From Satina Tolman:
I have been going to Guatemala for eight years. It is no secret that I absolutely love the people there, they are my brothers and sisters. This is the fourth year that my husband, Nathan, and I have organized our own team but the first time we have worked with Antonio Salguero as team leaders. He is so helpful and wonderful to work with. I am so grateful for him and all of his hard work. He loves doing what he does and helping his fellow Guatemalans and it shows.
We did three days of dental clinics and were able to help many with their dental needs. Our team of ten consisted of only four of us who have been on past dental mission trips. I am always amazed that every year our team comes together and works as such a unified unit that you would think we have been doing this every day for years. Even from day one, they are all so eager to help that they listen to our instructions on the bus ride there and they hit the ground running. You would never know that most of our team members just barely met each other. It amazes me how quickly we transition from team members to friends and then to feeling like family. I love my team every year. Another thing that happens every year is we bring people who say this will be their only time to go to Guatemala and they are excited for this “once in a lifetime opportunity”. Then by the end of the week, every one of them is saying how they want to come again, maybe not the next year, but they do want to be put on the list to come again. We do not ask this of them, they ask us. Guatemala is a magical place that finds its way into your heart and nests right in.
This year was my favorite year so far because we were able to do so much more service in addition to the dental clinics. On the first day of dental clinic, I saw a woman who had terrible sores on her legs. At first, I thought it may be gangrene because they were very infected and green around the edges, but it wasn’t. It was a bad infection though and it was spreading over her body and she needed to see a doctor. She could not afford to get to the hospital or any treatment or medication they may suggest for her. Antonio and I invited her into a separate room and told her that we want to help her get medical attention. She started to cry and also let us know that she has no food for her two sons, husband and her. They rely on the goodness of their neighbors or eat what they can find in the trash. I was so emotional about this! I thought of my fridge, pantry, and TWO freezers at home, and all of my “food storage” and this mother is having to feed her children from the trash?! I imagined what that would be like as a mother and I couldn’t stand it. So Antonio, another translator man who knows the family, and I walked her and her two boys home. On the way, we stopped at the tiny tienda and, with Antonio’s help, I bought her groceries. We got everything from cornmeal, salt, oil, sugar, flour, to soup bases, eggs, etc. The bare essentials she needs to cook meals for her family. She cried again when she saw the food we were buying and realized it was for her family. We walked her home and carried her groceries for her. Her home was very humble, a lot like many of the homes we see there. This tiny home had boards for the walls with large gaps between each one, not protecting them from the cold. There were holes in the rusted tin roof. It had an uneven dirt floor and no electricity. There were two beds which had no mattresses, only wood boards. They had very little possessions. Her one son was wearing black rubber boots that were too big for him and had a big rip along the outside of the foot. This was how they lived, this was all they had, this was their home. Except it wasn’t her home. We also found out that she and her husband were renting this “house” because their home and property were basically stolen from them and they were forced to move out. They were homeless for several months until they could afford rent. They lived with friends at that time. Before we left and went back to the clinic, I left her with money to get to the hospital and she promised she would go. A couple of days later we went to other stores that had more groceries and supplies. We bought them blankets, clothes, a cooking pot, water purifier unit, and also more food essentials like powdered milk and more cornmeal, some dried meat, cereal, etc. When we took them back to her and her family she was so grateful. She was also happy to show us her legs and how the sores have already started to improve. She had gone to the doctor and was using medicine and in just two days it was looking better. I was so happy! We also had a social worker there with us and we gave her money to make sure they all had decent shoes to wear. Antonio said he will try to get her a home built with one of the Hirsche home building groups that goes down. I do hope they get a home. She, her husband, and their two sons are so grateful, sweet, and just amazing people who have been through too much.
Other service opportunities came at the national hospital in Coban. Actually, it started days before. At the beginning of the week, I asked Antonio what else the hospital needed. He let us know that they are in desperate need of blankets. He explained that the hospital has very limited blankets, not enough for everyone, and it has no heat! There are malnourished children in the hospital who have no blankets and because they cannot maintain their body heat due to the severe malnourishment, they die from cold in the hospital! I was speechless! How could this happen? In a hospital nonetheless?! It is so heartbreaking to think about! So when we went to Walmart to buy supplies we bought them out of their fleece blankets, $300 worth that was donated by the Sweet Home Oregon Rotary Club. We took those to the hospital and gave them to everyone and there still was not quite enough for everyone.
