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Humanity First's Women's Health Camp: November 8-16, 2017

Day 1: Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

It is our first day of clinic. We just flew in yesterday, and everything feels like a whirlwind of new sights and sounds. We are excited for what is in store. After a bumpy ride, we arrive to the village we will serve: Sumpango. Most of us never imagined walking into a place and seeing over 100 people patiently sitting and waiting for us to receive free cervical cancer screens and infection treatment. Nervously, we jump into our volunteer roles and start taking vital signs so that the screens could begin. There are five makeshift clinical exam rooms in which nurses and doctors conduct cervical exams and prescribe treatment if there are any abnormalities.

While the women wait, we separate groups of the ladies to the educational area to provide some essential educational sessions. Uswa, a pharmacist and volunteer from Queens, NY, presents on pelvic infections, which are commonly found but the women were not aware of the details. Najma, a paramedic and volunteer from St. Louis, Missouri, presented on the topic of self esteem.  She conducts the session like a discussion, engaging the audience in thinking of ways to improve and maintain a healthy self-esteem.

    What surprises the team is the number of women who are aware of their medical issues but do not or cannot take care of them. So many diabetic women came in who had not taken their medications. Some did not realize the importance of taking their medicines routinely and the damaging effects of failing to do so, or simply were trying to make the medicine last longer. Two women had extremely high glucose levels in the upper 400s and 500s, a state requiring immediate attention and insulin. We sent the women to the hospital as we do not give insulin. We wondered if she would be able to continue to afford or manage her glucose levels, or if she even had a fridge to store her insulin. We realized how much of what we have, we forget to appreciate.

    Some of us shadow in the exam rooms. During a prior training session from a gynecologist, we learned that the expectation is to see 1 abnormal cervical exam out of 10. But nearly all the patients in the room Haadea, a pre med volunteer from San Antonio,  observes had abnormal clinical exams. This shows us how common cervical cancer cell changes are in this patient population and how it really is the primary cancer related killer.  We were able to provide treatment and medication to those who needed it. It felt good to have the ability to help know that we were helping women protect themselves who could not afford treatment otherwise.

    Today has been incredibly beneficial to us too because our experience and environment taught us new things. Several of us learned how to take blood pressures and check a glucose. I learned how to speak a little Spanish and interact with our sweet and always smiling patients. Many of us learned more about the cervix and cervical cancer through the formal training we received and from shadowing--  and all of us were enlightened on how different life is here from what we are used to. The challenges we have back home are much less difficult to overcome than in the village of Sumpango. By the end of the day around 4pm, we had screened 186 patients for cancer and held a lot of adorable babies.


Day 2: Thursday, November 10th, 2016

We are back again to the village of Sumpango for the second and final day there. We arrive to 46 women patiently waiting. Most of us go straight to the vital sign station. Others went to assist in cervical screens or to help in the pharmacy or registration.

Later, we move the last rows of ladies to our educational corner for a session. It’s now 11:00am. The first topic is Domestic Violence awareness by a young volunteer named Alina. During her presentation, Alina finds herself being able to connect with the ladies due to the small and interactive educational set up. She shared, “We had two women who admitted to being victims of domestic violence; I just got so emotional and started telling them it wasn’t their fault.“ We provided informational pamphlets with resources should they want more information and assistance. Afterwards, I ask if that would be the most influential moment of the day for her, she said, “yes and the two young girls we saw with multiple children¨, referring to a 14 year old patient and a 21 year old patient.  

By lunch, we have seen 92 women. Patients are coming in slightly slower than the first day in Sumpango; but steadily.

While taking vital signs and blood sugar checks we realize that the need for food is so great here and most of the women were only eating one or two small and incomplete meals a day. We all have been discussing ways we can feed the women and everyone just wants to do more.  We take turns working in the pharmacy, shadowing, vitals, presentations and flow management. Saira, a volunteer and a graduate on Latin America studies, collects health surveys one-on-one in Spanish. She anonymously collects information on topics like diet, pregnancy, lactation, medical history, demographics, safety, opinions, and more to keep our service relevant and current to better understand and aid the population we are serving.

Later, Nadia, a Registered Nurse from southern California, gives a presentation on diabetes. When asked if she believes it was helpful, she responds saying “Yes! The women were really responsive. I did the presentation in Spanish and with the translator, they learned a lot. “ the

As the patients leave the exam rooms, they come to the pharmacy for their treatment. I see many women actively picking up the three pamphlets on Domestic Violence, Cervical Cancer, and Women´s Nutrition on the table as they leave.  We finish the clinic day screening an amazing 170 patients! We end the evening in Antigua with a walk around the charming town, exploring the markets, and trying some exotic ice cream and sorbet.

The need here is so great. But, these women are resilient, taking care of family over self, prepared to sacrifice everything for their Creator and their children and just incredibly gracious! I have a feeling that being here is going to serve us considerably more than we anticipated.  


Day 3: Friday, November 11th, 2016

It is Friday and spirits are high. The last two days in Sumpango were successful. The local Humanity First Guatemala team, selflessly spent the night before and early this morning moving from one camp location to the other, setting it up to be ready for us. We will complete the last three days of the camp in a municipality of 15,000 people called Alotenango.

The local team shows us around. The grounds have three buildings on it, one being used as Humanity First's Masroor Ahmad Primary School and the other for our mobile clinic. The children are currently on Fall Break and are not present, but we can see the active presence of a happy school on the walls and in the improving condition of the grounds. Trees and grass has been planted around the buildings, art is on the walls, the buildings are taken care of inside, and the local municipality volunteers have pride on their faces.

