By Shelina Manji, MD
My career in pediatrics started as a pediatric speech language pathologist, working with children with special needs. As I sought to do more in my work, I came to the conclusion that medicine would be the path to follow. I have now been a pediatrician for 16 years, and during that time have often thought about working abroad with families in need. The time never seemed right until now. I was given the opportunity by AMN Healthcare to come to Guatemala as part of Team Esperanza.
I flew into Guatemala City where all Team Esperanza participants met up, coming from all over the United States. There was the opportunity to make new friends, listen to the seasoned travelers who had done this trip on several occasions, and to have our questions answered.
The next day, after the Team Esperanza group photo, we boarded multiple coaches for the long ride into the highlands of Huehuetenango, where we would set up our medical facilities in a military compound. As we watched the scenery out of the windows, the landscape changed from traffic-laden urban sprawl to the lush green highlands, crisscrossed with farms and dotted with ramshackle homes, while thin cattle grazed by the roadside.
When we finally arrived at the military base, we were eager to set to work. We were assigned to our barracks and told when to meet up for dinner before starting to unpack and set up for the next day. The official military buildings looked quite imposing on the outside, but on the inside were very reminiscent of a one-star camping lodge! We spent the rest of the evening getting the clinic stocked up and ready to roll the next day.
As the lone pediatrician, I was assigned to outreach for my first day. Together with other medical colleagues, we left for rural homesteads to see families who were unable to make the trek down to the military compound. As we pulled up to the building that would serve as our clinic for the day, I felt like a celebrity. Families looked on curiously, some smiling, children waiting, many greeting us with “buenos dias!” We got to work, setting up rooms and then began to see the patients who may have been waiting since early in the morning for us.
Once the patients started rolling in, it quickly became a hectic pace of seeing kids with an array of chronic and acute conditions, and improvising with the limited supplies we had to treat and educate children and families.
One thing that struck me as I worked with these amazing families was how similar we all are as parents. I saw the obvious glow of pride on parents’ faces as preschoolers showed me how they knew their ABCs and colors. I read the concern on the faces of moms as they recounted how picky their child is at meal times and how little they eat. I saw the awe of new parents as they tenderly unwrapped their bundle of joy for the “expert” to declare all was well.
These families struggle against so many odds, extremely limited finances, resources and opportunities, but yet they share the same hopes, dreams, and concerns of all parents. I’m excited to go back out there tomorrow, to be able to see even more patients than I saw today. What a humbling experience to be given the opportunity to bring some relief and—most of all—hope to families who have so little.
Thanks, AMN Healthcare!