Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Recap from Day 13: Psychiatrist

Today concludes our service in Cancun and for me, the most moving and significant day of this entire trip. When we visited the Mayan village of the Chiapanecos I worked along the psychiatrist and consulted patients of drug addiction and abuse. I wrote down all the psychiatrist’s notes, including name, age, religion, marital status, reason for consultation and methods of therapy. In working with family abuse and problems, the psychiatrist would have the patient draw a person and then draw their whole family. From the drawings he could decipher different emotional and psychological states of the patient. It was very interesting to see how a drawing could mean so many things. The topics were very grave and serious but the psychiatrist would involve me with many topics and even have me give advice to the patient.

In one case in particular there was a woman victim of verbal and physical abuse who, over the years, developed a very low self esteem. When asking my advice, she reached for my hand and valued every word I wanted to say because she looked up to me as a woman. I became overwhelmed with emotion and tears filled my eyes as I wanted to reassure her strength and security of self. It was a truly touching moment and an indescribable one at that. We spent the rest of the session building up her worth and by the end she had a smile for the first time. It was a very great feeling and I have never felt compassion in such a strong manner.

-Claudia, Junior

Recap from Day 13: Service with Heart

Today was our final of service and it was incredible. We spent the morning and afternoon working at a Mayan village alongside members of a local church. The service consisted of taking weights and blood pressures for a general physician, assisting a dentist, and helping take notes for a psychiatrist. Also, we spent time working on the construction of the school kitchen.

The time we spent at the village really put into perspective the true meaning of having nothing. Many of the people who came to be examined by the doctors today have not much more than the clothes on their backs. Houses in the village are mostly composed of large sticks with a makeshift cardboard or tin roof. As for running water or electricity anywhere in the village, such amenities do not exist.

Being there today I couldn't help but have a heavy heart as well as an eagerness to do all that I could for these people. The most touching part of the day for me and what brought a little light to what seemed like such a dark place were the two kids I got to spend time with. I rolled a "ball" (rock because that's all we had) with two little boys while there mother was in with the doctor. Both of them were smiling and laughing the entire time. It was amazing to see such joy in their faces when everything about that place seemed so sad. These boys and there mother ended up getting on the bus with us when we left and we dropped them off at their home. Seeing the small stick shack they lived in made their ability to be happy even more incredible. I am so thankful that I was able to spend time with the even if we just threw a rock around.

They taught me an important lesson: No matter what life hands us whether its dirt or gold, we can always find a reason to smile! And I was glad I could be part of their reason to smile. Today truly was an incredible day.

-Jestina, Senior

Monday, May 27, 2013

Homeward Bound

Last morning in this special place called Cancun where we have just completed the pilot for Health Services abroad. We decided to treat ourselves to breakfast at Los Biscuits Restaurant: pancakes, crepes, omelets, huevos rancheros, and the yummiest freshly baked pastries ever!! We rushed back to the Hotel Las Margaritas just in time to hurriedly throw our luggage in the vans and rush out to the airport. We had some drama when our wonderful bottles of Yucatan honey did not make it through customs...sigh! They had changed the amount of milliliters of liquid you could take on the plane..sigh.

Today is my birthday so I have been happily surprised all day long. "Happy birthday" in the restaurant for breakfast and the pilot before departure in Cancun even had a word or two to say! We are a united group for we have had the immense pleasure of sharing an unimaginable experience in which we were challenged to work hard, to learn about ourselves, to appreciate two different cultures (Mexican & Mayan), and to leave a place knowing that our efforts really did make a difference. We are proud and appreciative for the opportunity to be of service to others. Thank you, Friends University, for giving us this magical moment. 

Here we are in Denver awaiting our flight to Wichita while I am blogging.

End of a beautiful day and an unforgettable experience.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Our Last Day in Mexico

For our last day in Mexico we decided to focus on the Mayan piece of Mexican culture. There are about 2 million Mayans that currently live in Mexico, primarily in the Yucatan Peninsula. For the most part, they live in small villages deep in the jungle.

We first visited Ek Balam, a set of Mayan ruins that was in its height about 800 AD. Much of the site is still buried in mounds that you can see around the area, but some parts have been uncovered by archeologists and historians. Right as we arrived, a rainbow appeared around the sun, which we considered to be a good sign for the day's excursion.

Our tour guide had lived with the Mayan people for 20 years and was able to give us some great insight on their culture and practices. We had the tremendous opportunity to climb to the top of the pyramid at Ek Balam, 105 feet high, where we could see out over the jungle for miles. We all decided that the climb, both up and down, could definitely be counted as our exercise for the day and was absolutely worth the effort.

Hot and sweaty from the climb, our second stop was at a cenote, an underground pool where the rainwater collects through the limestone. The Mayans believed that cenotes were entrances into the Underworld, and as we descended underground we hoped that eventually we would see the surface again.

The limestone above part of the cenote had fallen in, so as we swam and mingled with the fish we could watch the birds soar in and out and see the sun's rays shine down into the water.

Our final stop for the day was at a Mayan village, where we ate a delicious lunch (tortillas made one minute before they arrived at the table... incredible! Grocery store tortillas will never be the same again!), watched some traditional dances, then toured the village and learned about the construction of houses and the types of crops grown.

