The project that requires a trip to a foreign country I had never been fascinated me. A medical mission, translator, and El Salvador. The idea of using my skill to help others who live in a completely different culture made me persuade my parents to pay for the trip. Although I decided to this medical mission as my Senior Thesis Project, I knew nothing about El Salvador except that they need medical help and speak Spanish.
I’m in the Spanish III class but I wasn’t so confident about my Spanish skill that I thought I would have a problem when I speak with native speakers. All warnings about the diseases I might possibly get such as malaria worried me a little bit. But my mind was already in El Salvador and I was ready to face any challenges that would come during the project.
Members of the mission group, doctors and nurse practitioner from Syracuse area who had traveled to El Salvador previously told us that men with machine guns stood at gas stations, unpleasant bathrooms awaited in villages, and unsafe water poured freely everywhere. To protect myself against the water, I practiced taking a shower with my eyes and mouth shut before the trip. I took malaria pills too. But when we packed medical supplies for El Salvadorians I again realized that this trip was not about me but people in El Salvador. The basic hygiene products, reading glasses, and sandals that we could easily get from local stores were luxury goods for them. I hadn’t thought serious about true meaning of the trip before the packing day. I was simply excited to experience my first medical mission and visit El Salvador. I began to think about the people who needed our help.
The heat, palm trees, and Spanish words greeted me at San Salvador airport. From the airport, we went to San Juan Evangelista, the church where we ate dinner every night during the mission’s trip. At the church with, we unpacked the suitcases with medical supplies, and organized all supplies and gifts we brought. I counted medications and put them in labeled containers for hours. We stayed at Hotel Terraza, a clean and tidy hotel that included a pool. The lobby has a bar and connected to the pool and breakfast buffet. I was surprised when I heard that the cost of accommodation per day was only 36 dollars. Someone explained to us that the average monthly salary of El Salvadorians is 120 dollars. I was shock to face the reality of the country. The differences between this country and where I came from was incredible. The gap between the rich and the poor is extreme and that only 16 families in El Salvador own the most of fortune in the country. Monumento a la Memoria y La Verdad (Monument to Memory and Truth), which features the names of 30,000 people who died during the country’s civil war explained the complicated situation El Salvador was in and a number of patients who needed mental care. It reminded me of the brutal war of my country in the past and helped me understand El Salvadorian culture.
Nika, Alexia and I became runners. We measured height and weight of villagers came and ran people station to station where two to three doctors and nurse practitioners were waiting for next patients. We also taught CPR to local health promoters and performed skits for children about hand washing, singing “Un Elefante” and brushing teeth singing “Chiki Chiki.” After skits we handed out soaps, toothbrushes, and toothpastes. People were small and heavy which meant that there were a lot of people who suffered from malnutrition and obesity. Children needed to be taught how to brush their teeth and how to wash their hands. Ms. Kinneally explained to us that basic hygiene products such as soaps, toothpastes and toothbrushes were luxury to these people. They’d rather buy more food than a soap. Days passed similar to the first day, but we got used to our job. Nika, who didn’t know how to speak Spanish, could now say “gracias,” “mas,” “menos,” and the more basic words we used every day. I could convert pounds to kilograms without the use of a calculator and began to speak Spanish more confidently. From every villages we visited I saw love and care among villagers. Grandchildren brought their grandparents to pick their reading glasses, a husband picks reading glasses for his wife, a ten year old boy who had problem reading textbook picks his white reading glasses. I saw love and hope in their eyes. We were just a bunch of visitors who helped them once a year but the care from a grandson to grandmother would last longer. The most impressive fact I discovered in El Salvador was the power of family love.
Of the patients we met, hypertension, obesity, urinary infections, malnutrition, and depression ranked as the top conditions, and we saw about 110 to 180 people per day. The hottest day was 108 degree, and there was no air conditioner. Once in a while one nice breeze cool us down. When I think back on that week, I remember the friendly smiles of villagers, the Salvadorian dinners at the church, the tuna sandwiches we are for lunches, the stone toilet in the last village, Las Bromas, and the pink flowers that kids in the village gave us. Now I want to go a Spanish language camp, and travel all around Latin America. The trip made me appreciate what I have and taught me the greatness of love that holds hope in people’s minds. The Mission of Miracles showed me miracles come from love.