My time in Belize was an experience that I will not forget. The warmth and energy of the clinic and of the people triggered an immediate attachment to Punta Gorda and to the people that we served. It is clear that the Medical Services that we provide are critical to the community and that they are appreciated.
The experience reminded me of the reason I became a physician. The local support staff was extremely helpful in acclimating me to the environment by providing me the background information that I needed to access the Mayan populations in the remote villages that we visited. Seeing the simplicity of their way of life and the joy in the faces of all the villagers that we visited was a reward in itself.
The medical students were also extremely helpful in providing medical service. Their youth and interest in learning the practice of medicine was contagious and provided me with additional joy as I supervised them, provided guidance and practiced medicine. My family was lucky enough to come and share the experience with me. My children accompanied me in the trips to the remote villages, helped the clinic and taught 5 and 6 year olds at a nearby school. My husband’s stay allowed him to see how the justice system functions in Belize and he thoroughly enjoyed cutting 7 foot tall bush along with a local farmer.
As in anything we all took out something different from the experience, but we concluded that it was a positive experience. My fourteen year old daughter’s tears of sadness as the plane lifted from the runway and her remarks of how much she was going to miss the place reflected how quickly one becomes in love with the people of Belize. My sixteen year old son had a great time with the English medical students who had plenty of great stories to share.
Belize is the perfect place for a first time mission doctor because the transition is made easy by the language (which is English) and the closeness to the US. Although I would try to learn some of the Mayan languages, the rest of your day to day life is really not very difficult.
Overall it was a great experience for those physicians and individuals in the medical field who would want to experience the practice of medicine in a foreign country but are not yet ready to commit to the typical longer term agreements. This way you determine if it is really something you want to do, but shouldn’t or perhaps is something you wonder why you waited so long to try. As for me, I can not wait to return to the experience.
My trip to Belize was my first mission trip as a physician. I was there for very long, but it was long enough to form an attachment to the place and to realize that there is still so much more to be done. I was very fortunate to be able to take my 2 teenage children and had my husband visit for a week.
The Hillside clinic is located approximately 15 minutes (by car) outside the town of Punta Gorda. The clinic now runs three days a week, with the other two days dedicated to taking the volunteers out to rural villages 2 to 3 hours outside of the town to provide care using a truck stacked with as many medical supplies as we can fit.
The people in the villages have no running water or electricity and would have to travel at least two hours by bus to get in to town for even the most minor procedure. However they were always very pleasant and grateful for the care they received.The Hillside clinic has the only EKG machine in the area, and therefore patients who present to the hospital in town with chest pain are referred to our clinic for an EKG.
The real asset to this program is a team of very hard working and dedicated local individuals who do a lot with very little but always maintain an aura of kindness about them. They have a very well organized program for medical students involving the clinic work, the mobile clinic as well as home visits and involvement in the community with a liaison who teaches them about the different cultural groups in Belize and community education programs.
From son Chris:
The highs were 95 and the lows were quality of life – my clothes stuck to my back and I was beginning to sweat right through my designer jeans and into my well-nourished myth of self importance. I watched the sun rise higher into the dusty sky as I walked towards my bicycle with a small troop of primary school children dressed in green plaid swung off my arms and legs happily. “Sir, Sir, don’t go I want to show you my home sir – come with me sir, let me show you my house sir – it is very pretty sir!” I laughed at the beautiful smiling children and delayed my ride home, following them on the dirt road that leads away from St. Benedict’s R.C. School. Domingo led the way with his group of friends to his house, which quickly broke down my suburban-elitist- concept of what a “home” is.