Snapshot Challenge Saturday

To conclude my story-telling from my trip to Guatemala for a medical mission this past summer, I’ll leave you with this story. A mother sat down at my triage table with her twelve-year-old daughter and two-year old baby. Upon inquiring into her medical needs and what we could do for the three of them, the mother explained that she had been experiencing depression for quite some time now. Her twelve-year-old daughter had severe asthma, and her mother could not afford to purchase the necessary medication for her. Seeing her daughter so sick and constantly suffering from asthma attacks led the mother into a state of depression. Feeling as though there was nothing she could do for her daughter, the mother had been experiencing feelings of hopelessness and despair on behalf of her daughter. She could not bear seeing her daughter in such a terrible state.

I promised the mother that the doctors would take good care of her daughter, and provide her with the medication needed to help better her asthma. She continuously thanked me, as I walked them over to the room where the pediatricians were working. Later in the day, the mother approached me with a bag of medication and thanked me for my help. She explained that she, as well as her newborn and twelve-year-old daughter had each been seen by a doctor, and that her daughter had received asthma medication to last for four months. She was so appreciative, but she asked if we happened to have any more medicine, seeing as our mission would not be returning for a total of six months.

I walked into the makeshift pharmacy, and the pharmacist said there were only three boxes of asthma medications remaining, but they were not the same kind as the young girl received from the doctor. The mother asked if there was anything I could do, because she didn’t want her daughter to experience such awful asthma attacks again once the medication ran out four months later. I took the new box of asthma medicine and asked the pediatrician if it would be okay to give to the young girl, and he mentioned it was fine; it was just a different brand of medicine. I gave the mother the last three boxes of asthma medication for her daughter, and she actually jumped for joy.

I am not able to understand what it is like to be a parent who has to see his or her child suffer from such severe asthma attacks, but I was able witness firsthand how excited this mother was to receive just enough medicine to last a few extra months for her little girl. Something so simple such as asthma medication is not something I would typically think too much of. But unfortunately, this happens to be a given of life: we often take things for granted without realizing that somewhere in the world, someone would be beyond appreciate of such a possession—especially this particular medication. Seeing the joy in this mother’s eyes was most definitely a beautiful sight to see, and there is no other story I would have wanted to use to conclude the sharing of my experiences on a medical mission to Guatemala this past June.

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One Child’s Misconstrued Story

Over the summer, I attended a medical mission trip to Guatemala where our team of doctors and volunteers treated well over a thousand individuals in only a few short days. I worked in a triage station, and had the primary task of asking the people needing medical attention what was wrong, taking their blood sugar levels, blood pressure, weight, and temperature. From there, myself and the other triage team members would write down which doctor the person needed to see, and someone from the logistics team would walk him or her over to the required doctor.

A mother and her young son sat down at my table, and the mother explained that her son was very quiet and did not like talking to many people beside for her. She mentioned that the boy’s teacher believed him to have Autism Spectrum Disorder and recommended that he stop by the medical mission to inquire testing. I spent some time with the child and tried to engage in conversation with him. Although he was shy and  seemed afraid to talk at first, little by little, he began opening up.

While I still recommended he receive testing by a trained psychologist as his teacher had recommended, it turns out, the child was being bullied at school. For this reason, he had become increasingly quiet and preferred not to engage in conversations with individuals other than his mother. Because he was being bullied at school, he was carrying around a significant fear on his shoulders, and no one seemed to know about his bullying.

Bullying occurs across the globe, and for us to ignore such terrible actions committed against others is an injustice to those afraid to speak up and ask for help. No one should have to endure bullying, and we should be doing everything we can to make sure that no child, young adult, or even adult faces mistreatment by others. It is up to us to make a difference.

For a child who was believed to have had Autism and who was believed to avoid individuals and not smile at all costs, I would say that after explaining his story and having someone to talk to, his smile was pretty big if you ask me.

