Next to the regular surgery schedule a part of our team was venturing out to a little school tucked half way into the mountain range rising steeply up behind Huehuetenango.
It is amazing how the landscape, infrastructure and with it, the standard of living changes within only 30 mins of a bumpy ride in a pick up truck. A little boulder encrusted dust road past the town of Chiantla winds itself in numerous hairpin turns up into the Chochal mountains. Is it because of the altitude (12000 feet and rising) or the turns where your gaze follows the stones dashing down into the valley below you? — I have to gasp for air…
Dwelling is very rudimentary here, shacks with corrugated steel roofs, corn fields glued in terraces into the steep inclines, sleepy dogs in the dust and a few chickens and carefully-friendly smiling kids and women carrying bundles of fire wood or water jugs slung around their head and back. Cooking is typically done on an open fire/rudimentary stove and the floors are just bare clay. Within a few moments we are in a different world, the world most of our little patients come from.
The school we are visiting is like a beacon of light in the midst all of this: What used to be the little school shack with some steel roof panels and some tarps in lieu of walls, less than 2 yrs ago, is now used to keep some animals and has been replaced right across the road by a cinder block-and-concrete construction with doors, windows and some outside latrines. This is thanks to the monetary support of the Rotary Iowa MOST 6000 team and the very dedicated engagement of the local patron and Rotary member David. He proudly points out to me where parents with bare hands and chisels broke out all the stones to create a level surface for the concrete foundation. It has proven to be much more effective, if donations are implemented in such a way that the community has “skin in the game” rather than just dropping things off. In the case of this school, the Rotary club came up with the funding, and the local community provided the labor.
There is a big hello as we pull in. The mission has supported the school for more than 3 years now and the children and their two teachers are excited. We do some dental hygiene lessons, sing our brush-your-teeth-song (this time with Cassie on the Ukulele), hand out toothbrushes and apply fluoride to the kid’s teeth. But there are also little gifts and necklaces, and the beanbags that Ginger tirelessly filled with beans over the last days in the hospital, are tossed around with increasing joy. What probably then reminds everybody again, that this is a school, are our writing instruments and book donations. A few kids volunteer to read to the rest of the group and smile a little bit proud and shy when we are all applauding their reading skills.
Again, it is heartwarming to see how the kids put aside their shyness within the 2 hours we are with them. They warm up to the camera, and our jokes, and are genuinely sad when time for goodbye comes. But first, the teachers ask for a little song in the English language (“Twinkle twinkle little star…”), which is written on their board and they promise that they will practice until we come back next year.
Oh yes, we will be back! Who would not?