Wednesdays are integrative seminar days. They’re long, interesting, sad, and can be a bit boring. Josie was our facilitator today as Gelya was a bit preoccupied with some secret meeting. We talked about a man who had dementia which turned out to be just an infection. Then we discussed what happens when Americans think they know just how to help, but end up wasting money. For example, in our case study, an NGO bought a bunch of people mattresses to assist them after Hurricane Agatha. They didn’t buy bed frames though, in an effort to buy more mattresses for more people. But in the shelter where these people were staying, the ground was soaked, so all the mattresses got molding and were moldy and unusable after one week. So the family again had nowhere to sleep, and much of their small temporary shack was taken up by a moldy mattress. The moral of this story- if you’re going to help, don’t cut corners and make things worse.
We talk a lot about what people who come here to help are really accomplishing. One speaker made a joke that is really true. She said: “Every time I hear about people coming down here to build churches, I have to laugh. The last thing Guatemala needs is more unskilled labor.” It makes you think about all the missionaries here…. There’s a lot of them! But, are they really helping out here? Or are they taking away jobs from other people? Wouldn’t it be better to pay some of the guys here to build the church instead of buying plane tickets so some American can feel good about himself? There’s so many guys here looking for work! Sorry, but now that I’m here, a lot of things we do seems really backwards.
Anyway, after lunch, we headed to the Trancisiones Wheelchair Factory here in Antigua. The abbreviated backstory goes like this: A special ed teacher from the US took a tour of Hermano Pedro, the local hospital, and met a man in a wheelchair who needed surgery for bedsores. He arranged for the man to get an operation in the US. The man stayed in the US and studied graphic design, then came back to Guatemala and paid for his friends to get surgery in the US. This group of guys, all in wheelchairs, started a wheelchair factory in Antigua that makes wheelchairs out of stainless steel and bike parts so any wheelchair can be fixed in any town in Guatemala. Now they provide wheelchairs to tons of people here, and they teach people in wheelchairs skills in this factory so they can go out and start their own factories or work elsewhere. Really cool! My professor Kim will love this, so I took lots of pictures for her!