Guatemala Medical Mission Trips

The Rotary Club of Hendersonville was first made aware of the hopeless plight of children in Guatemala in early 1996.  Many of these children have never had access to a dentist or medical doctor.  These represent the poorest of the poor.  Since 1996, the Rotary Club of Hendersonville has embraced international service through an annual dental and medical mission to Guatemala.  The program was inspired by club member and Pediatric Dentist, Dr. Bill Taylor, who has led the group each year since the first trip.  Club members have partnered with the Rotarians in the Guatemalan Rotary Club – Las Americas to bring dental and medical services to poverty stricken children.  Hendersonville Rotarians are joined in Guatemala with local dentists and a physician who conducts medical screening.  Dentists, nurses, dental hygienists, pediatricians, an orthopedic surgeon, optometrists and other health professionals, along with numerous lay assistants from the Club have responded to the desperate needs of the children by working on this project.  Each year 8–15 Hendersonville Rotarians travel to Guatemala, always at their own expense, to participate in this humanitarian work. This program exemplifies Service Above Self.

In 2005, the mission was expanded to include orthopedic surgery.  Tennessee Orthopedic Alliance partner Dr. Wills Oglesby led the surgical team and personally performed over 50 examinations and 15 surgeries resulting in several patients being able to walk again for the first time in years.

For the last several years, the mission efforts have been focused on the Remar Orphanage. This orphanage rescues children born to the slums and/or who exist without family, home, love or education. Many of the impoverished children in this area eek out survival by rummaging for food and other necessities at the municipal trash dump.  Over the years, deep friendships have developed with Las Americas Rotarians, the orphanage staff and former patients who consistently show their gratitude and appreciation by joining in the hard work necessary to provide this much needed care. The ever-present long line of children anxiously awaiting the extraction of a painful, non-restorable tooth (followed with a hug, a toy and a hygiene kit) is the proof the program has been successful.

Since the program began, more than 7,000 disadvantaged children and adults who otherwise would not have had access to professional healthcare have received over $900,000 in dental and medical services, in settings as remote as a jungle hut or a newly established hospital. None of it would have been possible without the collaborative effort of many volunteers here in Middle Tennessee. Rotary mission members say the resulting fresh smiles on the faces of the children make all the time, effort and dollars worth it.

Over the years we have expanded our partnership with the Las Americas Club with two new medical projects.  Climesa Hospital treats lower class and poverty-stricken citizens of Guatemala City and Safe Passage provides medical services and support for those living in and around the city’s trash dump. These unfortunate homeless children from the city dump rifle through the discards of the more fortunate for something to eat or wear. Climesa Hospital, Safe Passage and Remar Orphanage each have tremendous needs that the Rotary Club of Hendersonville can help satisfy.

In 2007 the Rotary Club of Hendersonville again expanded its Guatemala medical mission horizons.  The Club partnered with the Ophthalmic Department at Volunteer Community College in Gallatin and brought two graduating students, all expenses paid by the Club, to assist in a Guatemalan eye clinic program.  These students dispensed prescription eye glasses, some donated and some purchased by the Rotary Club, to needy Guatemalans.  This was an outstanding experience for the two young ophthalmic students.  Because of this successful ophthalmic program, the club will continue taking Volunteer State Community College ophthalmic students to Guatemala.  This is a winning situation for the College, for the students, for our Rotary Club and especially for the Guatemalan people.

The twelve 2007 Rotary mission volunteers that traveled to Guatemala were kept very busy extracting 458 teeth from 260 patients, dispensing 220 eye glasses and health screened 126 medical patients. Hundreds of toys were also given to the children.  In addition to pulling teeth, Rotarians cleaned medical and dental instruments, performed blood pressure checks, assembled and delivered free hygiene kits, entertained waiting children with Spanish language posters and Crayons showing proper dental hygiene, and worked with the clinic receptionist to enhance triage for the patients.

Our Rotary mission at the National Hospital of Amititlan in 2008 expanded its services by establishing a Dental Clinic, a Pediatric Clinic, an Ophthalmic Clinic, a Health Screening Clinic, an area for the dispensing of Hygiene Kits, and a toy dispersing area for the children who were treated.  All clinics were staffed by professionals, technicians and Rotary volunteers who cared for approximately 700 needy Guatemalans during the week’s medical mission.

The 2009 Guatemala trip was the most successful in terms of number of patients served.  There were 1241 Guatemalans that received dental treatments, prescription glasses and medical examinations.  The Dental Clinic consisted of 4 dentists  extracting 428 decayed teeth. The Eye Glasses Clinic had 4 Volunteer State Community College ophthalmic technical students dispensing 728 glasses. The Health Screening Clinic used two medical doctors from Guatemala to screen 275 needy patients. These physicians prescribed many thousands of dollars of medicines free to the Guatemalans that were provided by a grant written by the Hendersonville Rotarians. The clinics provided 1441 total patient services. The Hygiene and Toy Area gave away more than 800 hygiene kits and toys to children who had completed their medical and dental procedures.  There were 16 Middle Tennesseans and Hendersonville Rotarians along with a British college student that traveled to serve the Guatemalans at the Shalom Christian School in Guatemala City.  This year our Club had a great partnership with the Shalom Foundation from Franklin Tennessee.  This organization set up the Shalom Christian School site for the Hendersonville Rotary Club team to receive and serve the needy patients.  As always, the partnership with our fellow Guatemalan Rotarians, the Club Roterio de Las Americas, made the trip possible.

After more than a dozen years, this Rotary program has developed into a true labor of love.  Many Hendersonville Rotarians have traveled to Guatemala repeatedly, working under difficult conditions, with their only desire being to help underprivileged Guatemalans attain a better life.