John Knox Mission Trip,

March 24 -  April 1, 2011

Since many of the natives do not read or write, they sign in with their thumbprint.

This is the main hallway of the clinic; eyes is behind the sheets on the left, dental is behind the orange striped sheets on the right.  In the background and to the left on the porch is one general consult, and another is behind this viewing point.  The pediatric and women’s clinics and the pharmacy are to the right of this viewpoint.  Although it was cramped, warm and stuffy sometimes, in general it provided better furnishings than the clinics on the outskirts of Jacaltenango.

The crowds gather daily to welcome the medical teams.

DISCOVERY AND TRANSLATION: MEDICAL MISSION IN ALTA VERAPAZ

Isabel Carrio May 5th, 2011

As patients’ woes are translated across three languages, ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrío shares her reflections about community health, with a strong sense of humor and compassion.


With great excitement, the FUNDENOR team told me about the upcoming medical mission that would be held in the community of El Rancho, in San Cristóbal de Verapaz, from March 25 to 30. Doctors from the John Knox Presbyterian Church in Ohio, USA, would be coming to help out. As FUNDENOR tells me about the many people in these communities who don’t have the opportunity to get medical attention, I think to myself: “what will my role be in all this?” Then they tell me that each doctor, in his or her exam room, will need a translator for Pokomchi’, a translator for K’ekchi’ (the local languages), and a translator from Spanish to English. Now I get it! I will be translating.

I am enthused about this unknown plan. Beyond the fact that I have always been interested in medicine, this will be another non-conventional way of getting to know the community with whom I am working these days: Guachcuz.

The first day of the mission came around, and everything was tidily prepared. The doctors would see patients for general medicine, dentistry, ophthalmology, and pediatrics.

Many people were already waiting outside when we reached the health clinic. Some were standing in line, others sitting on the grass in the shade with their numbers in hand, their sweaty children on their laps, and the hope that the American magicians would solve all of their problems. The group of doctors arrives at the health clinic each morning and immediately heads to their exam rooms. With no further ado and with great enthusiasm they get to work. And we translators get to work, too.

I was assigned to the general medicine exam room, with doctor Patti Filus. Patti has all of her medical instruments ready, but she also has her Spanish dictionaries out and neatly organized notebooks filled with notes. She is excited to practice her Spanish and also wants to learn Pokomchi’. She immediately greets each patient with a “Kalen;” she is very attentive and warm with all of them.


When a patient walked into the exam room, Ronaldo (the Pokomchi’ translator) would take down his or her personal information and ask what the problem was. The patient would respond to Ronaldo in Pokomchi’, and Ronaldo would tell me in Spanish. I would then pass on the message to doctor Patti in English. The sentences went from mouth to mouth.

- Patient: Ti nu nah

- Ronaldo: Dice que le duele la cabeza

- Isabel: She has a headache

- Doctor Patti: How long has she had this headache?

And so forth. Words went back and forth, and more words kept coming, creating a jigsaw puzzle of enigmas, solutions, questions, and answers. Finally the patient would be sent to the pharmacy, which had a good stock of medicine on hand, and the next would come in, one patient after another.

In the afternoons sometimes Doctor Patti, Ronaldo, and I would have laughing attacks in the exam room. They only lasted for a few minutes, and they came for no specific reason. It was probably just our escape, to come up for air among so many comings and goings of translated words loaded with pain and complaints.


The most common problems were dehydration, headache, body ache, weakness, malnutrition, anemia, and gynecological illnesses as a product of contraception methods. A total of 1139 patients from 12 communities were seen in just five days.

The mission was over; during the trip back on the final day I watched from the van as women on the dirt path carried water in great jugs on their heads: headache…dehydration. Men carrying great cuts of wood on their shoulders: back aches and even neck inflammation. We had seen many as patients.

How to approach this reality through art to generate change and foster hope?

The medical mission was a very revealing experience that opened new doors for me in my process of discovery and of growing closer to the community. I was intimately faced with the reality of my new work context and its people. There is much to do. Ideas, investigations, exchanges, and commitments are already coming up, flowing out of these recent experiences with all these people who need us.