A story contributed by Joanne Wessels.  Joanne is an in-country facilitator that is helping Rotaplast on this mission. She speaks spanish fluently and has been living in Guatemala for 4 plus years doing NGO type work helping many different organizations like Rotaplast. She just wrote this beautiful story about ESMERALDA.
Mr. Bartolon, Esmeralda's father has never left his community before. He spends his days growing some crops on his little piece of land in Tacaná, a rural community in the province of San Marcos, close to our border with Mexico. He lives from day-to-day, trying to support his wife and 12 children. But this time, he traveled for almost 10 hours to seek help for his 13 year old daughter, Esmeralda. Esmeralda is his only child born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. She is very shy and embarrassed to speak. While her brothers and sisters are going to school, she stays home with her mom to take care of the younger children. According to her father, she doesn’t want to go to school because the other children were teasing her. When I asked her father why he had waited so long to seek help, he responded that he had taken his daughter to a “Centro de Salud” when she was six months old to get her vaccinations. However, nobody told him that Esmeralda’s problem could be “fixed”. Lack of knowledge about surgical opportunities is only one of the many barriers impoverished Guatemalans face. Most indigenous women speak one of the 22 Mayan languages which causes major problems at hospitals and health centers where only Spanish is spoken. In addition, there is a lot of distrust and fear of health centers and hospitals. Many rural hospitals have a bad record when it comes to patient care, and hospitals are looked upon as a place to die. This, and social economical barriers such as the lack of financial resources and access to transportation make it really special that so many parents made the long trip to San Felipe Retalhuleu to seek help for their children. Esmeralda’s father not only was unaware of the opportunities available to help Esmeralda, he also knew that he would never be able to pay for a surgery. More children came, and life went on, until a good neighbor heard about the Rotaplast mission through the Rotary Club of Quetzaltenango, and she decided to accompany the family to Retalhuleu. Today is Esmeralda’s surgery and her father, who is anxiously waiting outside, has promised to give her the opportunity to go to school and give her a normal life!
Joanne's commentary:
I’ve been living in Guatemala for 4 years and it shocks me to see how many children have no access to surgical care. Considering this country’s violent history it is amazing that parents have the trust to put the lives of their children in our (Rotaplast) hands. I’m very impressed with the combined efforts of Rotaplast International and Rotary Club Guatemala de la Asuncion to reach out to hundreds of children each year, and I hope we can work towards a system to keep track of each patient we see, and refer those we are not able to help. Thanks for a very special mission and I hope you’ll come back to Retalhuleu next year. Guatemala needs you!