Guatemala / OT Without Borders

This week in Antigua…

Taking Spanish Classes

I started taking Spanish language classes with Tecun Uman School in Antigua. We all go 3 times a week for 3 hours each to a nearby restaurant and take over their roof deck/patio, which ain’t a bad place for a Spanish class as you can see below. My Spanish is definitely improving – full immersion is the way to go. My teacher even said I don’t have a North American accent when I speak Spanish. Although I’m not sure if that means I sound native, or if for some odd reason I have the accent of someone from like Scandinavia speaking Spanish. He didn’t elaborate. The Spanish school had a party celebrating their 30th anniversary on Thursday and invited the students to come listen to music (one of the teachers serenaded us) and eat traditional foods like rellenitos (plantains stuffed with refried black beans), chuchitos (similar to tamales) and tacos (which are more similar to flautas as they’re rolled up fried tortillas).


Volunteering at the Hospital with Malnourished Babies

With my group I’ve been volunteering 3 mornings a week at Hermano Pedro’s Hospital which is run by the Franciscan order of the Catholic Church and runs solely on donations. We had a tour and it is a really well organized atmospheric hospital with lots of great things going on inside. They have various wings separated by gender, age, and/or type (mental or physical) of treatment. There’s a pool for aquatic therapy, playgrounds for the kids, a computer room for games and activities, and a small school for people with special needs (during our tour students were set up at different tables doing different crafts or activities – very OT!). We are volunteering with the babies, and there are approximately 20 or so. A handful of them have cleft lips/palates and are awaiting surgeries. However, many if not most of the babies are there for malnutrition. The babies awaiting surgery must gain a certain amount of weight though first, thus the focus here is on nourishment, though there is a PT who does therapy with some of them each morning. A couple have feeding tubes (only nasal, none with gastric tubes perhaps cause gastric tubes require a surgery and are for longer periods of time). We help out with the feedings in the mornings which is interesting. A couple of the babies with cleft lips/palates that I have fed have not had any major issues with feeding, though they are using regular nipples/bottles. However feeding them pureed foods after the bottle proves a bit challenging because we only have one type of spoon which is a bit cumbersome for some of their mouths. There are other kids who have very low energy and strength, so feeding them takes quite a bit of time and motivation.

We are learning ways to help stimulate and stretch their oral areas to promote better oral motor control in the feeding process (like using their upper lip to get the food off the spoon or making a better seal around the bottle nipples so they get more food in their mouths). We are also learning about how their development is affected, as some of these kids are about 1 year old and look and act more like 4 or 5 months – they can’t sit up by themselves and have minimal head/neck and trunk control and difficulty staying engaged in play activities. But little by little we are trying a few things to stimulate them, finding what motivates them, and trying to engage them.

Discussing The Context

Meanwhile, we are also having some very interesting somewhat philosophical discussions about the bigger context that we are working in. We are considering societal, economic, and political structures involved when we read and learn about each child or patient and how they have affected each child’s situation. As clinicians/researchers here, we also are discussing qualitative research, the importance of reflexivity, trying to understand the interplay of all these different factors that are at play and what changes, albeit small, we can try to implement to ameliorate the situation.

One interesting idea that my project leader brought up was how income disparity actually plays a huge role in people’s health, affecting their stress levels, mental states, etc. The larger the income disparities in a society, the more negative the effects on the people at the bottom; but also there are ways people are affected by their social statuses that we don’t fully understand. It’s an interesting epidemiological concept and something I want to read more about. I am finding looking at occupations, occupational justice, and social justice from such a broad public health perspective fascinating. I recognize the good in treating these individuals here or anywhere, but also there are bigger social, economic, political issues at play that are in essence creating some of these major health problems. Thus I really want to explore how occupations and OT can help bring about change in a more macro way.

Here are some random pics from a few of my walks around town, enjoy!

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4 thoughts on “This week in Antigua…

  1. Hey Ashley,

    I have to say it seems like a wonderful place and a tremendous experience. Happy upcoming Birthday. I have a card etc with Kathy in Reston. Great narrative and photos. Have fun and be safe.
    Love Alison

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