Monday, February 22, 2010

Home and yet, still more news to share.

We pulled into our driveway at 10:30 last night.  It is very nice to be home.  We're both very tired and are looking forward to getting back into the swing of normal life.
Our last clinic day, on Saturday, was spent in Somalia.  This is a slum right in San Salvador.  The story behind this area is a sad one.  The people there are squatters.  The land is government owned and they just set up their homes there a few years ago.  A man, who told them he owned the land, talked them into giving him their savings to buy the plot of land their house stood on.  It turned out to be a hoax.  He left with all their money.  The government has allowed them to stay on the land because they have absolutely nowhere else to go.  They have begun to settle a bit more on the land, building more permanent homes of tin and wood, instead of just cardboard and platic.  On FTC's last trip to El Salvador, in April of 2009, they went into this community.  This is the first time we've visited a place twice.  They were so grateful that they presented us with a plaque.
I wasn't able to get good photos of the community, but this one gives you an idea of what it looks like. 
Our clinic was set up under tents we rented, with tables and chairs we brought along with us.  The pharmacy was put in a family's front yard.

The day was much hotter than other days and the heat affected me a bit more than I liked.  I sat down to count out Albendazole, the anti-parasitic medicine we gave to almost everyone, whenever we needed it.  This was a job I did more often.  The one time dose was given to families, so I counted out bags of one to ten.  On this day, I sat right by the edge of the roadway where people were lined up to see the medics as well as walking by.  It didn't take long for kids to come over and see what I was doing.  That was when I really wished I understood Spanish.  They talked to me, asked me questions, but I couldn't understand them.  This was one of the little guys who visited me often.  Other people would come up to me as well, trying to get meds or other things.   
Every time we go on one of these trips, my daughter, Arianna, sends along one of her stuffed animals for us to give to one of the kids.  This time she chose a little bear two weeks before we left!  As the day drew to a close, I started looking for a little girl who would be perfect for Arianna's gift.  This cutie, named Maryory (pronounced Marjory), was standing with her mom and siblings.  She looked so sad.  When our interpreter was done giving them their meds, I had her bring her over to the back of the table and when I gave Maryory the bear, she smiled so sweetly and immediately said, "Gracias."   It turned out she is exactly the same age as Arianna.
The following picture is of our pharmacy team along with other medics and translators that would come in at different times during the day to help us out.  Whenever our line got too long, the medics would stop and allow us to catch up.  Today we saw 888 people, so the extra help was necessary a couple of times.  At one point there were over 70 people in our line.  This group was amazing!  The kids in the photo are young teenagers, 14 and 15, who translated for medics, distribution and for us as well.  They did so well, worked so hard!  We couldn't have done anything without them.
So now our trip is over, and it feels a little strange to be back in our extremely easy life.  We are so incredibly blessed.  I am so grateful that we live in this wonderful country of Canada.  We have more than enough space for our family and the many things we own.  We have more than enough food and clothing.  We don't have to worry about floods or rock slides wiping out our homes or lives, at least here in Oshawa.  We have access to wonderful health care, even if we don't have a family doctor.  Our water does not make us sick.  I could go on and on.  It was such a blessing to be a part of this trip, to be able to give hope and smiles to people who had lost so much.
Thank you for your prayers and thoughts and support.  They kept me going when I felt like I couldn't, especially with a nasty cold. 
The next FTC Medical/Dental trip is in the planning stages already.  We're looking toward November and Haiti, which was already in the works before the earthquake hit.
Thank you again.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Delivering hope in little packages.

It was another very busy day, this time in Verapaz.  This community of about 2000 experienced the most tragedy from the flooding that hit in November.  It is situated close to the foot of a volcano.  After the rain started that night, they explained that water and mud came rushing down the mountain, but it wasn't bad and they weren't worried.  Then they started to feel the ground shake.  They didn't know which way to run, although they knew what was happening.  Huge rocks and boulders crushed houses and lives.  This had happened before, a few years ago.  The town is more settled, with subsistent farmers and others who live off the land.  It has paved or cobbled streets in a grid-like pattern.  They own the land they live on.  They can't sell it because no one will buy it; the prices of land has sky-rocketed lately.  It is their pride.  So they just simply rebuild and hope this disaster doesn't happen again.

This time the rock slide started more than halfway up the mountain.  You can see the spot in the following photos, where brown has replaced the green.  With such momentum, the rocks tore through the town.

