This summer, hundreds of men, women and children who live in remote Guatemalan villages without sewers or running water — and who in some cases were suffering from disease due to lack of medical treatment — walked two hours on dirt roads to reach makeshift medical clinics set up by Debra Palmer ‘87 (M.S.N.), a nurse practitioner who was there on a medical mission. Palmer, who works at San Diego’s Kaiser Permanente, led a medical team to two rural villages as part of a program called the Guatemala Project. She and her team set up one camp in the mountain community of Patalup, and another in a town called Chontolá.
“We brought a lot of anti-biotics and pain relievers, but a lot of what we dealt with was parasite infestation,” says Palmer, who describes the signs as a bloated stomach and abdominal pain. “There’s a lack of clean water and the most basic sanitation, so parasites are a big problem.”
For the last 12 years, the Guatemala Project, under the auspices of the San Diego district of the United Methodist Church, has sent construction and medical teams to build houses, schools, churches, trade schools and health clinics in the country, which has been in civil war since the 1960s.
This summer’s sojourn was Palmer’s third trip to the region. During the 10-day trip, team members stocked a pharmacy and outfitted a local school with computer equipment. They also treated about 450 patients, down from the 1,200 patients they saw during her first trip in 2003. She says that this is a good sign, proving that people have been visiting the clinics the organization had set up during previous trips.
“Next summer the Guatemala Project will go to a village called Xeavaj, with a population of 1,000 people, 400 of whom are children,” Palmer says. “We’re building a school and will send a medical team the following summer. We’re always looking for volunteers for the medical teams and need doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists and podiatrists. All those skills are in great need.”
For more information, go to www.guatemalaproject.org.