We gave newborn kits to all of the new and expecting mothers. They were so happy! I went into the NICU and I saw the tiniest babies fighting for their lives. There were two who were being kept alive by nurses taking 15-minute shifts to hand squeeze an Ambu bag to ventilate them. Unbelievable! Most of the babies were with their mothers in their beds because there were not enough cribs for everyone. The hospital was ridiculously overcrowded. The doctors, nurses, and staff were working so hard with limited resources, I can only imagine how hard, frustrating, and heartbreaking their jobs must be like. I went into a small nursery and there were about 20 babies in there and only three nurses. The nurses were busy and there were a few babies crying really hard so I asked if I could hold on. I picked one up and he calmed right down in my arms. They just need to be held! Two other women in our group came and they each held a crying baby also. As I was leaving this nursery I looked at the bed that, at first glance, seemed to only have blankets in it. But upon closer inspection, I realized that there were THREE babies in there. I asked and was told they all had different mothers but because they have no clothes they cannot be with their mothers. The rule is that if they do not have clothes they cannot be out in the general population. I do not know why exactly but I wonder if it is because of the heating issue in the hospital. That small room probably stays much warmer than the huge room all the mothers are crowded into. I handed the nurse three more newborn kits for these three babies and I told her that they have clothes now! It was such a rewarding experience to watch her take one of the infants, bathe her, and dress her in the brand new clothes from one of our newborn kits and wrap her in the blanket. These kits really are needed and if it wasn’t for the kits we brought, those three babies would have, indeed, went home wrapped in newspaper.
We also handed out toys to the children and they were so happy! It was heartbreaking to see these children, so many of them struggling with handicaps, birth defects, and a myriad of health problems resulting from malnutrition. My mommy-heart was breaking! There was one little boy who was left abandoned at the hospital a couple of months early when he was only 2 months old. He was severely malnourished when they found him. There was so much need there but we were able to help in a small part with the toys to raise their spirits and the blankets to warm their bodies. We went to the store a few of us team members pitched in together and we and bought over $1,000 worth of infant formula for the hospital. My husband and I went to a pharmacy and, with the help of the governor’s wife getting us a needed prescription, purchased medicine for one particular little girl. She is severely malnourished, blind, has tremors, and other health problems. Her parents can only afford to come to visit her once a month or every other month. They have to pay for her medicine and struggle to afford it. Imagine their joy and hopefully relief, when they received word from the hospital that someone has purchased two months worth of medication and formula for their little girl.
I always am excited to go to Guatemala to see the beautiful people. I appreciate the opportunity to organize dental teams to help relieve their pain so they can eat better and live better. I love to give them hats, hygiene kits, blankets, newborn kits, toys, etc. that have all been lovingly made and donated by many volunteers. I am excited to see the excitement on the children’s faces when they receive a doll or wooden car loving handmade and donated. I love to see the grateful faces and the giggles of the women as we help them and their children. I go to help as much as I can and I look for ways to help in every moment and on the face of every Guatemalan. However, I have been going for long enough now to know that no matter how hard I try or how much I do or how much I give, I can never “outgive” them. The wonderful people of Guatemala, from the volunteers who help us, to the patients and others whom we try to help, always manage to give me way more than I can possibly give them. They give me something more important than hygiene kits, dental care, blankets, etc. The only thing I give that equals them is love, Christlike love I feel for my Guatemalan brothers and sisters and the love I receive in return. They give me gratitude, not only in the thanks they give us but also in the renewed gratitude I experience for all the many blessing I have and gratitude for the ability I have to go and do what we do. I am grateful for this opportunity every year and continue to pray for the people of Guatemala.
– Satina Tolman
From Sharon Hammond:
As this was my maiden voyage outside the United States, I didn’t know what to expect. My bag was filled with all the essentials, toilet paper, writing stuff, first aid kit, snake bit kit, snacks, emergency blanket, water purifying straw, toiletries, and ear plugs to prevent bugs from crawling in my ear. You know the essentials. I was prepared for anything. If the trip was easy or rustic, I could survive it.
