Mayan Families Launches Beautification Project

Sharon's daughter
Sharon’s daughter

The news was all over Santander:  Mayan Families has opened a SPA where we can get our “paws and claws” done.

I dropped by to see the brightly colored shop and to meet the Maestra,  a fashionable gal from Texas.  Susan Mabry had her own shop in a swanky neighborhood in Dallas and is delighted to work with Mayan Families imparting cosmetology  to her students.   They have learned to apply nail wraps – silk and acrylic and how to give neck and arm massages.  You can get a simple manicure/pedicure for 200Q or you can get the Deluxe treatments –Sugar scrubs and hot wax facials.

The first time I came, there were some regular Mayan Families volunteers from Faith United Methodist in Westchester, Ohio. They had probably broken a few nails hauling down 27 suitcases full of clothes and school supplies.  And, they were even more excited about getting their ultra-grungy , O’Neil stove installing nails repaired.

I asked one of them what color her nails were being painted.

“’I am not a Waitress’” she said.  In response to my confused look, Celine Woods, Esq. explained that she was a human rights attorney but the polish had been named that.

This group of volunteers traveled down with their children  — to give them the opportunity to serve. In one case a mother who had adopted her, now, teen-aged child from Guatemala was taking him to meet his birth family.

“He and his sister have been talking on the internet for the last few weeks and I expect the meeting to be very smooth,”  she said.

The shop was quite abuzz with the younger girls darting in and out.  One of Sharon’s daughters was in to give the ladies a little practice and, incidentally, to change from Pink to Orange.

“The ladies graduate after they complete 50 Pedicures and an equal number of Manicures.  During this time they are using our tools and they are welcome to buy them—somewhere else.  We don’t sell the tools because then we lose them,” Susan explained.  She even plans to outfit them with traveling beauty boxes so they can be on-call for the hotels.

Way to go, Mayan Families; thanks for always  serving the Mayan community and, this time for making Panajachel even more beautiful.

MFSPA P1070250 Eliz1 mFClientsmall

L-R JoanneAbitabilo, Celine Woods and daughter
L-R JoanneAbitabilo, Celine Woods and daughter

Little Luisa Goes to Physical Therapy

Just after her parent’s 25th wedding anniversary, Luisa (Rosa’s niece) was diagnosed with a form of Down syndrome.  Days after that, Mayan Family’s Dr. Luis de Pena recommended physical therapy for the two year old.  On our way to Fundabiem for her fifth weekly session Maria told me that her daughter seems to enjoy the training.  But, the little one seemed barely able to endure five minutes of having her gnarly feet and legs massaged.  She grew furious, tried wriggling away; started shrieking in frustration.  Tears really rolled when she was set – belly down -over a large bolster.  In fact, the poor kid had been howling purple for fifteen minutes when the therapist at last took a small towel and wiped sweat from her tiny face.  Luisa had raged on majestically until the session’s end and when her workout was over she took the breast and nuzzled her head deep into her blanket.

Before we left, the therapist told Maria that that Luisa needs an appointment to have orthopedic shoes made.  Otherwise the child’s feet will curl like ferns.  This means Maria will need to travel two  hours up to Xela for the fitting.   The receptionist, then, reminded Maria that next Friday Luisa will see the neurologist in Solola for her first assessment.

In a country that has laws about treatment for the handicapped but scarce resources to fund its own programs these NGO’s are providing brilliant service.  Children like Luisa often live their whole lives as shut-ins.  But, Luisa is fortunate to have a large supportive family to keep her stimulated and well cared for.  This is exceptionally good because it is beginning to look like Luisa will continue to require medical services and care.  Luisa needs help with protein suppliments and other expenses, But that’s a budget.ImageImageImage

