Franciscan Guest Reflection: Born to Serve by Anna Carolina Ortiz Cont.
I was assigned to teach English in Panama for 27 months. During my time in Panama I was able to fully unleash my desire and energy to serve others. I lived and worked in a rural community comprised of farmers and small business entrepreneurs. I taught K-8th grades at the elementary school and helped develop a series of professional development seminars for the English teachers of the greater region. I volunteered with and learned about my surrounding environment from the local Red Cross chapter. I also spent much of my time with my students outside the classroom, informally engaging in youth development activities. This included everything from inviting them to go running with me, them inviting me to the river or just simply hanging out and answering their seemingly never-ending questions about the United States and Mexico. Other times, I would leave my community and travel to other rural, underserved communities to assist as a translator on medical missions. These became alternate avenues for service.
I had embraced two years chock-full of wonderful, challenging experiences. However, as I neared the end of my service, I was faced with that ever-haunting question, “What now?!” I considered extending my service, permanently moving to Panama and forever avoiding my “adult” life in the U.S. However, as much as I loved the simple, paradisiacal life I had built in Panama, I knew it was time to come home.
Back in Arizona, I dove into what seemed the obvious and necessary next step: finding a job. I fervently sent out job applications and resumes for months. Many were fruitless, but I held on to a glimmer of hope that had taken up residence in my thoughts.
As I researched organizations, I came across one that immediately caught my attention. I remember thinking as I read through their website, “This is just like Peace Corps, but in AMERICA!” In my mind, that’s as good as it gets. I have now been working with Esperança nearly a year, and I still continue to learn about the many ways we help bring hope to those that need it most. With projects in Phoenix, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Mozambique and Peru, Esperança has offered me a way to remain connected to and continue feeding my innate sense of service; my Peace Corpsonality.
Whereas before I used to get my “service fix” from sharing story time with my students, sharing an “a-ha” moment while training teachers, or hearing my students actually speak English, now I get it from coordinating Esperança’s Surgical Volunteer Program. Our program sends teams of volunteer surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists to Bolivia and Nicaragua to perform surgeries, free of cost, for people who have limited access to medical treatment, many of whom have never seen a doctor. I also handle the medical supply and equipment donations we receive at our Phoenix office. While sorting through countless boxes of syringes and sutures may not be your idea of fun, I do enjoy hearing the stories from our returning volunteers about how those syringes and sutures transformed someone’s life.
I found this story from a recent mission to Bolivia particularly touching:
Rosa Ugarte Fuentes and her husband Manuel Estreo Torres walked for six hours from their small village Abra Q’asa in order to reach the truck on which they would travel all day to reach the hospital in Sucre. Rosa and Manuel have been a couple as long as they can remember, dividing the labor in their home and fields. Of their twelve children, seven survived to adulthood. Their youngest son lives with them, and it is their hope that he will look over their crops of corn, potatoes, wheat, and fava beans when they are no longer able to do so. Rosa and Manuel explained that for the past year Rosa felt as if her uterus were falling out. She could feel her pelvic organs prolapse when she lifted baskets of wheat, or squatted to peel potatoes. The discomfort limited the work she was able to do at home. She sought help at several clinics but was told by the local doctors that they could not treat her prolapse. However, one of the local doctors suggested that the American doctors working with Esperança might be able to help her when they visit Sucre. Together American volunteers and Bolivian surgeons successfully repaired her prolapse using the most advanced techniques available. Manuel spent every possible moment by his wife’s side and cried when he learned that he would not be able to spend the night in the hospital with his beloved Rosa. He explained that during more than 50 years of marriage they had never spent a night apart. Two days after Rosa’s successful surgery, she and Manuel returned to their village, looking forward to spending many happy nights together. (Photo and story by Dr. Diane Sklar, GYN surgeon and Esperança volunteer.)
So on days when I am up to my knees in gauze, nasal cannulas and the like, I will think of Rosa and Manuel and the way we helped transform their lives. The people we serve and their stories are the reason I chose Esperança, and why I continue to answer my call to service day after day.