The stark contrast of quality of life was nothing I could have been prepared for. In one setting, I was surrounded by such wealth and excess that would make any American wonder if their wallets ever ran out. The next setting was such poverty that even in my poorest living situations couldn’t even imagine where food and clothing was a luxury instead of necessity.
I could talk about those in their ‘Sunday Best’ which were ragged and torn with smiles of joy, love, and unity. The children who played like they were actually famous soccer stars with no shoes on. We could discuss the tenacious and talented sales people who would go to the highest mountains and scariest locations to sale items for their families. An intellectual discourse could be made for the children, who actually survived long enough to walk and talk, dream job is a worker not an astronaut, fire fighter, doctor, or superman. I would like to see any American face a tooth pulling with as much courage, grace, and dignity that a majority of our patients showed because a tooth being pulled was not the worst thing they had to endure. These are only a small sampling of topics I could speak of from my trip.
This country was so full of contradictions, beauty, strength, ingenuity, survival skills, and inspiration that there was no way for me to prepare for any of what Guatemala has to offer the world. The trip was intended to serve these people with all my heart and with humble service. I ended up leaving the country feeling like they were the ones that served me and stole my heart, respect, and admiration. Their lives are hard from the moment they wake up until the moment they lie down at night. Life requires faith, diligence, and hard work from every family member young and old. Somehow inside all of the day to day struggles, they have the ability to smile, make jokes, love deeply, and tenderly care for what they do have. I am sure there are those Guatemalans who suffer from depression, sadness, despair, hopelessness, and powerlessness. My experience only seen a small sampling of the population and the population I saw was the real treasure and wealth of Guatemala.
My home coming to my house overflowing with objects, fridge and pantry full of food, and technology going all day long was a challenge. The internet not working, desk job, and bills just didn’t seem to hold the power it once did. My mind would often flash back to Guatemala, and those people still being able to smile through all their challenges helped me recenter my own priorities. To speak of being thankful for this trip, this would be the greatest misrepresentation I could do. This trip changed me for the better and deeply gave me more than I gave. I will definitely go again in a heartbeat if only to see their strong smiling faces again.
– Sharon Hammond
From Larry Horton:
I greatly appreciated the opportunity to have participated in the Guatemalan trip. Doing this type of work in a third world country has been on my bucket list for a long time…it was the eye opener that I expected. I am amazed at how well organized you and Satina are…you were on top of everything before, during and after the trip. Having Antonio and Joseua as our Guatemalan connections was great. Both were very knowledgeable and fun to be with.
The hotel and resort were far more luxurious than I ever expected, but I have to admit, I liked them both. I greatly enjoyed our time in Antigua and Coban. The history and culture added greatly to the trip. I was really impressed with the farming practices of Guatemala. I am still amazed at how they grow such diverse crops and trees on those rugged mountains. The geography was also very fascinating to me, so dry and arid as we left Guatemala City and so much a rainforest in the mountains. Semuc Champey was a special treat and what a beautiful place!
I have to admit when I saw the razor wire around all of the buildings and the armed guards in front of every door in Guatemala City I was a bit concerned. But once we got into the mountains I felt much more comfortable. The people of Valparaiso were so warm, friendly and open to having us there…I have no doubt that was in large part because of you and the love they had for you and the respect they had for what you helped them with in the past.
I enjoyed seeing the schools and seeing the classrooms. I enjoyed meeting the kindergarten teacher, Corina Catalan and her husband, Audilio Pop Cucul, the District School Superintendent. I only wished that I spoke the language so we could have shared more thoughts about education and schooling. Oh my, if only our teachers and children could only see what I saw. Very few books, very little supplies, very poor facilities and yet, the children and parents seemed to be happy. I was shocked to hear that 40% of the children drop out of school after first grade so they can help support their families…what a tragedy! We Americans are so lucky and we have no idea how thankful we should be!!!
I greatly enjoyed watching the children playing soccer and their laughter was infectious. They were so brave sitting and waiting for their turn to sit in the chair. Chijou and Caceria el Aarco were real eye openers. Poor restrooms, very little drinking water and no play ground equipment… and really no playground at all at Caceria el Aarco. Yet, there is still joy and happiness that must come from their faith, from their friends and from their family. We have so much we could learn from these people.
And I must not forget the hospital visit… one public hospital for 1.4 million people…beyond belief! I have such respect for the doctors and nurses. They are doing amazing things considering their circumstances. I would hate to get sick in Guatemala!