Mayan Families’ Sustained Sewing Project

Versión española por debajo

With carefully chosen and deliberately blunt words, Sharon Smart celebrated Mayan Families’ newest class of tailors.
“There is no need for people who cannot sew straight. You have been trained by Don Alberto how to stitch carefully and with straight lines and you will need to practice to keep up your skills. Quality is very important in this work. Please, come back even if it is only for 10 minutes a day.”
With that, seven women would receive their certificates and much praise for overcoming what they had to endure in order to finish the six month long sewing course. Before the ceremonies began they modeled some of their projects. One student had created a very nicely shaped purse, others made fancy and plain aprons and all of them had learned how to apply stylish randas (the wide, decorative seaming that is seen on cortes in Solola and Chichicastenanga.)
Mayan Families has four score of sewing machines on the way for these and other graduates but the director is unsure of when the shipment is going arrive. So, she pointedly invited them back to the new center while they wait. Ms. Smart is very happy that this new headquarters is ample and well positioned enough for opening a retail store. It is around the corner from the market and could be a good place to display their products. And, to be successful the co-op will need to market way beyond Solola.
The proud graduates had prepared gifts for the director, their advisers and teachers. There would be speeches followed by tipica and cake to celebrate their completion. One of the older students and a long-time friend of Mayan Families spoke her thanks for having a profession that was not (as physically difficult as) cooking and recalled years that the organization has supported her. This group is looking forward to working in their new profession and would welcome commissions from designers.

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Con palabras cuidadosamente elegidas y contundente deliberadamente, Sharon Smart celebrado familias mayas más nuevo de la clase de los sastres.
“No hay necesidad de que las personas que no pueden coser recta. Usted ha sido entrenado por Don Alberto cómo coser cuidadosamente y con líneas rectas y tendrá que practicar para mantener sus habilidades. La calidad es muy importante en este trabajo. Por favor, vuelva aunque sea sólo durante 10 minutos al día. ”
Con eso, siete mujeres recibirán sus certificados y elogios para la superación de lo que tenían que soportar para terminar el curso de seis meses de coser largo. Antes de la ceremonia comenzó modelaron algunos de sus proyectos. Un estudiante había creado un bolso muy bien formado, otros hicieron delantales de lujo y llano y todos ellos habían aprendido a aplicar randas elegantes (el ancho de costura, decoración que se ve en cortes en Sololá y Chichicastenanga.)
Mayan Families tiene cuatro veintena de máquinas de coser en el camino para los graduados de estos y otros pero el director no está seguro de si el traslado va llegar. Por lo tanto, ella deliberadamente les invitó a volver al nuevo centro mientras esperan. Sra. inteligente es muy feliz de que esta nueva sede es amplia y bien posicionada suficiente para la apertura de una tienda al por menor. Es alrededor de la esquina del mercado y podría ser un buen lugar para mostrar sus productos. Y, para tener éxito, la cooperativa tendrá que vender mucho más allá de Sololá.
Los graduados orgullosos había preparado regalos para el director, sus asesores y profesores. No habrá discursos seguidos de tipica y pastel para celebrar su finalización. Uno de los estudiantes de mayor edad y un amigo de largo plazo de las familias mayas hablaban su agradecimiento por tener una profesión que no era (como físicamente difícil) Cocina y recordó años que la organización ha apoyado. Este grupo está deseando trabajar en su nueva profesión y daría la bienvenida a las comisiones de los diseñadores.


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The Jesuit Medical Mission of Dallas – the Kids

Dallas Jesuit Medical Mission
2012 Support Posse
2012 The Kids
2011 Support Posse

Pana friends

Jesuit Medical Mission of Dallas absolutely brought good doctors and lots of medicine but their real focus is training the students how to be with patients.

With the whole crew and support team it was quite busy and crowded even before the first patients showed up.

Even so, I was able to get a sense of all the students.  I was struck by their collegiality; how they assisted and coaxed each other and most by  how serious  and “on purpose” they could be when they were not otherwise horsing around.

At different times, I worked directly with Vinay Srinivasan,  Sang Won Chung and Phillip Morton acting as their translator and sidewalk nurse –filling in the minimal paperwork , handing them their instruments – the BP meter and the battery operated thermometer and dousing them with hand sanitizer.   And, I got to know Synyoung Li,  Jimmy Nawalaniec and John Simion in bits and pieces, in between.

