In February of 2014 I had the wonderful opportunity to join the Mission of Miracles trip to El Salvador. I was able to spend 5 days, each in a different small village in El Salvador providing pediatric care to an underserved population. The days were hugely challenging and rewarding. I received as much or more as I was able to give.
On reflecting on what the trip taught me , the ideas that come to mind are gratitude and the fact that people are the same all over.
Spending time in a developing country teaches thankfulness for the small things we often take for granted. Things like cold water, toilet paper and flush toilets, air conditioning and people who look out for us. I also became more thankful for our own healthcare system in the US despite how frustrating it is. I know that our doctors are trained and certified. I know if a child has a life threatening illness they would be cared for despite lack of money. And I know we have ongoing care for those with chronic disease and disabilities. It was fascinating to see how development projects are making a huge difference in the health of the nation. We saw how clean water projects, well built latrines, regular medical and dental care and education, and organic farm techniques to decrease poisonous pesticide use is changing the health of the people.
In El Salvador, I saw my first blue 4 year old. She had congenital heart disease and is apparently waiting to get surgery. In this country- this would have already been taken care of. I saw a baby in severe respiratory distress who had been seen by an unknown medical provider the day before and given oral antibiotics when she needed hospital care. Thankfully, the whole village responded and they found someone with a truck who took the baby to the city hospital. Not quite 911 but it got the job done. I was also thankful for all the ancillary services we have in the US when I saw a child with severe cerebral palsy who had no PT or other therapies who was struggling just to eat.
Despite these sad cases, there was mostly joy and laughter. I had a wonderful interpreter so felt I could connect with the children and parents. The children seemed happy and were able to play all day with their friends while their parents stayed in line. The parents were laughing and talking while getting their work done, and grateful for what we were able to do. I was struck by how well behaved the children were when it was their turn to be seen. You could also see the literal definition of “it takes a village to raise a child” as all the women seemed to keep an eye on all the kids.
In addition to diagnosing and treating anemia and parasites, the main things I did were the same as I do on here on a daily basis. Diagnosing viral illnesses and trying to explain why antibiotics cause more harm than good and lots of nutritional counseling. Unfortunately, the western diet has reached El Salvador and the children are hooked on chips, candy and sugared juices. I was happy to see that there was not as much malnutrition and growth stunting as in some other countries. I was thrilled to learn that almost all the children get their immunizations as the health care worker goes door to door to get it done.
Overall it was a wonderful and life-affirming journey. The Salvadoran people showed me the power of hope and caring in making a better life for all. I am so thankful for all of the wonderful and dedicated people who welcomed me, taught me and worked with me. I cant wait to go again next year!