Student humbled by once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of Guatemala mission

Past graduates and friends I talked with, before applying to be considered for the Guatemalan mission trip, all said that attending would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They said I should definitely apply if I found myself being drawn toward serving others in need. What many do not understand is how once-in-a-lifetime it truly was for someone like me. Growing up, opportunities did not present themselves and I have learned through the years that when an opportunity does present itself, to jump in with both feet and embrace the ride. As an older returning student, with three children at home, to fully comprehend and make the decision to go on this mission trip was difficult. However, I learned to embrace the adventure and follow my heart. I chose to go because I knew that an opportunity such as this one may not present itself again in my lifetime. I also wanted to go because I wanted to make a difference and use my nursing skills in a different way. I wanted to see a different perspective of culture and bring something to people that we often take for granted here in Wisconsin.

This experience has forever changed me as a person, wife, mom and friend. I was able to experience life that is very different than ours. I saw how impactful a simple hug, toothbrush, or helping hand can be. I know our help and donation of goods made a huge impact on their lives, but I don’t think they realized how much of an impact they had on ours as well.

We visited the children’s hospital of Guatemala, the only publicly run children’s hospital, where we were able to teach the staff CPR and perform assessments on the patients. I spent some time in the malnutrition unit where one child, who was one of soon-to-be eight, was staying with her mother. This family had little services to provide but yet they were there getting the treatment needed. We visited the orphanage where the children were able to let loose and play some games or color with all of us. They were so excited to see us and play. We went to the village of Baltimore where I was able to gather their history, learning why they are seeking our help or care for themselves or their children. I was able to help teach them about medications or how to care for themselves during their menstrual cycle with the “kits for girls” donated by the Ss. Edward and Isidore Catholic Church’s sewing team.

We visited the village of Rio Salado where I was able to gather heights and weights of the people of the village. This is only a small piece of the information needed to paint a bigger picture of the effects of long-term malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency. I was able to give donated shoes and toys to the families. I also was a part of the distribution of the 35 water filters purchased with the funds donated to the team’s efforts to provide clean water for children and the elderly.

We then took an exciting ride in the back of a truck to the village of Plan Grande. There I saw a lot of dental decay and helped oversee applying fluoride varnish. Many villagers do not have access to clean water so they turn to sugary drinks for hydration since they understand them to be safer options. Villagers also do not fully understand the importance of brushing their teeth and how it could help prevent dental decay, which often leads to significant pain and possible infections. With the help of my friend Daisy the dragon and an extra-large toothbrush, I was able to teach families how to brush their teeth. I also was in charge of applying fluoride at Puerto Barrios dump site, where about 400 people live and work, gathering items to recycle to earn a living.

Many of these families in the dump live on so little. One family that will forever stick with me was a family of five that lives on the dump site and earns $7 per week collecting aluminum cans. Both parents grew up in the dump, and they had their first child together when the mother was only 15 years old. At 19 years old she has three children. It is the mother’s dream that her children will be able to stay in school and earn a good education that will lead to an easier life. It is hard for us to imagine living on so little but this family does and was so thankful and grateful for what we were able to offer them. While there we performed health check-ups for her children and provided much-needed antibiotics, antiparasitics and vitamins. I will forever remember the appreciation they showed us for the basic services we provided.

There is something humbling about the feeling you get when bringing care to others that are less fortunate than yourself and the difference you can make by just being present with them for a moment of time. This was truly the experience of a lifetime and I am deeply moved.  Pictures do not do justice to all that we saw nor do they paint the total picture of what we experienced. As a team, we accomplished so much and are all were truly humbled by this opportunity.

I hope others will want to serve on the Guatemala mission teams at Bellin College, to serve the poorest of the poor and enhance upon the efforts and accomplishments of our past teams.

Woman sits on blanket with three children.

Ashley Wallner, class of 2020, with her daughters.

Ashley Wallner
Bellin College
Senior Nursing Student
(May 2020)

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