On the night of Day 3, we pulled into the Corazón del Bosque – so called “Heart of the Woods”.. It was more like the Corazón de la Carretera since we were right off the Pan Am Highway.  Since I had promised “horrible,” I brought mints for the pillows and offered turn-down service to make up for the possibility of  someone being carried away by a giant insect.  But, to my delight, everybody loved the rustic ambiance.

When, at last we settled in to our bunk house, Jan admitted that she carried a hope that this trip would ignite a passion for medicine in the youngest student, Olivia.

Olivia laughed and said that was enjoying the trip entirely and would gladly be taking biology next year — since she had finished Physics and Chemistry -the prerequisits.  Then, she said something I thought quite profound just before she tucked in, ” These people stand in a line all day for a few Tylenols that I can pick up anytime.”

Social Worker, Kathy Bennett told the story of  how she was translating, when a woman came in with the usual symptoms back and head aches, pain all over.  Kathy inquired further asking about her living situation and discovered the woman had been living in a tent with her husband and children, behind her abusive in-laws  –  for years, already.

Sang Won Chung  was listening to this conversation and wanted to assist the woman.   Kathy swore the patient to secrecy and told her they would go to the market and bring her two live chickens.  The student understood the situation well enough to create a way of transforming the woman’s status in her own household. And, later , we would see the photos of this adventure over pizza at the completion dinner.

Day 4, the lines from outside moved in to fill five doctor’s rooms from 8:00 until 3:00. Dr. de Pena had come up to help and a Cuban doctor joined in. Everybody elected to skip lunch to get through the patients  and give the pharmacy a chance to catch up before we headed back to Pana.

I had stayed out on the sidewalk doing intake and three adult patients in a row needed to be expedited to the Cuban doctor because of their high fevers.

Fortunately. John Simion was close by when a woman with 212/200 BP came in.  He fairly danced that 80 year old to the back and got her seen – pronto, plus.  I heard that the doctor immediately started her on BP medicine and wanted to send her to the hospital in Solola.  She would not go.  I may be wrong, but I think that that was a life and death case made more poignant since the woman had persisted after the gates had closed. She hovered until we could see her.

John figured, “She knew what she needed.”

As a treat for the visitors and an opportunity for the vendors, Santos had arranged for us to see the Nahuala weavers at work.  Seeing these women on kneeling on their mats – doctor Yolanda remarked on how she had seen so many calloused knees and now understood that  – entirely.  Three sisters were calmly weaving  while the chicks ran under their looms while we looked on and time stopped.

Vivamos Mejor hosted the completion dinner  and everyone’s pictures were shown in more or less chronological order.  Then Dr. Flores delivered a moving speech that Drew deftly translated and would later remark on how much he admired it.

This was one blown back blitz– despite  the holdup at customs,  JMM must  have served at least 600  people.

I cannot sum this experience up any better than Kevin’s Mom:  Mrs. Eva Garcia who said, regarding  the trip, “There is giving of time and energy but, when a special kind of  ‘love’-known as ‘caring – is added to the equation, it usually enriches the whole experience.”

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The Jesuit Medical Mission of Dallas – Support Posse

Dallas Jesuit Medical Mission
2012 Support Posse
2012 The Kids
2011 The Kids

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Since  July,  I have been answering the eternal ex-pat question, “How did you get here?” thus:

“I have a very, very old friend,  Kevin Garcia, who took an interest in a medical mission sent from his HS alma mater about 10 years ago and he (rightly) thought that I might enjoy Panajachel.  So, he introduced me to Dr. Carlos Flores of Vivamos Mejor and the rest is Utterances.”

Kevin has traveled with the Jesuit Medical Mission (JMM) on two of their prior trips in Central America and, since I was already on the ground in Guatemala, he invited me to participate with the team and to do advance logistics for their four day blitz visit.

The JMM model is extraordinary because it gives high school juniors and seniors,  bent towards medicine, a chance to make a difference in a hands-on  clinical setting.   And,  for sure, everyone would leave with bragging rights about the experience.