This was a trip like no other, I hope I will get to do it again! Thanks you so very much Nathan and Satina for being the loving/caring/compassionate human beings that you are…if only we could duplicate you both! Please stay in touch!
– Larry Horton
From Peter Quinanola:
I’ve struggled to express in writing the feelings I bear inside from the experience I had in Guatemala. I know that seems cliche to say, but such sacred feelings, born out of the acts of sincere service, are deeply powerful. It was my first experience visiting communities living in high poverty such as those we saw in Central America. I’ve been to nations less fortunate than the U.S., I served as a missionary in Chile, and I’ve spent time abroad in areas of Brazil and Argentina. But none of them compare to the conditions I witnessed in Guatemala. My life truly changed in a matter of 10 days after having traveled with the Hirsche Smiles Foundation to visit the Guatemalan people. I can honestly and plainly say, without an ounce of exaggeration, that I have become a new person from having served with this group of professionals.
My opportunity to go came by random inspiration to a friend, who felt prompted to ask me to accompany him after his wife had opted to travel with. At first I was slightly hesitant to go, having previously heard rough stories from friends who had served as missionaries in Guatemala. I never had intentions to ever visit Central America in my life, mainly because I despised regions of heat, and I felt I had spent enough time in South America. But after having contemplated the once-in-a-lifetime chance, I volunteered to go and take the opportunity to help out; with the primary focus of updating my personal resumé and serving experiences. Naturally, to many that might seem like a wise thing to do in order to enhance scholarship applications and background experience. However, it wasn’t long into the trip that I had forgotten about myself entirely. I must confess my life quickly changed as my original purpose for going was vain and selfish. I repented of my intentions immediately when our team traveled by bus from Guatemala City to Santa Cruz Verapaz. It was a 5-6 hour bus ride through many different towns and communities, of which shocked me as we were exposed to the state of those living outside of the capital. Many houses spread across the country were impoverished, it wasn’t just in a particular area that was suffering. It was a vast and unending sight I had never experienced, even in South America. In the United States we’re use to seeing middle class homes everywhere we go, and every so often we will encounter ghettos. But in country-sides of Guatemala it seemed as if most homes, wherever you looked, were far worse than living in rough trailer parks. I could not believe the homes I saw, and the sight seemed eternal as we continued to travel. The experience was so hardening to me, that it made it impossible to sleep the whole ride to the hotel. Just from observing all of the homes, something inside my heart wanted to do something quickly for those we would be scheduled to see. I no longer cared about my new chance to polish my credentials. In fact the emotions were so raw, my original motives had slipped my mind completely.
Throughout the week, wherever we traveled I sat in the front of the bus to get the full grasp of the experience. My heart softened as I saw families traveling along the road carrying firewood on their backs. I saw mothers and daughters carrying filtered water in buckets on their heads, as they were going home. I saw children who weren’t in school during mid-day, but instead were along the highway selling cheap snacks to support their families. I saw numberless homes made of cement and tin panels which, when you saw them, were obviously without installation. I walked into houses without proper floors, but simply had trodden down dirt as their walking foundation throughout their living quarters. There were homes without kitchen sinks or bathrooms. I was blown away when I saw that people still used outhouses for bathrooms. Something that I was ignorant of, I simply thought outhouses were done away with since the late 1800’s. We entered bedrooms of families who didn’t have mattresses to sleep on, but instead had wood stacks and cardboard on top of their bed frames. The most difficult truth to swallow was that it wasn’t just a few houses that were like this, there were hundreds and thousands of homes we never got to see that were just as poverty-stricken.
My character was impacted with a heavy sense of gratitude as we gave families hygiene kits and blankets. Seeing their eyes excited to take home necessities, that to me seemed insignificant, truly opened my eyes to the things I took for granted in life back home. Little children were in love with the cheap dolls and tiny stuffed animals we brought with us; some toys of which I know with certainty kids at home wouldn’t bat an eye for. They loved their wooden made cars that were brought over with our supplies, and the stickers we gave them. Growing up I believed we were poor in my family, but I now realized that I was a spoiled child with all the action figures, hot wheels, video games and G.I. Joe’s I always had. These kids that we helped out, literally played with plastic soccer balls on dirt playgrounds, and they had a blast. After coming home, I cherish the things I have now. I’m grateful for all that my parents did for me and my siblings. I learned from these people that I should be sincerely grateful for anything someone gives me in the future, no matter how small.
