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.