The JMM traveling team was formidable.  Leading the team is Jan Jones, the visionary biology teacher from Jesuit who helped form the Jesuit Medical Society 13 years ago.  Along with Jan came another dedicated faculty member, Ben Kirby, four professional volunteers from the Baylor Medical System (3 doctors and a social worker) and seven exuberant Jesuit students. Kevin, again, volunteered and brought his son, Drew, on his second tour, and his daughter, Olivia, on her first –  that made 16. All three Garcias and Kathy Brady, MSW would act as  indefatigable translators – changing English to Spanish in order to be converted into the local Quiche and Kaqchikel dialects – spoken by the indigenous Mayans.

After flying out of  Texas at “o’dark-thirty;” taking hours to clear customs and enduring a rough three hour ride  into the Guatemalan highlands this team rolled into Pana in late afternoon all ready to set up the ad hoc pharmacy and start treating “the long colorful line” of patients.

In conjunction with supporting the Medical Club trip, Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas does a medicine drive.  This year JMM hauled down about 500 pounds of medicines to dispense.  Much of  the medicines that are not donated are bought from MAPS,  a Medical Assistance Program from which organizations can buy prescription grade medicines at cost for mission trips.   The Jesuit Mission was hosted by two local NGO’s again this year: Mayan Families and Vivamos Mejor.  They  provided local doctors, clinic spaces and fielded  translators, drivers, nurses and Social Workers in Panajachel and in the more rural, Nahuala

From Day 1, Doctor Louis de Pena of Mayan Famlies dove in –  treating  and coaching for hours on end.   He even thanked JMM for bringing in the “chaos.”

As noisy and funky as it seemed on Day 1 – things smoothed out by mid morning of  Day 2.   The boys rotated through three positions — variously shadowing the doctors, doing patient  intake or working in the pharmacy.  In any slow times, they played with the little ones – or engaged the waiting patients.

Looking beyond the stern facts of poverty driven disease, this Medical Jornada gave the students  a  joyous opportunity to meet and interact people-to-people and to be welcomed as professionals.

Day2 we would break for lunch with Mayan Families’ captain at her house. The meal at Helen’s was a special treat.   Being invited into a  private home to eat Tipica (beans, rice, tortillas and meat) in the cool shade after a hustling all morning was just what we needed.

Over dinners, the leader’s conversations would turn serious – planning,  how to improve on delivery and speculating on where to find funding and partners for the next year(s).

Dr. Rhonda Walton had a reputation, already.  She was reknown for saving the last infant, on the last day from pneumonia last year.  This year, she was wondering  about the effects of the body wash JMM brought for scabies  — It needs to be washed off and she was concerned that patients might not have sufficient clean water for the rinse.  “Plus,” she worried,  “They sleep in their damp mildewed cloths for warmth”  –Later, on a lighter note she enthused about a Neo-Natal Resuscitation training that could be distributed in pictograms the method had shown a longitudinal impact — particularly in countries with home births. Dr. Rhonda  would wryly note that the Nahuala clinic was much slicker than last year’s space – at least no chickens jumped into her lap while she was seeing an infant.

Dr. Rana Pascoe was still pondering her tentative diagnosis for an infant, who had come in with no muscle tone… flaccid.  She theorized it was the effect of untreated neonatal jaundice.  Dr. Rana told the mother that she might do some exercises to help the child, who at 18 months still could not turn over. The grateful mother asked if she could have her husband listen in, too.  And, so, this doctor instructed the girl’s eager parents in an activity like “patterning.”

On another matter, Dr. Pascoe would explain why (besides the tortured and strained working positions of weavers, laundresses and farmers) all the people had headaches.   She recounted an interaction with a woman whose husband beats her and how as a doctor she was frustrated because she was only here for a short time and could only offer Tylenol.  Clearly, no further social support was available and, more, there are prohibitions against leaving your husband– assuming that you had the money to do so.  She concluded that “Here, there is no word for ‘Depression.’  And, if there were, they probably couldn’t talk about it, anyway.”

