During my eight weeks at Primeros Pasos, I experienced all the frustrations that come with working in a resource-limited nonprofit setting. With those frustrations however, came the unimaginable rewards that can only be experienced first hand, either in the communities of the Palajunoj valley or in the small, yet highly influential clinic. Throughout road closures, floods, earthquakes, lack of reliable internet connection, and many other unforeseen circumstances that affect daily life, Primeros Pasos seamlessly adjusts to the ever-changing environment and provides one of a kind healthcare and opportunities to those who are most vulnerable. As a master’s student in public health, I chose Primeros Pasos as the organization to work with for my practicum field work, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. Having studied abroad in Guatemala during college, I already knew how wonderful the country and the people are, and was excited to learn and experience as much as I could in two short months.
While I was at Primeros Pasos, we had mobile clinics bringing medical care, dental care, and medicine to rural towns in the valley, delivered health education sessions to moms and children in schools, while maintaining quality yet affordable primary and dental care in the main clinic. I was lucky to be able to participate in almost every aspect of the organization and help out wherever I was needed. There was never a shortage of projects to work on in the clinic (even when the power went out!). I was also able to sit in on the strategic planning meeting where we evaluated and analyzed all the programs within Primeros Pasos, and made a three year plan for the future of the clinic.
Outside of the clinic, I was able to take Spanish and cultural classes, live with a supportive host family, explore Xela with the other volunteers, and hike possibly too many volcanoes! I was able to compliment my experiences in the communities of the valley with a cultural immersion of Mayan traditions, beliefs, and the beautiful landscapes they identify with. Although I was in Xela for two months, there was certainly not enough time to do everything the city has to offer.
This experience has been invaluable to me in that it has taught me skills that will help me be successful during my public health career, and has broadened my network of global health practitioners and volunteers that I know will support me throughout my life. I would like to thank Primeros Pasos for giving me this incredible experience. I will continue to reflect on this stage of my career and education throughout my future professional and personal life. Keep up the wonderful work making the Palajunoj Valley, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, and the world a better place!