Getting in the Guarjila Groove: GROW’s arrival
Each summer, GlobeMed at UT-Austin sends a team of GrassRoots On-Site Work (GROW) Interns to our partner, Clinica Ana Manganaro (CAM) in Guarjila, El Salvador. GROW interns spend the summer with the community, living in family homestays, spending time at the clinic and being immersed in life in Guarjila–all while strengthening a partnership in solidarity. This year is our third GROW trip with 5 interns and over the next several weeks, they will be reflecting while on-site.
For the first blog post detailing our GROW trip, I don’t know where to start. The beginning makes the most sense, and our adventure begins with our traveling to Guarjila. People say something always has to go wrong when you travel. You forget something important, you leave your house doors unlocked, you leave the lights on, you leave your air conditioning running, or you forget to feed the cats. Well, we left Sam, one of five members of the GROW team. Unfortunately, Sam checked into the gate five minutes too late for the gate to process her luggage for an international flight and was not allowed on the plane. This Saturday, we will be reunited, as Sam got another flight to join us. We cannot wait for Sam to arrive here in Guarjila. We are not a complete team without her.
As for what we have experienced since we arrived, El Salvador and Guarjila and the people here are indescribable; there are no words—English or Spanish—that can accurately portray their kindness, open-heartedness, and compassion. Nothing I had been told about where I was going prepared me for this amazing place that I am so fortunate to call home for the next month.
When we walked off the plane, Marlene, Clinica Ana Manganaro’s (CAM) head nurse, and Carlos, one of the clinic’s ambulance drivers, were at the airport to greet us with hugs and kisses, despite the fact that we had never met them before. The language barrier and the distance did not stop us from feeling an instant connection and trying to communicate with what Spanish we knew and what English they knew. We began our three hour journey to Guarjila, and on the way we stopped at the zoo. Yes, the zoo. Carlos became the tour guide because Marlene wanted to protect our luggage in the car (such a good mother from the start). After we had oohed and aahed at all monkeys, llamas (that had as much personality as Kuzco from “The Emperor’s New Groove”), water buffalos, and lions, tigers, bears (oh my!), we stopped at an area to eat lunch and had our first contact with wifi, which felt to me like a oasis in the middle of the desert even though I had literally checked my email five hours before. Getting our last taste of wifi (until posting this), we carried on to Guarjila.
I have traveled a lot in my life, but I have never been in as beautiful of a place as the mountains of El Salvador. Everywhere you look is green and has jungle and has people walking along the road who have a look that only hard work can give you. After a scenic drive, we arrived in Guarjila and had our first look at the clinic. All of us rejoiced in unison, unable to contain our excitement. We all could not believe that after all this time, we were able to see it in person. Seeing the vivid mural and poster reading “Clinica Ana Manganaro” was surreal. It made all the pictures from the previous GROW trips come to life before our eyes. This was such a precious and unforgettable moment that the GROW team will never forget.
Dr. Elias, the clinic’s pediatrician who visited us in Austin in April, was there to greet us. He took us on a quick tour of the clinic, which was closed for the day by the time we arrived, showing us the results of past projects Clinica Ana Manganaro did in partnership with GlobeMed at UT Austin such as El Chalet (a free food cooperative to provide nutritious meals for expectant mothers and children in the community using local agricultural products).
After the tour, Dr. Elias asked if we wanted to go to a dance class with him in Chaletenango, the nearest city, and we agreed, excited to try new things and get a quick workout. The class ended up being in a small room without air conditioning and was packed. I would compare the feel of the room to the temperature of rooms in hot yoga, around 100 Fahrenheit and humid. We all sweated an amount that we didn’t know was possible and had to take breaks to step outside into the cool air. After the class, we went grocery shopping to buy our bottled water and we, “las gringas” received many stares from customers in the process. Arriving at our homes, with our gracious hosts and their families, our first day on the ground was complete. We took showers for the first time, which meant standing in an outdoor area with a tub of water and using a bucket to scoop water to pour over ourselves. Then we crawled into our beds and had night one of bug wars, which consisted of my roommate Haley and I avoiding the walls and brushing the bugs that landed on our beds to the floor.
The next morning, Dr. Elias and I decided to go for a morning run. Leaving the other GROW girls sleeping peacefully, I woke up at 5am and met Dr. Elias. I was mentally prepared for a difficult workout, considering all the hills in the area, yet little did I know that Dr. Elias would take me running through Guarjila and then up to the peak of the tallest mountain in the town. Over a mile of straight incline, the climb took about forty minutes; no measly Austin hill could prepare me for that. However, the view from the top took my breath away for a different reason than being tired. I could see all the mountains for miles and the towns nestled in between. I cannot wait to revisit that spot and spend some time there with the rest of my team.
After the run, we all ate breakfast in El Chalet at the clinic, and then started our first full day at the clinic. Right away, I accidentally got split up from the rest of the team. Dr. Elias told Haley and me that it was time to go, and Haley ran inside the clinic to get Elizabeth and Alice while Dr. Elias ushered me into the truck that was leaving. As I closed the back door, the car started going, without any of the rest of the GROW team inside. On Tuesday and Thursdays, the doctors in CAM travel to remote towns in the area and visit patients there. I got to be a part of that trip. I tagged along with Dr. Elias to examine children in a town called Nombre de Jesus. Meanwhile, Haley and Elizabeth visited the school in Guarjila and helped prepare materials for CAM, and Alice did administrative work, checking in patients. Once Dr. Elias and I, having examined many children, returned from Nombre de Jesus to Guarjila, he said he had a surgery in the afternoon and that I was going to help him. I was so excited, as I did not expect being able to participate in a surgery, especially on my first day. I got scrubbed up and sanitized and helped Dr. Elias remove worms from the head of a kicking and screaming toddler by helping to stop his bleeding, while Hayley attempted to calm the baby by singing songs she made up in Spanish and restraining his flailing limbs. Little did she know, her own limbs would be the next subject of attention in the OR later in the day.
Inspired by the baby’s surgery, Haley asked Dr. Elias about the glass that she had in her foot from a previous accident. Dr. Elias requested that he take a look, and she got on the OR table. The next thing we knew, Dr. Elias had applied local anesthetic to her foot and was performing another surgery, this time on one of our own GROW interns. Elizabeth was helping with the surgery while I held Haley’s foot and leg still. Haley is now safely recovering and has bonded with many others in the clinic over her new and exciting battle wound. Now, she too, has benefitted from CAM and El Salvador’s free health care system.
After a full day’s work at the clinic, Marlene hosted a sex education workshop for teenagers in Guarjila, and we stayed and got to meet a lot of girls and boys in the town, while they discussed safe, healthy sex and contraceptives, an important topic considering the high rate of teen pregnancy in El Salvador. After the workshop, we went out to eat dinner in Chalete (short for Chaletenango) with three doctors, Dr Elias, Dr. Fuenes, the internal medicine specialist, and Dr. Jennifer, a doctor working in Guarjila for her “social year” of medical training.
Having just returned from dinner, I am sitting here writing this, having a late night conversation with Haley about our time here so far and the amazing people we have met. We have been here for less than forty-eight hours and literally have not stopped smiling. I am so happy to be here and cannot wait to see what the next few weeks will bring. We will get to know the community, see the way CAM operates, and start brainstorming sustainable projects to collaborate on next year.
With lots of GlobeMed Love,