It was a good day, and it was fascinating to get a brief glimpse of how the Mayan people live, both currently and historically. I think that it is safe to say that we all came away with an increased respect for the Mayans and a heightened appreciation for the many modern conveniences and luxuries that we enjoy.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


The Chiapanecos are a people from southern Mexico who migrated into the Cancun area in search of work. They have set up little villages in uninhabited land. Their homes do not have electricity or running water. They also do not have access to health care and typically are educated to only about the 6th grade level. Below is a picture of one of their homes.

Today our students, in concert with members of the Community of Faith church worked along side health care professionals and other members of the community to provide much needed services for these people. We had the opportunity to work with a physician, a podiatrist, a dentist and a psychiatrist. In addition we also helped to build a new kitchen in their local school.  The following photos show our students involved in various activities of the day.

Hadassah sanding wood that will be used to build a table.

Allix and Jenna painting the new kitchen.

Courtney assisting the dentist with a patient.

Nathan assisting the dentist.

Jestina playing with the children.

I believe our students had a wonderful afternoon. They aided in several root canals, alerted the doctor about a young man with dangerously high blood pressure, and observed the physicians as they diagnosed and prescribed treatments for their patients. They worked hard and yet again made us very proud.

On a personal note, I have seen the two sides of Cancun. On one side, we have the beach, vacation hotels, classical music, art and culture. This segment of Cancun is filled with all the pleasures life has to offer. The food is elegant and the wares are extravagant. On the other side, there is abject poverty. Individuals on this side struggle to provide their families with the bare necessities of survival. I have seen the pain on their faces as they worry about how they are going to be able to provide for their children. They want, as all of us do, for their children to be able to thrive and achieve all their goals. Unfortunately they are stuck in a system that makes it very difficult if not impossible for them to succeed. We go home in two days. This will be my last blog. I know that it will be quite a while before I can fully process all that I have seen and what it all means to me. To know the pleasure and the pain and how I might in some little way be able to help those in need.

Farewell, friends, & fine arts

Good byes are not fun, really. . . especially when relationships are built on doing good for others. Today is Friday and it is our last day at the Casa de la Alegria. It has been decided that the day will begin with everyone heading to the bodega (storehouse where all of the used clothes items are stored). When we arrived two weeks ago, it was a mess but we have been diligently working on organizing and redistributing items and we are obsessed with leaving it is superb condition when we leave. Below you can see a picture of Allix, Jenna, Courtney, and Ronnie beginning the hot, exhausting work but we are super proud when our work is complete. We got a huge thanks from the Administrator in charge.

We said good by to our friends in Casa de los Ancianos: we played one more game of dominos, (See photo with Karyn, Courtney, Nathan, and Allix), talked with elderly friends (Claudia & Jenna), played paper airplanes with the fellows (Casey). It was sad to leave these special friends who taught us so much.

Next, we went to the elementary school where the students rushed to hug the Friends students who had taught them in their English classes. A soccer ball signed by all of the Friends group was given to the 6th graders in Miss Lucy's room.

Jean Boyance, Director General of the Casa de la Alegria, thanked the Friends University Health Science abroad group for the outstanding service and volunteerism completed over the past two weeks. We were recognized all around the facility for our cheery attitude, willingness to tackle any task in order to be helpful, and sincere care of the occupants of the Casa de la Alegria.

After lunch we met with the Rector of La Salle University, Cancun, Dr. Fernando Mainou. He is very interested in this pilot project and asked to have a special meeting so that the students could provide feedback on their impressions of the project so far. He also accepted in writing the kind invitation of President Arant for him to visit Friends University during February 2014. Vicki Ramirez de Cosio, coordinator of foreign exchanges, surprised everyone with one of her delicious home-made cakes. Then we rushed to a performance at the Teatro Cancun of classical and contemporary music of Italy. The tickets for this musical performance by the Cancun Chamber were a gift from Horacio Martinez, Board of Trustees member.

This was a long day with a variety of important experiences. Tomorrow will be spent in the countryside an hour from Cancun with the disenfranchised poor of the State of Quintana Roo.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A New Opportunity

This morning brought us back to La Ciudad de la Alegria, excited to see what the day would hold. As we talked with the administration, they asked us to help with general health checks for the primary school children. Each fall as they start school and spring as they finish the school year, the children are measured and weighed, and their general state of health is recorded.

It took us a while to get organized, but once the children started coming in, we were ready for them. Our Friends students have been practicing their interview skills for taking basic medical histories, and this was a great opportunity for them to use those skills. Many of the children recognized our students, as they had worked in some of their classrooms earlier in the week. Today we worked with the first grade girls and boys and the 2nd grade girls.

Over lunch we celebrated the 19th birthday of Sarah, one of our Friends students. Everyone had been planning a surprise for her, and after lunch she was presented with some gifts and a birthday cake. The staff at the hotel restaurant were so excited to be in on the secret that they could hardly contain themselves, and after we serenaded her in English, they all serenaded her in Spanish.

In the late afternoon each day we have been going to La Salle University for a time of discussion and reflection on the day's experience. Today, as everyone had a chance to express what they have thought about and learned throughout the time that we have worked at La Ciudad de la Alegria, I was most impressed with their responses. Many students reflected on the relationships that they have developed during the short period of time that we have been here, even with the language barrier. Several students talked about the lessons that they have learned from even the hard manual labor, and how the knowledge that they have made a difference has impacted them. A number of students brought up the difficulties of being in a place where they feel unable to communicate easily, and how this experience will help them be more patient and understanding of those who they come across and work with in the future that have the same challenges. This has been a tremendous couple of weeks, and we all recognize that it is going to be very difficult to say goodbye tomorrow.