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Misioneros Del Camino: A Legacy of Unconditional Love

There are thousands of children living on the streets in Guatemala. Hundreds of them will die of malnutrition and hunger. But as Mami Leo exclaimed in a previous Radio Marathon, “It’s not only saving a child, giving them food and shelter; anybody can do that. But to give love, to make them citizens that are proud of themselves and not ashamed of where they come from, and become good Christians, I think that’s the job.” For nearly thirty years, Mami Leo has saved, cared for, and provided interim care to thousands of children. During her time in Guatemala, she also provided educational, nutritional, and medical support to countless children in the country. And because of her persistence, medical mission trips have helped provide medical attention to thousands of other Guatemalan citizens in need. Mami Leo has truly made this world a better place, and it is up to us to continue her mission. 

Mami Leo was an incredible woman with a beautiful soul. She has taught us that with passion and unconditional love, anything is possible. For nearly thirty years, she has saved thousands of children from abuse, abandonment, neglect, and malnutrition. She has also provided help and care to children with neurological disorders who would have otherwise been cast aside by society. She impacted the lives of families throughout Guatemala by teaching them how to provide proper nutrition to their children, but above all, she spread love to every person she ever came across. Her love is what is helping break the cycle of abuse, abandonment, neglect, and malnutrition across the country. Her love has given countless children a brighter future. And her love is what will keep us working to fulfill her legacy. And as she once put it, “If you don’t dream, you’ll never make it.” Together, we can help continue to fulfill her dream.

Mami Leo’s Legacy Will Always Live On

This past week was a very difficult one because the world lost an incredible human being on Sunday, March 8th. Whenever the medical mission team I volunteer with would go to Guatemala and stay at the orphanage Mami Leo founded nearly thirty years ago, she would remind us to not forget about the children upon our return to the states. Our group stayed at the home for only one week, twice a year, and that’s it. For the other 355 days in the year, Leonor Portela, who was more affectionately known as Mami Leo was at the home with the children by herself. Through the hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, and the days with no electricity, Mami Leo was there protecting her children. It takes a special person to dedicate her life just to provide a life for others, and that’s exactly what Mami Leo did.

I flew out to Guatemala City early Wednesday morning and arrived just in time for a beautiful mass held in her honor. The entire church was packed and there was not an empty seat in the building. Looking around the room and seeing just how many people Mami Leo has impacted throughout her life was an incredible sight, and knowing that this wasn’t even close to the amount of people she saved and inspired was even more incredible. The funeral procession commenced once the mass concluded, and it was just as difficult as you can imagine. When the funeral concluded, we drove to the orphanage in Sumpango, Sacatepequez where we all gathered around and talked, sharing stories of Mami Leo with one another.

We lined a bunch of tables next to one another and sat down for dinner in a long rectangular set-up. I sat by the center table, and as I looked to my left and right, a sense of peace overcame me. It was truly a beautiful sight; the table was filled with children of all ages who had been saved by Mami Leo (some of whom are pictured below). Even young adults who no longer live in the home came back to spend time with Memo Leo before her passing, and celebrate her life following this terrible loss. In looking around and taking in the surrounding environment, I realized the true impact of Mami Leo’s life work. Some of the people sitting at the table were among the first few children Mami Leo took in years ago, and they were sitting here with children of their own whom you can tell are provided with unconditional love and support.

The love that Mami Leo gave to her children has been carried on to their own children, and Mami Leo has successfully helped them break the chain of abuse, neglect, and abandonment in Guatemala. They are well-integrated members of society, many in Guatemala, and some in the United States. And what is just as special is the fact that they all still treasure where they come from, the beautiful home Mami Leo took them into, Misioneros Del Camino.

So while we mourn a tragic loss of what I truly believe is a one of a kind saint, we also rejoice in knowing that Mami Leo’s legacy isn’t going anywhere. We can all come together to help fulfill her mission and dream of providing love and support to such children in need, and more importantly, we will never forget Mami Leo, her work, or the thousands of children whom she is survived by. And as she once said, plain and simply, “If you don’t dream, you’ll never make it.” Descansa en paz Mami Leo.