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Mary A. Ben: Mission trip offers a chance to give back

As individuals get older, they often think of what they should have done differently in their lives or ask themselves what more they could do to perhaps make a difference in the world.

A mission trip was on my bucket list, and an amazing opportunity came across my desk at work. I was given the opportunity to volunteer in Guatemala in Central America for two weeks in April.

I had taken Spanish courses in high school and college and last year took a refresher course at Hilbert College. I am able to speak and understand the language to an extent and hope to be fluent someday.

The trip was sponsored by Mercy Hospital (part of the Catholic Health System) and Global Health Ministry. The team consisting of physicians, physician assistants and nurses from different parts of the United States arrived in Guatemala City on April 17. The team leaders were a Sister of Mercy from Newtown Square, Pa., and a Sister of St. Francis from Beacon.

Two vans took us to the City of Escuipulas, where we were hosted by the Benedictine monks. A spectacular basilica, which was built over 250 years ago, was next to the monastery and people would wait in line for hours to pray before “El Cristo Negro.” This sculpture of Christ on the crucifix was made of black wood, and some miracles have been attributed to it.

Each day our team would travel to remote mountain areas, riding in the back of pickup trucks. Sometimes the ride would take 2½ hours one way over dirt roads. The medical clinic would be set up in a school or church, or sometimes in a private home. A group of people would be waiting to be seen when we arrived and many times there were over 100 people seeking medical help.

My task was to help with the dispensing of medicines that were prescribed by the physicians and physician assistants. It was so inspiring to see the team work together as a unit. Each person had an amazing background and showed so much compassion for the people of Guatemala.

Many of those who sought treatment walked for miles along rugged dirt roads because they had no transportation to go to the clinic in the closest town. It was very difficult to see the children being shoeless and undernourished. Some were infested with parasites or hair lice and many did not attend school.

I am an animal lover, so it was also difficult to see so many stray dogs on the streets searching for food. The cows and horses were so thin that their ribs were protruding. Some of the people had barely enough food for their families, so the animals suffered. That part of the trip was heartbreaking, but I had to remember that we live in a different culture.

I have done a lot in my 60-plus years. I have skied in Europe, rafted through the Grand Canyon and experienced the exhilaration of finishing a marathon and jumping from an airplane. But this adventure surpassed them all. I no longer take for granted all of the amenities that we have in our country.

It is an amazing feeling to give of oneself and to know that you have tried to make a difference. I arrived home with a warm heart for the Guatemalan people and a peaceful soul. We are so blessed to be citizens of such a wonderful country like the United States. We have it all. God bless America!