Frist Global Health Leaders: Taylor Matherly – Weeks 3 & 4 in Quetzaltenango

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve continued my engagement with Primeros Pasos’ Nutrition Recuperation Program. In addition to administering the surveys developed during my first two weeks here, I’ve also begun leading “charlas” (chats) alongside Primeros Pasos’ nutrition outreach coordinator, Monica. These charlas are designed specifically for mothers of school-aged children who have been identified as being either malnourished, underweight, stunted, or overweight. Charlas are held monthly in each target community, of which there are four in total.
My two-month Masters of Public Health practicum placement with Primeros Pasos in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala started off on a dramatic and tragic note. Upon exiting Guatemala City’s La Aurora Airport, I immediately noticed an odd-textured rain falling down on me while I waited for a taxi to transport me to one of the city’s many bus terminals. Also noticeable was an intense smoky smell and texture of the air, which I at first attributed to air pollution. Once I arrived at the bus terminal, the bus driver urgently shepherded everyone waiting around onto the bus, informing us that the nearby volcano named “Fuego”, Spanish for “fire”, had had a major eruption. In order for the bus to get to its final destination of Quetzaltenango, it was necessary to first drive towards the volcano before passing it for higher ground in the Guatemalan highlands. Traffic, sirens, and noticeably thick and discolored air were a constant until we had traveled for about two hours north. It was at this point that my fellow passengers and I overcame our initial panic enough to realize that we all had what we now knew was volcanic ash coating our hair and clothes. After the strange “rain” had settled and dried, it had a sand-like consistency and a dark-black appearance.
It is hard to believe this trip is coming to a close! A lot has happened since my last post. We traveled to Siem Reap and experienced the beautiful ancient temples including Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. These temples left me speechless. Truly marvelous to think they were built in the 12th century by nothing more than elephants and man power!
Jambo from Nairobi!!

We are currently sitting in the Nairobi airport at the conclusion of an amazing, eye-opening, and life-changing trip.

Our week started out with a bang! We were on ICU call Sunday, but Dr. Newton was so kind and covered the unit after rounds so that we could explore. We drove out to Mount Longonot for a day hike and did not know what we had gotten ourselves into! The hike up was a challenge, since many of the trails had been washed out from all of the rain this season. However, once we made it to the top, it was all worth it. The views from the crater were absolutely breathtaking!
Week 3: By week number three we felt comfortable in Cambodia; we were starting to pick up on some of the language; we were making new friends…. But we were also starting to feel a little bit home sick. But by the time we departed, I can honestly say I was sad to go back to our materialistic lives in America. I cannot WAIT to have the opportunity to go on another mission trip.
Jambo from Kijabe!

We have just wrapped up another exciting week in Kenya! Our week started off with an African adventure full of beautiful sights, wild animals, and great hiking. Then, we spent the rest of the week working in the “theatre,” which is becoming more familiar now J

This Sunday, we joined with Gretchen, a surgical resident from Vanderbilt, to see what Kenya is like outside of Kijabe. We woke up early in the morning and drove about an hour to Lake Naivasha and took a boat to the Crescent Island animal sanctuary. We were the first ones there and got to see all of the animals in their morning routine. There were giraffes, zebras, gazelles, wildebeests, and even hippos!
One of the many challenges faced in the complex management of a surgical patient here in Kijabe is the post-operative period – the days and weeks after the operation in which the critical nature of a patient’s illness frequently manifests itself. Whereas back at Vanderbilt there is an entire building filled with intensive care units containing hundreds of ventilators and innumerable critical care providers, here at Kijabe there are currently five ventilators available to adults and two to children. Before initiating an elective operation, the surgeon has to anticipate the post-operative condition of the patient to determine if he or she will need a bed and/or ventilator in the ICU. If this is not available, the operation is often postponed.
Wow, what a week we have had here in Poipet, Cambodia. We just wrapped up our sixth clinic in seven days and the team is definitely worn out. We spent two clinic days in the city of Poipet, rested on Sunday, and then set up three rural clinics near the Thai border Monday, Tuesday, and today. The clinics have been long and challenging, yet patient after patient I was reminded of how kind and grateful the Cambodian people are. On Sunday we attended the church where we set up our first two clinics. It was refreshing to be around Christian Cambodians worshiping and praising God. During that service I was reminded that our God is the God of every nation and all creation. After a long first week battling jetlag, the unknown, the heat, and new foods we were all greatly encouraged by a day of rest. During the sermon the pastor said, “As Christians, we must leave our comfort zone to provide comfort to others.” This resonated with me in the midst of challenging clinics and has carried me through day by day. I was reminded of the gift we have to serve in Cambodia, to step away from American life and engage with a new culture to provide even an ounce of comfort. Truly a beautiful picture of the gospel.
Week 2: Clinics began and the focus of the trip shifted back to learning and serving. By this time, we felt comfortable in our surroundings and were ready to engage in the work of clinics. We had grown into a family and team over the first week of preparation in Tennessee, and the first week in Cambodia. Our goal of providing health care to those lacking access was accomplished. So many lives were touched through our work, work that is in large part due to Hope Through Healing Hands. Without the support of this organization, I would not have been on this trip providing health care to those in need. Here is a look into a couple days throughout week 2 in Cambodia.
Jambo from Kijabe!

We have just completed our first week at the AIC Hospital in Kijabe, Kenya and it has been a life-changing experience so far. My classmate Allison met me in DFW to start our journey to London, then Nairobi. Our travel was uneventful and we made it safely to the guesthouse where we stayed the night in Nairobi. This was my first time seeing mosquito netting!

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