An identical building next to the school is where the local team has set up the clinic for us. We enter and see only a few women waiting. Because of the lack of welfare and the lack of resources Alotenango has, much of the residents have to leave to find work. Today, most families are gone picking coffee so our census is low. We learn about the unpredictability of a clinic flow in unstable socioeconomic towns. We attend to the patients that are there and set up a clothing donations table. We are able to take our time helping ladies choose clothes for their children. Other volunteers help in our make-shift pharmacy, preparing more supplies for tomorrow.

We take the opportunity from a slower day and go on the rooftop terrace to observe the beauty around us. We are privileged to have unclouded views of Volcan Agua behind us, and Volcan Fuego in front of us. While we are watching, we hear a rumble, and see the active Volcan Agua erupt smoke in front of us. We the white billowing smoke in awe and snap a few photos. We linger a little longer to feel the bright sunshine on our faces before returning back to the clinic.

By the end of the day, we screen 65 women for the top cancer killer of women there, free of charge.


Women waiting to select some children's clothing.


Day 4: Saturday, November 12th, 2016

We are back in Alotenango. Everyone knows where to go. We start taking vital signs and start collecting health surveys. We finish giving away the last of the donated kids clothes, toys, and some candy. The children have the most brilliant smiles on their faces. One boy, around ten years old, quietly sits outside of the clinic looking visibly down. I try to make him smile, but he remains somber. I go and return with two new toy cars and he hesitates and then gives a small, bashful smile. I don't know why such a young boy was so sad that day, but I hope this small act of kindness made a difference in his day.

Today, the local municipality inform us that one of the women we had found cervical cancer in had died. The cancer was too far progressed. This was a sobering reminder how real this problem is, and how a lack of preventative screening services and education can and does end the young lives of women. I am reminded how significant these screens are to these under-served ladies, recipients of discrimination and injustice.

We end the day screening 119 women for cervical cancer, free of charge.


Two excited children after receiving some toys and candy!


Day 5: Sunday, November 13th, 2016 Education Day

Today the team and local patients met at Masroor Ahmad Primary School in Alotenago, nearly a half hour drive from where we were staying in Antigua, Guatemala. The school is a solid four level structure with multiple classrooms, modern bathroom facilities, and a rooftop overlooking a picturesque volcano and mountainous region .This scenery is breathtaking, contrasted by unkempt small homes nearby whose structures are weak. The disparity of the damage that can be brought on by nature’s fury in the heart of nature’s magnificent beauty quickly comes to mind.

We are ending our Women's Health Camp with an Education Day. Educational sessions are a key part of the Women's Health Program. Education is a tool to help empower women and allow them and their issues to be important. Over 50 patients came for our four educational seminars, had their vitals and blood glucose levels checked and were offered free medication. The first seminar is lead by Najma of St. Louis, a medic by profession, who presents on self-esteem and self-worth. This talk is engaging, as many women feel comfortable to participate and share personal stories and funny comments. There is lots of enthusiasm, resulting in both serious responses and laughter. The second seminar was about hypertension by Uswa, a pharmacist from New York, followed by another on diabetes by Nadia, a Registered Nurse (RN) from Los Angeles. The final presentation was on forms of violence against women by Anila, an RN and the coordinator of the Women’s Health Camp. All four seminars were facilitated by a translator from Humanity First, this assisted in engaging the patients to ask questions and learn further details on the given topics.

We are ending our Women's Health Camp with an Education Day. Educational sessions are a key part of the Women's Health Program. Education is a tool to help empower women and allow them and their issues to be important. Over 50 patients came for our four educational seminars, had their vitals and blood glucose levels checked and were offered free medication. The first seminar is lead by Najma of St. Louis, a medic by profession, who presents on self-esteem and self-worth. This talk is engaging, as many women feel comfortable to participate and share personal stories and funny comments. There is lots of enthusiasm, resulting in both serious responses and laughter. The second seminar was about hypertension by Uswa, a pharmacist from New York, followed by another on diabetes by Nadia, a Registered Nurse (RN) from Los Angeles. The final presentation was on forms of violence against women by Anila, an RN and the coordinator of the Women’s Health Camp. All four seminars were facilitated by a translator from Humanity First, this assisted in engaging the patients to ask questions and learn further details on the given topics.

Emotions ran bittersweet as the local people knew this was our final day and we were returning home. The children posed for photos and asked when we would return, leaving some of us fighting tears.


The women, over the camps, have become so much more comfortable participating and sharing!


Day 6: Monday, November 14th, 2016 Excursion Day: Lake Atitlan

After we completed our 7th Women's Health Camp, we always have a day or two of guided excursions. Lake Atitlan, the deepest lake in Central America, is always a required excursion. It is believed to be a lake formed from a crater hitting the earth.

To describe what our volunteers feel when we take them on a three hour journey to this place, here are a couple volunteer impressions to summarize:

"Visiting Lake Atitlan was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. To be honest, I'm not a water person and did not know what to expect. Plus, I was a little nervous about jetting on a boat across the lake. However, I was left in a positive shock. As the boat took off and we began to cut through the lake, I realized how small and insignificant I am on this Earth. As you flow on this powerful lake with its crashing waves, huge mountains and volcanoes tower over you decorated with little homes and villages. You feel a sense of peace and humility in that moment. You realize that God is truly great and the best of artists and that Lake Atitlan is a true beauty perfectly hidden from prying eyes."

"Lake Atitlan is the most beautiful body of water I've ever seen. The water, the volcanoes surrounding and the colors all looked like flawlessly hand crafted vision put to canvas. I was in complete in total awe of God. It was hard to comprehend how something could be so perfectly created and it just made me fall in love with my Creator even more. Lake Atitlan is renewing. I'm grateful."


Interested in joining a future Women's Health Camp?


Email at: anila.bhatti@us.humanityfirst.org
Follow us on Twitter: @HFWomen



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