By Caleb Stewart, Account Associate, AMN Healthcare
Buenas! My name is Caleb Stewart, and I am on the adventure of a lifetime.
About six months ago, I was sitting at my desk at AMN Healthcare when I received a call from a company executive. When I picked up the phone I didn’t know what to think, but to my excitement she told me I had been picked to go with AMN and HELPS International on the Team Esperanza mission to Guatemala. To say I was excited is an understatement – I literally ran around the office yelling in Spanish.
Now six months later, we have just completed our first full day in Huehuetengango, Guatemala. The trip here definitely added to our adventure. The flight and hotel the first day went smoothly, but the six-hour bus drive from Guatemala City to Huehue was a real introduction to the curvy, bumpy roads of Guatemala. I’ve never gotten carsick but that was pretty close. I’m think we took one of the curves on the side of a mountain at about 60 miles an hour.
We made it, and have been staying at a military base where everyone has been so friendly and welcoming. I’m here as a member of one of the stove teams. Last night, we were shown how to build a stove, and we also got to help with some of the logistics of getting the hospital and clinic ready to start seeing patients the next day. After our first night spent at the base, we woke up early to eat breakfast, pack into a van and head out to where we would be building stoves.
For those who don’t know, the stoves help families in a variety of ways. They prevent future health problems by venting the smoke out of the house. They are much more fuel efficient, which is very important in a country where the main fuel is wood; they save trees and they save people from hauling huge loads of wood on their backs out of the mountains to their homes. They also help prevent children from burns caused by falling into fires, which are built on the floor of homes for cooking.
We drove about an hour in a van and then another 15 minutes in the back of a truck into the mountains to reach the families we would be helping. We were split into three teams and built a total of 15 stoves in one long day.
It is very difficult to put into words our emotional experience. Every family we met was so kind, selfless and excited to see us. Their lives are so different than I had ever imagined. They live in a very poor part of the country but even with having so little they seemed to be more content compared to what most of us in the United States think we need or “deserve.”
It has only been one day of installing stoves, and already I’m realizing how blessed we are and how thankful I am to have the chance to come on this trip. From little children only a year old to elderly women caring for an entire household, all were some of the kindest people I have ever met.
Sitting here now as the day is winding down, I’m realizing just how phenomenal this trip truly is. We get to help people with healthcare services, stoves and other projects in a really impoverished area. And, everyone has come on this trip with the same goal in mind – to help.
Sometimes, helping does not sound like much. But when you realize that everyone has come to help in their own specialized way, it truly becomes an amazing thing to see. Whether you are on the medical teams or the stoving teams, whether you are a physician, nurse, technician, food preparer, trouble-shooter or a stover like me, you have a special and important duty this week.
This is my first mission trip, and I have never experienced anything quite like it -- every single person here has a goal and is so eager and happy to accomplish these goals. The trip has just begun, but I am so excited to begin a new day tomorrow and be able to bring joy and help to such deserving families.