The joy that these people had for little things, humbled me in a way that my missionary experience never did; if it did I had sadly forgotten the feeling. But the families we served in Guatemala touched my very soul, and I am ashamed of who I was before this trip. I had mentioned earlier to others, that the problems these people face are far more real and serious than the ridiculous drama we call trials back home. I thought I was a poor, “starving” college student in Utah, eating Taco Bell and $5 sushi rolls all the time, but I will never complain about my life again after the realities I beheld in Central America. I saw children and parents who were legitimately hungry and had no food in their homes. We had an opportunity to visit a hospital with babies who were actually suffering from malnutrition; with the hospital unable to provide funding for the medicine some of these babies needed. We were introduced to a baby who wasn’t supported by a machine to help her breathe properly, but instead had a rotation of nurses aiding the child with a handheld breathing pump to keep the baby alive. We were informed that at the hospital children died every week, because they had no blankets to keep them warm at night and in the mornings. I broke down in tears when I got back to the hotel because I felt helpless leaving that hospital, knowing that children are dying and people are suffering at such a rate. During one of our working days we were extracting teeth from a woman, when I noticed a severe infection on her ankle. I pointed it out to Satina, one of our team leaders, who later took a picture of her ankle and sent the image to a physician back home. Later to learn that it looked like a parasitic infection, of which she was financially incapable of seeing the doctors for. Members of the team donated money to her, so that she could finally get her ankle treated. From all this I learned that there are so many people in life, all over the world, that truly deserve attention but are unable to receive it. Being down there, I couldn’t help but wish that I were the richest man in the world, so I that could meet the needs of those who could not help themselves. I came to the realization that I no longer wanted to call my problems back home, “real”.
Traveling to Guatemala gave me a sense of reality of what was occurring outside of my home, and as a young man still in his twenties, I am grateful to have had this experience early in life. The reality-check gave me a direction of what I should do later on with my career, and also how I should behave as a human being. Though I will not pursue becoming a medical doctor or dentist, I will still seek a profession that will allow me to do what I am passionate for, while striving to increase my prosperity. By doing so I can return to humanitarian projects such as those like this most recent trip. Along with broadening my views of the future, this trip made me deeply grateful to live in a country that is actually stable enough to allow its citizens to go in any direction their dreams be. Traveling to a nation stricken with severe poverty, and seeing children working instead of studying, hurt me to know they would most likely be stuck, for the majority of their lives, scraping to survive instead of becoming who they dream to be. Visiting this country increased the awareness I had for political positions and candidates running for certain offices in the United States. I found it even more important to follow and support those working to make sure our nation is being taken care of. My trip to Guatemala was proof to me that countries can fall and families could suffer, if people weren’t educated enough to know how or when to use their voices; or realize when their rights were being abused and leaders weren’t held accountable. Again, It humbled my character and allowed me to be grateful for all that I have. No matter how little I think I have here in the U.S., I know that it is much more than those in 3rd world nations. Therefore because of this trip I know what I want to do with my future career, and I know the value my country has with its unbelievable amount of freedom. I think any American citizen who is remotely upset with the U.S., should travel abroad and realize that we have it good here in so many ways.
My adventure matured me immensely and allowed me to let go of drama which I thought might have been important in my personal life. I won’t complain anymore about professors in school, because at least I have professors to learn from, while others only wish they could attend a university. I won’t complain about how my car isn’t the hottest, when families who work full-time in other countries will never even own one in their life. I’m now grateful to have a personal vehicle, while people in Guatemala are cramming together, over the maximum capacity, inside a run-down transportation bus to get to work. I won’t let family or friends complain about how their fast-food order took too long, or throw a fit when their burger has tomatoes on it when they ordered one without them. Because there are children in other countries who don’t even know of such a complaint when it comes to having food. They would eat whatever they could get their hands on. Believe it or not, I won’t complain about all the construction anymore, because at least our cities often do something about updating our highways and transportation routes. I won’t take for granted our plumbing system after realizing we actually have one, and Guatemala barely did. Our tap water runs well, when down there it doesn’t always look healthy. Other countries are so poor they have to charge people to use the public bathrooms, or charge them to use a few sheets of toilet paper! At my apartment in Utah, we complained about how “weak” our dryer was. But now I’m happy we even have one, when other people still hang dry their clothes. In the end, I can honestly say I have matured in many ways now, and to complain about my life is not only petty, but absolutely pathetic.
