So, in February of 2013 I will be packing up my medical equipment and heading to Panajachel, Guatemala to embark on my first ever medical brigade with Naturopaths Without Borders (NWB) and Naturopathic Medicine for Global Health (NMGH)!
I became hooked on volunteering abroad when I spent 4 months in Costa Rica, in the summer of 2007, working at el Hospital Nacional de los Niños, in San José. I began to feel very connected to Latin American culture and, after obtaining my degree from Queen’s University, packed up my things for a life of teaching English in Colombia. While in Colombia, volunteering became a part of my life. I took children with cancer on trips to the botanical gardens in Bogotá, I translated manifestos from Spanish to English for an organization that supported women living with HIV, I packaged food for the Red Cross to support Haiti with an organization that provides social support for people living with mental and physical disabilities, I conducted interviews for families to receive emergency housing with “Un Techo Para Mi País”, I gave out bread and “aguapanelitas” to people living on the street in downtown Bogotá, and I worked in a home for children with HIV.
So, essentially, I got involved with a lot of organizations in the two countries I spent a significant amount of time in. However, I’ve never been abroad on a medical brigade. I love to travel the world and take part in the social initiatives of the country I’m visiting, but I’ve never been able to contribute my growing skills in medicine and healthcare to the communities that need it most. I believe that naturopathic medicine can change the world and I would like to expand my skills in the area of community medicine and global health. What better way to do that than to embark on a medical adventure, providing naturopathic medicine to under-served areas around the world?
One of my English students in Colombia worked for a large pharmaceutical company. Once a year, as part of his company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility, his colleagues and himself would head to one of Bogotá’s poorer neighbourhoods, with a team of medical doctors and a truck full of pharmaceuticals that were about to expire. He bragged to me about how the children that were treated on this one day of the year – they mainly suffered from malnutrition, skin infections and respiratory problems – were provided with drugs that cost about $500 a month (my monthly wages). The company had stocked a small community clinic with these expensive leftover and near-expiry medicines. I asked him what the children, now dependent on these life-altering drugs, would do once the clinic ran out of the donated medicines. My student looked at me quizzically and shrugged.
This experience inspired in me a vision of creating a sustainable community clinic, in which the citizens of the community are taught to grow their own herbs and vegetables, learn hydrotherapy and massage techniques and are taught how to administer them therapeutically. After all, with naturopathic medicine we try to reduce the dependence that the patient has on both the practitioner and the medicine and reinforce the idea that we are responsible for our own health and well-being. All we need is the education to empower us to take on that responsibility. And so, now that I’m in my 3rd year of studies and feel I have sufficient clinical skills to help others, I jumped at the chance to go on a medical brigade.
I chose Guatemala because one of my good friends in grade 7 was Guatemalan and therefore the country was always on my radar. A few years ago I read Rigoberta Menchu‘s haunting autobiography and remained even more enthralled with the country and its painful history. Recently, one of my great friends, K, has accepted a teaching position at a children’s school in Guatemala, so the country has been calling me for some time.
On this trip with NWB and NMGH, we will be running a community healthcare clinic in a region that lacks access to quality healthcare. My team and I will be providing our clinical skills, as well as naturopathic therapeutics, for the patients that come through the clinic doors. We will also be providing a housecall service to patients that are unable to make it to the clinic. Included in the program are lessons in Mayan herbalism that we will be introduced to, so that we can learn form the ancient traditions of the people in the region and inspire them to create sustainable community healthcare initiatives using the ingredients that are already readily available and widely used culturally.
I believe that this experience will benefit me greatly. One day, I hope to create a clinic that benefits the greater community when I start my own practice in Toronto. I also hope to extend my services to other parts of Canada, especially marginalized regions, and to create a clinic in Colombia, to give back to country that has impacted my life in many ways.
I created a page on Go Fund Me that is receiving donations; no donation is too small! I appreciate anything that anyone to offer and am very grateful for those who have already contributed to what I believe is an incredibly worthwhile cause.
You can access my page here: http://www.gofundme.com/1k9g2s