I worked hard to keep the tears back when I saw these two crosses.  A grandmother and her granddaughter were killed in their house and not able to be buried in a cemetary.  There has been so much pain.  The slide left behind broken homes, broken families, broken lives and broken spirits.  But we were able to see that spirit starting to come back as houses and streets were repaired.  We brought them hope as we loved them through their pain, to give them relief from their physical ailments and let them know someone cared.  I was happy to fill the prescription of a young teenager who hadn't really slept since the disaster, giving her some Gravol to help her sleep along with other meds and vitamins.  I also saw hope in the faces of the kids who smiled and laughed and played along the roadway.  I saw hope in the way they are taking those boulders and rocks and piling them up to create a barrier for future rock slides.  I know we helped today.  766 people came through our clinic.
Tomorrow we go to Somalia, a slum right in San Salvador.  It will be a different situation.  There is no school or classroom to set up in.  We will be under tarps in the open.  Pray for our safety and the people we will help there as well.  I am still on the road to total health, still strugling with congestion and a runny nose and cough.  Chances are I'll be perfectly healthy just in time to go home.  Not so sure about that timing.
Until next time,

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The devastation is still here, and yet there is much beauty.

It's hard to believe that as I write this, we are now only two clinic days left from being done.  We have had a couple of wonderful days, full of all kinds of emotion for me.  We just got back to the hotel from our rest day at a small beach resort.  It is privately owned and we were the only people there since it's a week day and everyone else is working.  It was a much needed break from the intensity of our clinic days.  We sat around the pool, played in the surf and I enjoyed reading a novel, something I haven't had time for lately.  It was a gorgeous day!
Our last two clinics were gorgeous, too, but in a different way.  I took this first picture as we drove to Joya Grande on Tuesday.  You can see the volcano faintly in the distance.  The country is beautiful!  There are high mountains and hills and deep gorges that I wish I could photograph.  The sky is a stunning blue and there are still flowers in places since we are here near the beginning of the dry season. 
When you take a closer look at El Salvador, you will see a clear dichotomy in the culture.  There are the very rich and upper middle class, and the very poor.  Below is a photo of how the people we are helping live.  Sometimes they have concrete walls, but most do not.  They cook over open flames outside.  They have holes in the ground for toilets (I know.  I had to use one!) surrounded by walls and a blanket for privacy.  They hang their clothing on lines or just over their fences to dry.  They wash those clothes in the river.  So many differences from what we are used to in Canada.
Despite the state of their lives, these people are polite, gentle and so grateful for our help.  Joya Grande was devastated by the flooding.  A torrent of water just washed out a road and dropped it by 20 feet.  The following pictures were taken after our clinic was over, where we didn't have to turn even one person away!  What a joy to be able to help 635 people in a community where we were the first team in to do anything for them.  You can see how the waters just tore apart homes and left behind mud.  The school principal told us the story of how the waters came around 9pm when people were in their homes.  An elderly woman told one of the medics that she remembers hearing people crying and shouting for help.  A man tells of how his fishing net pulled up two of his friends' bodies.  A church collapsed with people inside.  This happened after just 4 hours of rain and with no warning!  Families were torn apart and lives will never be the same.  50 families lived in the school until a month ago.  The school even had to be shoveled out of all the mud.
The following photo shows a house whose walls are actually sunk into the mud.  Whole houses were washed into the lake.
This photo shows a family living in a house with no walls.  This really struck me, it was hard for me to keep the tears back.  Such loss!
Despite all this, there is still such beauty.  The people return your smiles.  They are so gracious.  There was one man who came in the clinic with his three children.  It's not as prevalent, seeing a father with his kids in the middle of the day, so I think he has probably lost his wife.  I had the privilege of filling his prescription.  There were a large number of meds needed for him and his children.  I handed them off to Dashina, one of the spanish-speaking people working with us, and started on the next form.  Dashina stopped me to get my attention.  This man wanted to make sure that he could say "Gracias" to me.  I don't get that very often and I will always remember him.
On Wednesday, we thought we were going to Verapaz, but in true Central American style, that got changed.  Instead we sent to San Agustin, which was another community hard hit by the flood.  There were many similar stories.  Here the flood turned a small river into a deep gorge.  But again, the people were wonderful.  There were a lot of big orders this day, lots of things these people are dealing with.  Again, we didn't have to turn anyone away, helping 573 people.  Some of our team were able to go look at the damage like on Tuesday.  I didn't go this time.
This man was so cute!  He was one of the last people in the farmacia and was there while I was taking some photos.  He turned to me and gave me this big smile, but the photo didn't turn out.  So I took another one, of him leaving with his meds.  Just as I snapped the shutter, he waved to me.  It's another person who won't quickly leave my mind.
Now we are going to finish resting up for our next clinic day tomorrow in Verapaz.  It's a community of about 2000, so it'll be another crazy day, like Monday.
We so appreciate your prayers for our safety and health.  The roads to San Agustin were a bit treacherous and right on the edges of the gorge, so thank you for praying.

