Friday, September 12, 2014

Children of the America's Services Needed Now More Than Ever

 Guatemala rarely creates international concern. So when stories like this (below) start inundating BBC, Reuters, ABC, Fox News Latino and other news services, those of us who volunteer on behalf of the well being of Guatemala's people take note. 
This recently published article does an excellent job of demonstrating the cause and effect of a current weather system that is causing deep concern in Central America. 
(Rest of story here) 




 Guatemala’s government has declared a state of emergency in 16 of the 22 provinces, as Central America suffers one its worst droughts in decades. The few dollars a month that a rural Guatemalan family earns is no longer sufficient for even basic nutritional needs as food prices escalate. 
During college, COTA medical volunteers studied Abrahan Maslow's pyramid of basic human needs. Maslow, a renowned psychologist from the 1930's determined that food, water, and shelter were the most critical physiological needs for a human being.
 In the many years of traveling throughout Guatemala with medical teams, our volunteers have seen thousands of examples of what happens to the human body when these three fundamental needs can't be met, and scarce financial resources are not available for medical care. 

Here are a few examples:
Wounds don't heal
Cleft babies who can't breastfeed become malnourished for lack of infant formula.


Mother's can't afford life-saving surgeries

Pediatric tumors can't be cured


Children of the Americas has stepped into the role of providing donated medical, surgical, dental and prosthetic care for the citizens of Guatemala who have limited access and funding for these essential services. Happily, all of the patients in the above photos were successfully cared for through our donations of care. 
With news spreading on the nutritional and economic effects of the Guatemalan food staple shortages, our work is more important than ever. We anticipate a busy and effective medical team in January of 2015 when we next travel to Guatemala. 
As medical volunteers, we are not equipped to deal with the food shortages in Guatemala; we nourish the body in different ways, and most importantly, we help save vital financial income for families through the donation of our medical care. 
The drought and ensuing food shortages that will come of this weather system are not for COTA alone to fix. We will do our part, using our talents and humanitarian efforts to ease the medical care burden on the women and children of Guatemala. 
We will go into Team 2015 doing what we do best, with hopes that the international news reports will create a call to action from other governments and organizations to help meet the needs of the citizens of Central America as they struggle with this historic drought. 



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Good News

The last few weeks since the passing of our dear friend Carlos Gomez have been hard. The hundreds of Children of the Americas board members and volunteers who knew Carlos memorialized him and said good-bye to him in their own personal way, but the sadness lingers. 
So it felt particularly poignant and uplifting, to see the headlines in Guatemala's main newspaper, the Prense Libre. (Link below)
Newspaper article
Douglas, the young man in the article below, was one of our COTA patients in January. Born with an arm and a leg that never functioned properly meant that Douglas either had to be carried or transported via wheelchair wherever he went in Guatemala. When we saw him in our clinic, he was mentally and physically tired of his mobility limitations. He made the brave and challenging decision to have his useless leg amputated. 



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Tribute to Carlos

He was humble and sweet and kind all in one bundle of a handsome young man who didn't know how attractive he really was. At age twenty-four he seemed younger, his touch of innocence radiated within the confines of an environment that created old men from young ones. He was proud of his American roots, grown within a Kentucky foster family who nurtured the best of him at the hardest of times in his life, while he endured painful surgical repairs to a body scared by electrocution burns acquired as a child in his home country of Guatemala. During his time in Kentucky he learned of unconditional love, faith, friendship and of the possibilities available to him if he worked hard. His foster family fostered more than his return to physical health; they nurtured his spirit, educated his mind and returned him to Guatemala as a whole person who was prepared for the life he was meant to lead in his home country. 
Foster mother Jennifer Martin and family
He took their gifts and grew himself up, always with one foot in both worlds, under the guidance of his employers at Mayan Families, his friends in the organization Children of the Americas, and his foster parents, Jennifer and Charlie Martin. 
He was Carlos Gomez. 
Carlos Gomez. How many men share this name in Guatemala? Gomez is like the surname Smith in the states, common and abundant. 
Hundreds if not thousands of people knew better. 
There was nothing common about him. 
Graduation
Carlos always sought excellence within himself and his work. Through his job opportunities at Mayan Families in Guatemala, he became a talented carpenter, but he was most proud of his scholastic achievements. 
He took the life lessons instilled in him by those who cared for him in Kentucky and in Guatemala and he grew them through his own determination to prove to us that he was worthy of our concern. 
He was taught, and remembered well, that life is not defined by your past, but rather by your efforts to overcome. Carlos came from a social background that would have served as an excuse for most, but instead became an experience used to do better and become more than he might have without the guidance of many who cared for him.
He loved the organization that gave him back his health. When he first traveled to the United States, escorted by COTA Executive Director Rosemary Vance in August of 2001, Carlos began a series of four trips to Kentucky for donated surgeries. Most who knew him had little idea of the extent of his burn injuries and the wound care issues he had up until his passing.  He was grateful and respectful for the efforts on his behalf, and he understood, in a way unique to him, that the best form of gratitude was to give back to those who had helped him. Carlos's endless enthusiasm for helping on Children of the Americas teams sustained us when our energy lagged and inspired us in the wee hours of the mornings as he translated for our night shift nurses. During teams he slept little, ate less and worked hard so that he could make every moment count with the team members he loved. 
Carlos, always happiest on a COTA Team (2008)
In his honor, Children of the Americas is creating The Carlos Fund, which will be used to help other Guatemalan team translators with the financial burdens they incur while volunteering for our medical teams. Like Carlos, these volunteers loose a week of income, travel at their own expense and work long hours to assist us with patient care. 
Carlos would be honored to think that in his passing, just as he did in life, he continues to give back. 
Contributions can be sent by clicking the donate button to the right, and making note that the donation should go to:


