In the fall of 2015, I went on my first medical mission trip to the mountains of Guatemala. Working with a team from the top-rated humanitarian organization WorldHelp, four doctors (myself included) saw and treated 642 patients, via makeshift one-room impromptu “clinics” that were set up in a series of impoverished villages.
As I treated people for parasites, malnutrition, dehydration and a long list of other conditions, it struck me that I was only providing temporary relief of suffering, temporary hope. With little or no access to clean water, a scarce (and contaminated) food supply, and unhygienic cramped living conditions, most illnesses I treated would come right back.
I’d gone to Guatemala wanting to help with the medical skills and medications I’d brought with me…I left wanting to do much more, to permanently change the circumstances that were making them so sick.
In November of that same year, just a matter of weeks later, I headed back with a local team from Vancouver to the same mission base in the mountains of Guatemala. We funded and witnessed the construction of a home for a family of 12, who had been living in extremely unsanitary conditions in a tiny hut, made of wood and nylon and tin.
We also funded two “baby rescues”…
And finally, we set up a medical clinic in the village where the home was being built, and I saw and treated a steady stream of patients over the course of the week.
For both of my trips, the projects were expertly facilitated by the renowned Guatemalan mission base, Hope of Life, founded by native Guatemalan Carlos Vargas. In the past 25 years, Hope of Life has provided over 100 million meals to the surrounding villages; they have rescued and nurtured 2000 orphans into adulthood, built thousands of homes, the list goes on and on. Last year alone they rescued 800 babies from the brink of death, each rescue being funded by a different fundraising team.
Since I began this journey, I’ve spent time reflecting and reading about how best to help make a difference to the severe poverty which characterizes so much of Guatemala. It’s a very tricky business…for example, when you fund a home construction project, it’s so important that the actual construction is done by locals (which helps the community, rather than having foreigners come in and effectively take work away). Often what we think of as helping isn’t actually helping – we risk making people dependent on outside help vs. facilitating the gold standard of self-sufficient communities. Even though I’ve been on a couple of trips myself, I’m cautious about the phenomenon of “voluntourism”, where eager foreigners spend vast sums of money on trips that have minimal impact, money that would probably be better spent, say, funding a well. I don’t have the answers, but am being careful to at least ask the questions.
What I do know is that the staff of Hope of Life work tirelessly to make a difference. They have been on the ground in Guatemala for decades, and know the needs intimately. For that reason, I have come alongside this organization as a donor and supporter. I would encourage you to as well, if it feels like the right choice for you.
How to donate:
The longstanding charitable Christian organization, WorldServe, is currently forwarding donations to Hope of Life and issuing tax receipts for Canadians (as Hope of Life awaits confirmation of their charitable status in Canada). Donate here: https://donate.worldserve.ca/ (on the second screen, scroll down to “Guatemala” and select a project)
Donate directly to Hope of Life at this link: https://www.hopeoflifeintl.org/donate/