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. ❖
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.
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!
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 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.
Guatemala is facing an unprecedented emergency on top of the pandemic, as 779,900 Guatemalans have been affected by tropical storms. People living in high-risk areas sought refuge in municipal or government-run shelters after being forced to leave their homes. The winds damaged houses, knocked down trees, triggered flash floods and landslides in many areas. The governments’ National Coordination for Disaster Reduction, transit police, soldiers, and community individuals have worked together to rescue desperate people. Guatemalan officials have warned that heavy rain would continue, with swollen rivers and possible landslides affecting highways and flooding in coastal areas. We pray this heavy rainy season does not spread the virus as, in emergency cases, people leave their homes with no protection and no possibility of social distancing.