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Happy Feet in Guatemala

Children of the Americas Team 2014 volunteers have been back from Guatemala for almost six months now, but there are many times that we find our minds wandering back to the patients we helped in our favorite Central American country. Families like this one (below), who traveled to see our American doctors so that their children could see a pediatrician. They had heard about our free vitamins and medicines, our compassionate hearts and  talented doctors.
A family patiently awaits medical care from COTA doctors
Families who waited for hours, patiently and gently while they tended to their children and visited with each other. It is one of the things we love about our Guatemalan patients during the annual dental/surgical/medical teams we take each January; the patient, calm people who cheerfully wait hours for us without the expectation often found among America's sick. 

Until we started giving out free shoes. 
That's when the energy of the courtyard changed to a sense of urgency. 

Waiting in line for donated shoes
Shoes in Guatemala are often an expense that families have a hard time affording. The majority of Guatemala's school-aged children walk miles a day, up trails that are slippery with mud during the rainy season. They need shoes that fit, and socks to prevent blisters that then become infected. We see all of the medical issues in our clinics that bare feet exposed to the elements bring, including parasites transmitted through skin.
Without shoes, children are not allowed to attend school. Without school, economic limitations have a lifelong effect. It seems so simple, but most of our patients parents have an average family income of less than a dollar a day. Purchasing shoes for even a few children every year cost a father more money than he makes in a month. 

This explains why, when COTA volunteers opened our boxes of donated shoes in the courtyard of the hospital we were working in, the karma of the hospital grounds changed. 
There was a sudden charge in the atmosphere, almost like mothers could smell the leather, and we quickly realized that caring for our Guatemalan pediatric patients meant keeping their feet covered. At our last board meeting we voted to add shoe donations to our list of things we will provide for future patients. We saw over 2,000 patients in January, and there is no way to provide shoes for all the children we will see on our next team in January 2015. But we can try.

COTA volunteers are used to not having enough...Guatemala is such a land of scarcity that we could fill a thousand containers of shoes and not fit every little foot that needs them. But you can help us make a few feet happy by doing the following:
  • Ask you friends and family to donate new children's shoes for us to take to Guatemala in 2015. (Used shoes create customs issues)
  • Ship or drop them off to: Jody Greenlee,1781 Eastwood Drive, Lexington, KY 40502
  • Do a shoe drive for our patients among your church group, book club or with co-workers. 
  • Purchase children's socks for us to give out with shoes. 
  • Post this blog on your Facebook page and write a post asking for shoe donations.  
  • Shoe donations need to arrive by September 1st in order to be added to our container. 
Sturdy athletic shoes, children's rainboots, sandals and lace shoes preferable. 
Thank you in advance for helping COTA with this project for next January.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Things Will Be OK

Most of the Children of the Americas board members have hosted medically fragile Guatemalan children in our 
homes as foster children. When one of our own is preparing to return one of our foster children back to their Central
American parents we understand what they are going through. The sleepless nights with a sick baby who isn't yours
biologically pales in comparison to returning that same baby, who now feels like your own, to his or her parents.
Compounding the list of worries are the conditions our foster children return to: seldom do they have running water,
concrete floors or electricity, and almost always they live far from competent medical care should they have a recurrence of their physical issues.
All of the above is reason enough for many people decline the opportunity to open heart and hearth to a sick child. 
Nurturing a sick foster child creates invisible heart strings that stay forever attached. Being willing to travel on 
this emotional journey is not for the weak. Below is the story of the return of Ceele, our most recent returnee in our 
foster program, and two very emotionally brave foster parents.

