Last week I returned home from my first medical relief mission. Myself, and a team of talented medical professionals, embarked on a journey to provide care to a population with little to no hospital access. We set up mobile clinics in multiple locations and treated an array of illnesses with the medications and supplies we had available to us. I was touched by the stories of many patients, and so glad to be able to use my skills to help others in need.
Before we set up our last clinic, on our last day in Guatemala, we visited a family home nearby to better understand how the average household functions. It was, perhaps, the experience that affected me most.
A single room home with walls made of corn stock and only one bed for the entire family. Mud floors, which soak and turn into puddles when it rains. A “stove”, essentially a fire pit next to their bed, covering the ceiling and walls in soot that the family with young children breathe constantly. The family living in these conditions, making the best out of what they have, in circumstances I would have never been able to imagine. When I first committed to this trip I expected to see a different quality of life, but I was not prepared for just how drastic that difference is. It has sparked self-reflection and inner debates about the purpose of my life. When I came home I walked into my own house, looked at my large bed, and wondered to myself how I ended up here and they didn’t. I felt guilty, and struggled to understand how people living on the same planet can be in such different worlds. Since I’ve been back, what I used to consider ordinary has taken on new meaning. My house has increased in value, perhaps not in numbers, but in appreciation. Food tastes better. Grocery stores appear larger. Materialism now a foreign concept.
Ultimately, the purpose of this trip was to help others in need, and I believe we succeeded in that. But it also opened my eyes to the privilege I often overlook in my own life. I’m grateful to be a part of such an amazing team, doing such amazing things, and look forward to more opportunities in which I can help in the future.
Jennifer D’Alimonte, RN.