPAVIM and across the country, so I decided to take advantage of the long weekend. I traveled to Quetzaltenango (the 2nd largest city in Guatemala, locally known as Xela), where one of my medical school classmates is volunteering. Sara told me about her work at the Centro de Salud (health center) and introduced me to her host family, who were some of the friendliest people I have met outside of UPAVIM. We took a tour of the city in an old tram car, and we also did a lot of walking on the cobblestone streets. Two of my favorite sites were the cathedral (which still has the original 500-year-old facade) and the colorful cemetery. I really liked Xela; it is safer, quieter, and relatively cleaner than the capital. My weekend trip was definitely worth the long bus ride through the mountains.


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