 "I am not sure how many of you know but Warren and I will be returning 
Celee to her family in Guatemala on Friday. This will not be an easy 
transition for anyone concerned. She has been told that she is going 
back to her mother and we talk about it and show her photos all the time
 but I am not sure she really grasps the concept that she will be 
leaving Bebe and Papa B. She knows there is something going on that is 
different and she has been clingy and a bit bratty the last couple days.
 Who can blame her though. She has become very comfortable here and she 
has been a joy to take care of. She cannot say PAPA B so she has 
shortened it to POP which she screeches every time he comes home so you 
can imagine how tightly wound around her little finger he is. POP is 
going to miss her a lot as am I. She has really become quite the 
personality in her 7 months with us and her devilish smile will be 
greatly missed. She appears to have the best outcome surgically of the 3
 girls we have had with this problem. She seems to have more of the 
normal nerves and muscles that these kids are usually missing which 
should bode well for toilet training and less leakage in the future. 
Keep us in your thoughts. We meet with the parents on Sunday and go to 
her village on Monday."
Bev (foster mom)
A few days later, Bev wrote this:
" This was the easiest transition we have ever experienced... Amazing as 
that sounds. Celee was very nervous on Friday and got upset when either 
one of us was out of sight. Saturday was spent with Cristy and Dr. Marco
The Reunion
and she was much more relaxed. Sunday we went to a resort near her village and after several hours her parents arrived by a micro bus. They had been warned that she might not remember them so they were in tears when we entered the restaurant at the resort. I immediately went to give the mom a hug. Celee was walking with Warren and her mother held out her arms and Celee slowly went to her. She sat in her lap for ten minutes just staring at me as if to say "I know I belong here but I am going to miss you".  After ten minutes she was giving her mom a run for her money playing and laughing. It was so encouraging to watch. The trip to her village was over the worst roads I have ever been on. She will be very isolated but Dr. Marco is not too far away and the parents know they can call him with any questions. There are more stories... more than my typing skills will allow. I do have many photos tho. I could not have asked for a better transition although we will miss her a lot. She is no longer in Cherry Hill but she is in a home filled with love. Bev."
( Below written by Warren Brandwine, Ceele's foster father and COTA board member. )
"Well, things went amazingly better than expected. We stayed in a little hotel 
not too far from the road to where the parents live. They came to the hotel 
Sunday afternoon and, as instructed, just sat and let Ceele wander around and 
get used to things. She recognized her parents and sat on her mom's lap for a 
while and things progressed nicely from there. By dinner time she and the 
parents were running around having a great time. We asked Ceele where she wanted 
to sleep and she elected to stay with her parents. Late that night there was a 
crying baby knocking on our door but it was a better start than we anticipated.

Monday afternoon we drove to the parents house. Two inches on the map; two and a 
half hours of driving. Good road to bad roads to horrible roads to no road to a 
path. When we got out of the cars there were at least 60 people crowded around 
us, all in native garb, incredibly excited. They all knew the story of Ceele and 
she was the first person from the village to go abroad. Some people had told the 
parents that we would sell her organs and they would never see her again.

Music playing, they all crowded around and walked us to the house. We spent 
about two hours there and these people stayed there every minute. They watched 
while we ate, while we talked. When I took the baby out for a walk, the crowd 
parted like the sea. When we sat down, they all gathered around and stared."
"It was very hot and humid. We were all sweating. We said our good-by's, they all stood on rocks and hills and trees and waved. Ceele stayed inside with the mother. I do not know what happened after that. The mom cannot read or write and speaks only K'iche. I think she is quite smart and will be very careful and thorough in her care of the baby. Unfortunately, medical help is several hours away. They have one electric light and one outlet. A small refrigerator would blow the fuse. The older sister, Catarina, is 15 years old, smart, pretty and very devoted to Ceele.
 I think things will be OK." 
Warren 

Monday, May 5, 2014

COTA Nurses

The National Nurses Association recognizes May 6th as National Nurses Day. In keeping with a similar holiday a few days later, COTA would like to think that as well as Mother's Day, National Nurses Day should be every day.
The nursing profession is viewed through the prism of the need at the moment. If you have no medical concerns, and you just happen to know a neighbor or relative who is a nurse, public sentiment tends to see nurses as emotionally connected and overall friendly people. Kind, caring and competent would be three adjectives that come to mind. 
However, if you or a loved one are sick, and you suddenly find yourself in an emotionally charged and frightening medical situation, your view of the nurse assigned you can change. This person, once a stranger, is now responsible for the life of yourself or your loved one. Looking through the spectacles of fear can change our outlook and our reactions. Many COTA board members and volunteers have stood by the bedside of ill relatives in the last year, we understand this fear both professionally and personally. 

How would we as patients, feel if our nurses didn't speak our language, came from another country and didn't always understand the nuances of our culture? 

Guatemalan women waiting for care in COTA clinic
What would make us sit in long lines, waiting for care that we may or may not understand, hoping for a chance to be attended to by people unlike ourselves? 
There is only one reason: trust. Believing that your nurse, whether a stranger or a neighbor, will be:
Kind
Caring
and Competent


 Happy Nurses Day to to all of our Children of the Americas nurses. You make the world a better place both here and in Guatemala.