Monday, February 15, 2010

We've hit a new record.

It has been an exhausting and yet, extremely rewarding day.  We held our first clinic at Melara, a community of about 2000 people close to the Pacific coast, and heavily affected by the flooding in November.  On our way there we even had to drive down into the dry river bed because the bridge is still being repaired.  I tried taking some photos, but unfortunately they are too blurry.
Before I get into today's clinic, I should write a little about our trip to the Remar Orphanage yesterday.  As I mentioned yesterday, the kids were absolutely adorable!  The smiles we got and the little ones playing was a joy to watch.  We learned that although the government places children there, they are funded solely by donation.  No child is ever kicked out.  When they are old enough they work as a volunteer, taking care of the younger kids.  The baby I'm holding in the photo from yesterday's post is actually not an orphan.  She's is the child of one of those kids who grew up, got married, and is still helping.  Some of the children there aren't actually orphans, but they were taken away from their parent(s).  Sometimes they go back home, but that is a rare occurance.  They seemed so happy and carefree.  There were at least 3 stuffed animals on every bed, clothing folded neatly in stacks, and shoes piled in corners.  They are well taken care of, which was wonderful to see.
Now on to our first clinic.  Wow, what a day!!!  It was crazy busy all day.  We had 7 local doctors join our medics, bringing the total to 20.  They were just whipping through patients all day!  It resulted in an extremely long line outside the pharmacy.  The line-up of new patients came to an end before lunch already because there was a misunderstanding that this clinic was only for those affected by the flooding.  Some people went out with a megaphone to "bring in the masses" and boy, did they come!  We helped 1,049 people today!  Chris, my husband, said that on the first trip to Honduras, that would have been a third of their total for the week.  Things did get a little unsettling a few times, with people pushing into our room too far.  That brought some security to our door.  People weren't pushing while a police woman holding a big gun stood at the front of that line.  We got so far behind that the medics had to stop and a few came in to help us.  We had so many people in that little space, but we got through everyone much easier. 

This is what the pharmacy looks like.  The people wait until we take their recetta, prescription, before coming in the room.  Then they take a seat, or at least when it's not super busy they do.  We fill the prescription and, in my case, hand it off to someone who can speak Spanish to do the patient counselling.

Here is our police officer with her gun helping to keep everyone in line and under control.
A few sweeties, waiting for their meds.
And, as promised, a photo of our security stopping traffic at a round-about so we can go through.  They do that a lot, and we appreciate it. 
Well, after that long day, I need to get some rest.  I'm still battling a head cold and would love it if you prayed for me on that matter.

Oh, if you want more details on our experiences and more stories, you should check out the FTC blog.  Tim is updating it every day.  I know he'll have some amazing stories and photos to share today.

To bed I go, another clinic day tomorrow.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

They were tugging at our hearts.

Today we got the chance to bring some supplies and vitamins to an orphanage.  The last time FTC came to El Salvador, they held one of the clinics here, but we weren't able to do so this time.  Instead we dropped by for a visit.  These kids were just lovely.  They hugged us and asked our names.  Some of them climbed into our arms and didn't want down.  They showed us around their rooms and school.  They were simply adorable!  Here are some photos:
I'll write more about these kids tomorrow.  Right now I've got to get to bed so I can be ready for our first clinic day.  But I didn't want to forget to post these photos. 
See you tomorrow!

We're here, and the work is already beginning!

