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AMN Mission to Guatemala: Every Contribution Counts (and Everybody Has to Eat!)

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Karen von Boetticher, Human Resources, AMN Healthcare
Guatemala Group PictureSAN CRISTOBAL ALTA VERAPAZ, GUATEMALA - In order to successfully deliver life-changing care to hundreds of San Cristobal patients, or install the 60 disease- and injury-preventing stoves and water filtration systems, everyone who is part of “Team Esperanza” needs to stay healthy, hydrated, and properly fueled for the day’s journey.

In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, this includes coffee and snacks for the night nurses in the recovery room, sack lunches for the off-site “stover” team, and plenty of clean, cool water to beat the hospital heat.  No, we don’t have A/C, even in the operating room most of the time. Maintaining a safe kitchen is of the utmost importance, because tap water in Guatemala contains microbes that can make you very sick. And you can’t take care of sick people or install stoves if you’re sick. So, food and all countertops can only be cleansed with “agua pura” and a non-toxic anti-bacterial solution. And hand washing and sterilizing when entering the kitchen is strict.
Each AMN team member served as a member of the kitchen staff -- preparing and serving more than 360 meals.  My job was wiping down tables with sanitation solution beginning at 0-dark-thirty, and wiping them down again and again and again for 15 hours.

The kitchen is run by four HELPS volunteers, and three of them are residents of Guatemala City.  They spent the past few months preparing the menu and maximizing their budget by baking authentic Guatemalan desserts (tres leches cake, anyone?).  These volunteers almost never left the kitchen during our entire stay.  They are proud to be part of helping people in their own country, and grateful that so many of us come from the United States to contribute.
These women are also some of the funniest I’ve ever met.  They pass time by telling jokes, singing to the radio while we prep dinner, and making fun of each other. They take pride in every dish served, and that includes the bio-degradable plates and utensils being used for the first time during this trip.

For me, working in the kitchen was all about delivering service:  to the surgeon who finished two operations before lunch, and had two more scheduled before dinner; to the nurse who triaged a new patient every few minutes with the help of a translator; and to the maintenance crew that rushed to the OR when an oxygen line stopped working.  Keeping the coffee hot, the water cool and the food plentiful meant the volunteers could fulfill the purpose of our visit to San Cristobal.

Serving in the kitchen reminded me of the important contributions each of us make every day at home and work, and that no contribution is small or insignificant.  The AMN team is a strong, visible presence at the hospital in San Cristobal, but more importantly this week, we’re proud members of “Team Esperanza.”

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