My list of reasons to be grateful can go on and on, but I think you can see why I feel my life changed. The extreme poverty I saw, the lack government support, the poor education system, and heartbreaking medical shortage struck and pounded on my sense of being. There is so much more from what we saw that’s not even written in my account here, but it would be an insult to God and mortality if I did not express a sense of moral change in my character and in my demeanor from this experience. It is with great pride that I share my story with whoever reads this. I would encourage anyone able to donate or serve, to do so. I would implore you to go with the intentions to change yourself, by forgetting about yourself. The opportunity to travel with the Hirsche Smiles Foundation unveiled an overwhelming sensation of love for humanity and charity. I don’t often cry, nor do I enjoy sharing that fact that I do, but I have never wept so fiercely in my life as our team rendered its service in Guatemala. All the smiles from the children, and the joy of the moms radiated as we took care their kids at no cost, made it feel like we were doing the right thing in life. It was a precious feeling that can only be experienced in the act of service, and no explanation in writing can do justice. Again, I strongly urge anyone who has the power to make a difference, to utilize their God-given privileges and help people who deserve assistance. The lives of those you serve will not only be changed, but your own soul will feel enriched as you give to those who are actually worthy of attention.
To conclude, my travels enhanced the most important aspect of my life, and that is spiritually. Despite all that I was exposed to, one might ask, “If there is so much disaster, starvation, death, diseases, injustice and hardship in life, how can there be a God?” My reply would be that, just because there are many awful trials in life, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t many wonderful and innovative solutions. My adventure to Guatemala testified to me that if we went out and served those who stood in need, we would feel that God uses each of us to create these possibilities of relief to others who suffer. God utilizes us in life to aid those who struggle, as He always has throughout the history of mankind. He does hear prayers, He does hear the complaints and sees hardships of His children, and He replies by sending us to the rescue. By commanding us to serve others around, He simultaneously allows you and I to learn and grow, to become humble, helpful, loving, and caring for each other around the world. Attributes that Heavenly Father intended us to attain in mortality. There are diseases, but God has inspired us to discover scientific breakthroughs in medicine. He has inspired us to engineer modern tools, and practice surgical techniques that save lives. There is starvation in the world around us, yet we are commanded to be His hand in feeding those who stand in need. Organizations are inspired into the hearts of believers and non-believers to reach out and aid villages, countries, and even those on the streets in our nearby communities. He inspires our own hearts in order to provide refuge for the hungry, scared and the sick. Natural disasters strike us, unexpectedly most often, but again, they are opportunities for each of us to be instruments in His hand, and unite one another as a single family on earth. Our opposition in life is meant for rescuing each other. Others suffer from depression, yet He has also given us families, friends, professional counselors and even proper medication if necessary. There is no hardship that has no solution. However, sometimes even when we have done our best, God will still call some of us back to His presence. Even if such loss has been experienced, It is not our place to say, “all is lost and there is no God”, when some can still be taken care of with our inspired efforts and His will. All those who have suffered along the way in life, all those who have met fatality, have all been brought back to the arms of their loving Creator. Why a handful of lives must experience such individual hardships, is most often unknown to us, but our Father has an intimate purpose. We need only carry on and discover His hand if we have not yet seen it. If we do not believe in Him, He certainly believes in us and our capability to bring about relief in the world. Whatever injustice, corruption or bullying there has been throughout the world in this lifetime, we are promised swift justice in the next life to any who have not repented of their unfair actions. I learned from Guatemala, that Heavenly Father lives, He cares about us and He does send help. This truth is easily revealed when in act of service. Sitting around and complaining about hardships is easy, and I learned that the nature of life is dreary and sad most often. But our purpose in mortality is to learn to change our natural weaknesses, learn how to endure to end and help lift those around us wherever possible. By doing so we will feel an undeniable spirit of love and a knowledge that God truly loves His children, even in the most rural and poorest of places on earth.
– Peter G. Quinanola