It was a very early morning yesterday, getting up at 5am to get to the airport on time.   Our 30+ team members met at the TACA counter to weigh all our bags and redistribute our items if needed.  We managed to fit almost all the donations of clothing, toys, etc. and the meds and our personal belongings into the four suitcases we were allowed to have, but we did have to move a few things around.  Unfortunately we had to leave behind some soap, it was adding just a bit too much weight.  We'll probably donate it somewhere at home.
We travelled with some interesting items: big dental cases, IVs, suture kits, blood pressure cuffs, syringes, as well as meds like anesthetic, creams, some high dose pain meds (narcotics), amoung other things.  Excitement was in the air as we got checked in and headed to the gate.  Security was fine, although Chris, who has done this about 5 times now, forgot to empty his pockets so he had to go through the scanner a number of times.  I, of course, went through the first time with no problem.  ;)
At the gate, we sat and chatted with everyone.  Some people meeting for the first time.  I had such a different feel about the trip this time.  I was so looking forward to it and since I knew what to expect, the anticipation was very different.  On the plane we switched seats around a bit so spouses could sit together.  Chris sat across the aisle from me and I shared a row with Jack and Michelle.  Jack is one of the dentists on our team.  Michelle, his wife, is a hygenist.  They're a great couple and Michelle and I had a wonderful conversation.  The flight lasted 4 hours and 20 minutes and was a bit bumpy on the way in to San Salvador.  Chris was sitting beside a mom and her little boy, about 18 months old.  He got sick on the way down.  Not so fun.  I really felt for her.
We arrived in San Salvador and after going through Immigration, getting our bags, and then going through Customs, we were out into the warm El Salvador weather!  It was beautiful and sunny.  We were met by the team from the El Salvador FTC office, two buses, and a police escort.  I'll have to get some photos of them later this week.  They actually stopped traffic for us on the way to our hotel.
Last night we had a meeting to chat about what the week will look like and then a very yummy dinner.  We have a separate room to house all our supplies and distribution items.  It's chock full of boxes of crocs, items to give away, medical supplies, food like vegetable soup mix and vitameal, and children's vitamins being stored in the bathroom.

That's Sonia in the photo, one of the two people in charge of distribution.
This morning, before we leave for the orphanage, we're are taking those vitamins and bagging them into packs of 30.  Linda, Lilly, and Dashina decided to start doing that work by the pool.  As I type this, almost the entire team is down there, bagging vitamins.
The cold I've been fighting all last week has settled into my nose and throat.  I'm hoping I don't pass it on to anyone and that it doesn't sap my energy like colds usually do to me.  Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers.
Until tomorrow,
God Bless.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Preparations are under way!

My husband and I leave for El Salvador in just two days.  For those of you who may not know, we are working with FTC Canada (Feed the Children) for one week, setting up medical clinics in five different sites around San Salvador, the capital city.  I will be working in the pharmacy with Chris, yes, dispensing medication.  We have to be at Pearson International Airport at 7am on Saturday, so I've been busy packing all of the wonderful donations we received from people in our church and other places.  I can hardly believe how much we got!  We have baby clothes, T-shirts and shorts for kids, hats, toys, balls, underwear, stuffed animals, soap, hair clips, and lots of re-useable bags!  Here's a couple photos of everything sorted.  The bags on the table are full of toys and other goodies. 

We're getting excited, but there's still lots to do.  Stay tuned.  My next post will be from El Salvador.
Here's a little sneak peek at the type of things you'll see.  These are a few pages from my Nicaragua album.

Until next time,
Happy Creating!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Open Your Heart for Haiti

We've all heard about the diaster that's hit Haiti and we all want to help, even Close To My Heart.  For the month of February, purchase a package of Textured Cardstock and you'll get one free.  But that's not where it ends.  Every time you take advantage of this promotion, CTMH will donate $2 to Operation Smile for their work in Haiti.  What can $2 do?  When you think that a Haitian's daily income is only $1.35, a lot!  Every dollar counts in the race to perform surgery on people in danger of deadly infection.  Visit for more information.

What is textured cardstock?  This cardstock has a subtle weave through it.  It is one colour on the front and a lighter shade on the back.  The white core shows beautifully when you sand or distress it and the textured shows when you ink it.  Textured cardstock is available in the following palettes:

X5747 Basic
X5681 Spring Harmony
X5745 Summer Celebration
X5669 Autumn Harvest
X5670 Winter Cozy

If you want to place an order, let me know by Wednesday.  I'm putting in an order before we leave for El Salvador on Saturday, bright and early.  Stay tuned to this blog.  I'll be posting every day (hopefully).  In the meantime,
Happy Creating!