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Stories

Meet Mayra Chen, Health Promoter

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Meet Mayra Chen. Mayra lives in the Mayan village of San Juan Chamelco in the mountains of Alta Vera Paz. She started with us as a health promoter when she was 17 in 2005 and now manages the Nutrition Program in her department and personally is responsible for 26 of the children. She is typical of those who visit the children each month, provide health care when they are sick and is their escort and translator when time for surgery. Without committed people like Mayra, our in-home nutrition program would not exist and thousands of children would never have had their clefts repaired.

Photo: Stephanie Jolluck

New Online Database for Cleft Infant Nutrition Program Children

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We now have an online database of all children in the Cleft Infant Nutrition Program! Our health promoters are able to take photos and do the children’s monthly health report on cellphones and upload this information to the database when cell coverage is strong or wi-fi available. This new capability allows us to begin a program where sponsors automatically get monthly updates with photos and information on the child’s progress direct from the health promoter. If you would like to sponsor a child, please contact us for more details.  This is an opportunity to follow a child’s development, see where the child lives, and help expand the Cleft Infant Nutrition Program to include even more children.

Photo: Stephanie Jolluck

Covid Didn’t Stop Us!

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First, there is good news about Kevin (pictured above), a child featured in a previous newsletter. He was scheduled for surgery with the March 2020 Smiles for Guatemala team – the last team allowed before COVID locked down the country. However, in addition to Kevin’s mother losing her sight, the father without work transportation and two hurricanes flooding their village, Kevin became sick and missed his surgery date. Throughout all of this misery our health promoter, Zoila, traveled six hours to get to Kevin’s village with formula and basic food for the family. And, in February four Guatemalan plastic surgeons agreed to volunteer a few days each month and in March Kevin got his lip repaired.

These Guatemalan teams have now completed 68 cleft lip and 33 cleft palate surgeries and in July plan to provide additional 45 children with cleft repairs. Every child and the accompanying parent were COVID tested prior to surgery and fortunately all results were negative. And we also know from our post-operative follow up in patient homes, none contracted COVID during their trip to the hospital. As appreciative as we are for these volunteer surgeons, our cost is more than three times what it is typical for an international team.

However, change is on the way and international teams are beginning to return! Medical Mission for Children will complete the reconstruction of 23 incompletely formed ears by early July and our first general and gynecology surgical team will begin mid-August. More good news is that we are expecting a Hernia surgery team to arrive in September, the George Washington Hospital team in November and a December team from Los Angeles with an emphasis on head and neck procedures.

Good News to Share From Guatemala!

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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic over a year ago, volunteer teams have been unable to travel to Guatemala. In the interim, over 100 new patients were added to the Cleft Infant Nutrition program, which was already bursting at the seams. A drastically reduced staff needed support and hundreds of other waiting patients had to have contact maintained. Things looked pretty bleak. We wondered how Partner for Surgery would survive. Read More

Photos Show Devastation in Guatemala After Hurricanes Eta and Iota

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In addition to struggles resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, Guatemala suffered the effects of two back-to-back hurricanes in late 2020. COVID took so much from rural Guatemalans this year, and Hurricanes Eta and Iota took what was left. Crops and livelihoods were destroyed. Homes were lost. Below is a collection of photos from our In-Country Coordinator, Liset Olivet.

Partner for Surgery 2020: Statistics & Updates

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2020 was certainly an unprecedented year. In the first 10 weeks of the year, we were able to perform 218 surgeries and identify 488 rural patients for surgery. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, no teams have been able to go to Guatemala since the last one left in mid-March. After that point, the remaining 18 surgical teams scheduled for 2020 were rescheduled for 2021 and our focus shifted to sustaining the growing Cleft Infant Nutrition Program. The CINP currently serves 219 families and includes education on and prevention of COVID-19. Additionally, we are also supporting 100 families with basic food needs following Hurricane Eta, as mentioned in the previous story on Yesica Choc’s family. ❖

Health Promoters Provide Critical Assistance After Hurricanes

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Like so many of you, this holiday season we are grateful for the many blessings we have received, and we look forward to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021.

For many in rural Guatemala, however, this year has been even more devastating than the impacts caused by the coronavirus alone. This year’s challenges have been compounded by the catastrophic rains, floods and landslides from Hurricanes Eta and Iota, resulting in lost crops and lives, as well as 391,850 damaged homes. More than 300,000 people are currently living in temporary shelters. Starvation has become a reality for many in the rural communities we serve. 40% of the 218 families with children in our Cleft Infant Nutrition Program are now in dire need of food. Therefore, in addition to providing life-saving baby formula and health monitoring, we have stepped in to provide 100 families with basic food for survival.

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$75,000 Matching Campaign: Your donation makes double the impact!

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We have exciting news to share with our donors, volunteers, and friends! A major donor has generously pledged $33,000, and the Partner for Surgery Board has committed $42,000 to kick off the end of year campaign with $75,000 in funds to be matched. Partner for Surgery needs strong donor support to continue the Infant Nutrition Program, retain critically needed staff, and provide public health education surrounding COVID-19 to our families. Your generous donation can have double the impact this year! The matching campaign ends on December 25th, 2020. We hope you will help us meet the match and are including a remittance envelope for your convenience. Thanks for your support!