After lunch, I  accompanied Dr. Yolanda Brady on what would become unsuccessful phone foray.   Alas, she could not phone home.   Meanwhile Yolanda asked me lots of questions on our stroll — like how long I was going to stay here.  She expressed professional alarm about my responses.  Apparently she thought my seeming lack of direction, high golf scores, matching blood pressure and various losing market positions were worrisome.    I agreed.  But, hey, there was so much going on and so many people that I would not have time to probe the other thoughts of the very serious Dr. Yolanda.

On Day 3,  the team left all pronto-like at 7:30AM ….  without me because I was getting my coffee at Solo Cafe.

Not wanting to miss the action, I was frantic to get to Nahuala and  began racing for the chicken bus (that might not leave for hours) when I saw an angelic face driving a USAID SUV.

He seemed to be slowing down…

And, being an old hitchhiker, I asked him – all but randomly “Are you going to Nahuala?”

He answered with the question, “Are you Diana?”  And, so I came to know Santos Alvarez, Vivamos Mejor’s big hearted Social Worker in Nahuala.


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Mayan Families’ Veterinary Operations

It is said that there are ten dogs for every person in Guatemala. Around Panajachel sizable packs of them range throughout the barrios, but, dogs are most often found underfoot; begging at café tables or asleep on the sidewalk.

Before Patti invited me to drop in on Mayan Families’ ( veterinary operations at the local Zoo Mascota, I had already noticed people in colorful scrubs taking short breaks in front of Dr. Miguel de Leon Regil’s clinic. Patti told me that that crowd was interns; “almost” veterinarians and part of a larger group of volunteers from U. San Carlos, who come up from the Capital work around the lake a couple of days a month.
Dr. Miguel de Leon Regil

In 2005, Mayan Families sponsored Dr. de Leon Regil’s training in the McKee Project protocol. And, he has been instructing veterinarians in the “Quick Spay” method, ever since. The procedure (favored by U.S. Humane Society) requires no follow-up care–not even prophylactic antibiotics; so, it is cost-effective and close to perfect for street dogs.

After upgrading their ability to care for local street animals, Mayan Families was able to negotiate with the Panajachel municipal authorities to stop them from destroying animals. This agreement has been in effect for more than five years, now, because the San Diego based organization sponsors free veterinary clinics.

I asked Patti just how the seeming indulgence of pet care squared with the necessities of humanitarian outreach.

“Why would people fund this initiative rather than pay for human food, medicine and education?”

“The street dogs are not always ‘strays’ – sometimes they belong to families, who just let them out during the day to eat,” she began.
“Besides, they are part of the family. The people really love them but when they get sick they have no money to take care of them.”

Another reason why the Mayan Families does this, here, particularly, is that where twelve foot high walls with broken glass tops are the norm, guard dogs and ratters are hardly a luxury.

Inside, the team worked with dispatch and in an ad hoc operating theater set up in a hallway lit by few, widely spaced, low-wattage bulbs. Two vets deftly lifted a large dog and secured her to the work table. Two others moved in to shave and vacuum a less than two inch square operating area while yet another colleague shot a free paw with sedative. The whole procedure takes about 20 minutes. And, the morning’s patients were laid out like sausages on blankets covering the recovery room floor. The whole back wall was occupied by animals in various stages of awakening — snoozing side by side, without regard to species.

At 1:30 lunch was delivered in one of Mayan Families’ fleet of yellow tuk-tuks. Trays of food were set up in the back and poco a poco the doctors served themselves a delicious lunch of chicken, tortillas and a sweet thinned oatmeal drink. After that, a few stood outside waiting for the next furry patient to arrive.

Soon enough, an owner lugged what looked like an Aikita-Setter into reception. Two vets squatted down to talk to the dog, then opened the crate and kindly lassoed the frightened beast’s snout with a leash. Once pried out the big dog became utterly docile and was easily led into the impromptu O.R. without any sign of resistance.

The professionalism of the young vets under the supervision of Dr. de Leon Regil was evidenced by their prodigious numbers. They treated almost 250 animals in three days.

