My First Guatemala Mission

Daniel Vinograd

I recently visited a Guatemalan remote rural area as part of a Medical-Dental Mission team. I suddenly found myself submerged in three very different worlds.

Helps International was the umbrella organization for our group. It is a missionary medical group dedicated to alleviating health issues in remote under-served regions. Workers from this organization were at the airport to pick us up.  I had never been involved with a missionary group since I am not a Christian. I found my team members wonderful, giving, human beings who are truly willing to give of themselves. This altruistic group was very open and respectful to my being Jewish. Throughout the trip, they met every morning for prayers and Christian songs and also prayed before meals. Even though I couldn’t identify with their specific religious practices, I was able to deeply connect with them at a very basic human level; we were all there with the same intentions and a common goals. I soon found myself identifying strongly with most individuals, as well as the group as a whole and found our basic differences and beliefs were easily bridged, as we were hard at work.

Outside the airport, we were greeted by Guatemalan soldiers who were to be our hosts while we worked at a Guatemalan army base in the town of Huehuetenango, about a six hour bus ride from Guatemala city. My previous impressions of Latin American soldiers were not good. I saw them as uneducated, intransigent, macho, and spending too much time smoking marijuana. My experience with them during our ten-day interaction did not match my expectations: I found them helpful, respectful, disciplined, and committed to their country. At the base, we were received by the military marching band and by a group of soldiers who were eager to help us set up our “mash”-like hospital. At night, after a long day of work, we were invited to their gym to play volleyball against them. As it turned out, we integrated into mixed teams of health professionals and soldiers and came away from our matches having forged some warm friendships. I personally had the opportunity to befriend the regional commander who I found warm, appreciative, and highly educated. I also had the opportunity in my dental unit to take care of a number of soldiers who are humble, and appreciative. Upon our departure, they put together a short program with music and warm words.

The third group I had an opportunity to interact with was composed of the members of the local indigenous population. Dressed in their colorful garb, their Sunday’s best, many of them traveled long distances to seek medical/dental care we were providing. In most cases, their oral health was not very good. Most oral cavities I examined were disastrous; requiring in most cases multiple extractions of tooth remnants. Most of them spoke a local dialect but we managed to communicate with the help of sign language, smiles, broken down Spanish, and an occasional interpreter. Most of them were in pain but extremely grateful.  Many of them would hug me at the completion of their treatment and they always exhibited an extremely respectful demeanor. The lucky ones that could be attended to at the clinic had manipulated the system in one way or another so they could get a place in the front of the line. However, many locals did not receive treatment, for our time and resources were limited. Those that could not be treated just looked resigned and hopeful that next year their turn will come. A few of them pleaded with us and tugged at our hearts as we felt frustrated not to be able to pull a magic wand out of our pockets and heal them all.

My trip to Hueuetenango was designed in order to provide help and care for those Guatemalans that could otherwise not have the opportunity to be medically treated. However, as it turned out, the healing was also bestowed upon me; in a period of ten days I was immersed in a complex world as three very different cultures merged and the blessing was the profound connection I experienced as a human being, while celebrating our differences.

– Dr Daniel Vinograd, DDS.

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Dr. Daniel Vinograd, DDS |
10450 Friars Rd, San Diego, CA 92120 |
Phone: 619-630-7174    •    Dr. Vinograd, DDS, is a Dentist in San Diego, CA, offering services as a periodontist, and providing teeth whitening, dental crowns, invisalign, implants, lumineers, dentures, root canals, holistic, family and cosmetic dentistry.

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