Partner for Surgery in a Time of Crisis

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Ariel Marroquin has been Partner for Surgery’s Director of Rural Operations for eight years.  Here he relates the story of once again being able to visit the rural communities we serve:

A few days ago I went out again to the rural areas, something I have done a million times but had to stop for six months due to the Covid curfew and transportation restrictions. Finally –  it felt great! I was so excited to see our amazing health promoters Zoila, Carolina, Mayra and Marta – what a reunion!

After hours of driving and walking along narrow, steep paths, we made it to the homes of three of the babies in our Cleft Infant Nutrition program. With so many unanswered needs including no food and no work, they still had hope and welcomed us with open arms.

In one of those houses, I met Hilda. She was born in the small village of Rio Colorado in the town of Purulha, Baja Verapaz with a cleft lip and palate in April and so underweight that she was admitted to the nutritional center for a couple of months before being sent home. Mirna, Hilda’s mother, said that after Hilda was born, she felt very sad and discouraged because her husband was upset and blamed her for her baby’s cleft lip and palate.  Fortunately, our health promoter, Marta de La Cruz, was able to tell the family about our program and showed them pictures of other children that she had helped. Marta knows the parents of these cleft children often think it is the result of something they have done in the past or a curse by a neighbor. As she said – “it is cultural and we cannot fight culture, but we can educate the families.”

Because Marta lives in the rural areas, she was able to get daily waivers to travel to our children in the nutrition program, monitor their progress, and deliver supplies.  Today Hilda is in good health and at our August visit, weighed 6 lbs. 12 ounces!  In a normal year, she would have her first surgery this fall but the international airport is still closed and it will be, at best, early 2021 before the volunteer surgical teams can return.

Hilda and her parents live in a house whose walls are lined with black plastic to keep out the wind and rain. They rely on corn and beans that the father, Francisco, is able to raise nearby.  He is a farmer who normally would find work but since March the lack of transportation has made that impossible.  During our visit, Francisco told me “the disease has taken away the little we had, now no work, no food and no help from the government.  Marta’s visits to make sure Hilda is healthy and to provide us with some groceries are the help God sends to us. Bantiox, bantiox, bantiox (thank you in the Mayan language Qqeqchi)”.

Hilda is one of over 200 now in the nutrition program who are waiting for the teams to return and in the meantime need to stay in the program to assure they remain healthy. When Hilda is one year old there may be over 250 children waiting. Together with your help and the return of the surgical teams, we will be ready to meet the challenge.

 

Kevin’s Story

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Kevin was born on July 28, 2019, in Santa Maria Ruvetzul, Aldea Campur, San Pedro Carchá, Alta Verapaz. He was registered in the Cleft Infant Nutrition Program on August 13. Zoila Tut, Partner for Surgery’s Health Promoter, trained Kevin´s parents, Enrique and Tomasa, to care for baby Kevin. He was happy and developing, so his mom and dad were notified that Kevin was going to be scheduled to receive cleft lip surgery in March 2020. Everyone in the family was so happy and celebrated the news. But, unfortunately, things were about to get complicated. During various visits to Kevin’s home, Zoila noticed that Tomasa was having problems with her vision, and they were becoming progressively worse. Zoila decided to train Kevin’s father and 8-year-old sister on how to prepare the formula, bottles, and feed Kevin to keep him healthy. When Zoila came to visit in January, Kevin had lost one pound, but he had been sick with diarrhea. In February 2020, After Zoila and Aurelio (Nutrition Program Coordinator) did the growth monitoring and control, they realized Kevin had lost 3 pounds in one month. Kevin was not only going to be unable to travel to receive surgery with Smiles for Guatemala but had to be taken to the Nutritional Recovery Center at the Health Center in San Cristobal Verapaz in an ambulance. He was released from the hospital two weeks later completely recovered.

Zoila asked Enrique and Tomasa why Kevin had lost that much weight in one month. Finally, Tomasa said, “I have to be honest. I have completely lost my vision. I am no longer able to care for my son. I can’t get water from the tank, boil it, and prepare the bottle for Kevin. I can hardly walk in the house without hitting myself with everything, and I am afraid to cause a fire and destroy the house. I am unable to take care of my son and my other children. Someone has to help me. But my husband has to go to work to feed our family and my 8-year-old daughter has to go to school. How can I help Kevin?”, Tomasa said.

Then, COVID-19 surprised us in Guatemala, and government restrictions were put in place, including the suspension of public transportation. We rapidly began the process of getting waivers from the government authorities, finding transportation, and providing proper protection for our Health Promoters to continue with their work. Zoila was pleased and grateful to be able to visit Kevin at home despite the pandemic and her having to ride on a motorcycle for 6 hours. In the last four visits, Zoila has focused on continuous training Kevin´s father, his grandmother, and his 8-year-old sister to make sure they will help taking care of Kevin. So, now they are all contributing to prepare the bottles, and Tomasa feels blessed that she can still have this bonding moment of holding and feeding his baby. We at Compañero para Cirugia/Partner for Surgery are committed to accompanying Kevin and his family throughout his journey until we make sure that he receives the surgeries he needs and that he is safe and healthy enough. In the meantime, we are not only providing nutritional supplements for Kevin but essential food and supplies for the family as they are one of the thousands of people who have lost their primary job and income.