Because I am focused on the lake, my animal activist friends often judge me to be less than “fuzzy” about street animals. Perhaps, it is because I see the average dog as a producer of 274 pounds of non-compost-able waste (NOTE 1) each year and because that is flushed directly into the lake through street drains it is becomes a public health problem (NOTE 2).

Using this formulation, in one month, Mayan Families saved the lake from 68,500 pounds of waste annually.

1. Dog waste contains pathogens and parasites that can hurt water quality.
2. This could be mitigated by enacting “pooper scooper” laws. But, then, such sanitation regulations would also need to cover the chickens, pigs and goats that share the same system.


Mayan Families’ Tamale Baskets

The crew ramping up
If every third person in Panajachel is a volunteer, it seems like every third volunteer is with Mayan Families. I have only once heard a criticism about this diverse 501(c)3 and that was that they promised more than they delivered. This last weekend, word went out that the NGO needed help preparing 1,500 food baskets in time for Christmas. So, curious, I volunteered.

The staging area was once home to the founder, Sharon Smart and her husband, Dwight Poage. Like many people in Jucanya, they were subject to the tormentos; so, one day, this place had to be abandoned to inclemency. But, on this sunny Sunday morning, the courtyard cradles six wrapping tables with ribbons and colored cellophane, at the ready, while sacks of carrots are stacked in a sixty foot square cube under the stairs. carrots!!!!

I sidled along a narrow path and wedged myself into the large but cramped workroom. Five others were already pivoting and weaving around a pineapple mountain and ceiling high boxes of supplies. The “Tamale Basket” packing list called for cooking oil, powdered consume, marshmallows, medallions of chocolate, a pound each of sugar, rice, an enriched drink, coffee, beans to be topped off with a loaf of bread, a box of cookies and a pineapple. Stewing chickens would be distributed separately to the basket recipients.
Sharon in the midst
Except for a young woman from Gainesville everybody was staff or a veteran volunteer from Hurricane Agatha or, perhaps, further back. We were so harmonious that we were shortly cranking out about 100-120 baskets an hour despite logistical problems and breakdowns that stalled us. The wrappers in the court yard ran out of space in the first hour. So, we stopped to allow boards and cinder blocks to pass overhead. After this, the four instant shelving guys became a ubiquitous third team.
wrapping in the courtyard
Mayan Families knew to expect long lines on distribution day, Monday. And, I went back to see how the crowds were handled. At the crest of the hill, I met a volunteer safety guard, who was slowing vehicles ahead of the jam below. There were double parked tuk-tuks and women cued up for four blocks on both sides of the dirt road. Dwight walked along the cordon greeting and cajoling. Inside the ropes, women waited patient and dusty; with babies on their backs and hips. The older children played in the small areas away from the road. On the sunny side stood the mirror image — ladies in worn traje draped with kids… except, these women had no claim tickets.

I switched video on and began recording and (to my great surprise) crying. –For the first time, I had to chide myself to be tough; a New Yorker. But, the hard fact was that the shady side families would have a Christmas dinner while the women in the sun would not. The unlucky half was stuck with “Esperanza” — meaning they would endure waiting and hoping.
happy "shopper"
I crossed the barrier into the courtyard expecting to find chaos. Instead, all hands that weren’t grooming and bundling carrots were preparing the registration tables. Yesterday’s packing room had been transformed into today’s rummaging area and people were about unpacking pounds of clothing. Sharon stood in the middle of the already milling children and explained that everybody got two pieces to wear and one pair of shoes for each child in hand. She added a restriction that women in traje did not get garments for themselves.
Recipients of clothing and those at reception were photographed with their goods or Tamale Basket while holding an erasable white board with a number (perhaps keyed to individual donors.) The courtyard was quite full of exhausted grandmother drooping in the chairs and groups at the dutch door waiting their turn at dress up.

By any measure, the Mayan Families Tamale Basket operation was well ordered and far from being “over-promising,” it was scrupulously gentle.