Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Fire is Lit, Now for the Real Guatemala

Friday, January 7th, 2011, Antigua, Guatemala. I think the legal term for what happened is “spontaneous utterance.” Whatever it’s called, when, with the advantage of sunlight, I was able to take in my immediate surroundings yesterday morning (Thursday, January 7th), I exclaimed “oh, my God” at the spectacular sight of Mount Fuego, one of the many active volcanoes that stand out as exclamation points in this culturally rich and beautiful nation. Spewing ash into the blue sky above, Fuego, I now understand, foretold the fire of passion, respect and awe that would be lit inside of me as the hours of the following two days unfolded.

As you may have come to expect, my days begin with a run. The Antigua morning rush hour I now know is a mix of bicycles, buses, pedestrians, diesel trucks, mopeds, motorcycles and SUV’s. In opting to put in a morning run, the choice is often between glancing downward to navigate the cobblestone streets and rutty paths beside the roadway, or upwards to avoid the rush of oncoming traffic on the paved roads. What’s obvious is that at 6:30 am, this nation and its people are already hard at work.

Since my arrival at Partner for Surgery last November, I’ve developed a growing appreciation for the hard work that our staff here on the ground are engaged in day by day. Yesterday, I spent 9 ½ hours with our leadership team here – Director of Rural Operations Jessica Momberg, outgoing Director of Operations and External Relations Felipe Sutantri and Director of Operations and External Relations (In-Training) Christine Record. With their front-line service and office support staff, these faces of Partner for Surgery blanket a wide swath of this predominantly rural country with the systems, structures and caring expertise needed not only to deliver quality, life-saving medical care, but the training and knowledge that the Guatemalan people need to respond to their own community health care needs. During this all day staff meeting, we evaluated our successes and challenges and created renewed vision for evolving our approach and focus in the hope of expanding our impact in the year that lies ahead. This evening, we met in Guatemala City with the leadership of our Guatemalan partner organization Compañero en Salud, and mapped out an exciting new vision of cooperation between our two organizations to meet even more of the existing need in the years to come.

Tomorrow morning the focus of my orientation switches to what our staff here refer to as the “real Guatemala.” At 6:00 am, Frank and I head out of the city of Antigua into the rural heart of the country where we will visit with some of the families being served by our Infant Nutrition Program. I imagine that the long journey from Arlington, Virginia through Guatemala City to Antigua might in retrospect seem like a scenic stroll once I’ve seen life outside of these two cities. (Brian Carome is Director of US Operations at Partner for Surgery, a not-for-profit organization based in McLean, VA and operating in Guatemala. He will be writing here about his visit to Guatemala through January 12th.)

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