What made you want to volunteer abroad?
I’ve always wanted to use my nursing degree to travel and make a difference in communities other than my own.
Why this specific country and program?
Guatemala was the closest country to my home, and it was somewhere I hadn’t been before. I love seeing new places and immersing myself in the culture of a country, and Guatemala seemed like a great pick.
What medical qualifications do you possess?
I have a Bachelor of Nursing and have been working as a registered nurse for 8 years in my small local hospital.
What has been your specific role in this project?
I was basically support to the permanent staff. I did whatever needed doing, from cutting gauze, to triaging, to helping out in the vaccination clinic, giving needles, and helping the doctor in the prenatal visit clinic.
Were you surprised by how “hands-on” the project was?
Definitely. I honestly thought the language barrier would have me stumped, scratching my head in the corner. Quite the opposite happened. On our second day, the regular nurse was busy with an emergent case, so my friend and I took over and triaged all of the patients that came through the clinic for her. When she finished with her work, she found what we had done, gave us a huge smile, and 2 big thumbs up! We made it work, even with the language barrier.
Did you feel like you made a direct impact on the local community?
At the very least, I feel like we took some of the workload off the shoulders of the staff of the clinic.
Have you ever volunteered before?
I did some hurricane relief when I was in high school, traveling to the Bahamas. I also volunteered my time locally when I was in high school, and with an animal shelter when I was in university.
Have you learned anything interesting during your project?
My Spanish improved significantly, even with just one week of being immersed in the language almost entirely.
Did you get an ample amount of time to explore?
Definitely. Our shift was in the morning and we spent the rest of the days exploring the city, doing tours, and trying out the local restaurants.
What was your favorite adventure/tour/excursion?
I don’t know which to pick! The Choco museo was awesome, but I think exploring Hobbitenango was my favorite!
Did you face any challenges? If so, how did you handle them?
I don’t really speak any Spanish, just understand very basically. The doctor at the clinic I worked at was the only one who knew any English, and his knowledge of English probably matched mine of Spanish. We made it work with the help of Google Translate and a lot of patience. I spent an hour or so every night practicing phrases and words that would help me the most at the clinic.
Which foods/restaurants would you recommend?
Oh dear. Trust TripAdvisor. I am a foodie and it never let me down. Cafe de Miel was amazing. Monoloco was as well. You pretty much can’t go wrong. Just don’t eat fruit or food off of the street that was handled by someone without gloves. It sucks to get sick abroad.
Anything you wish you knew before volunteering in Guatemala?
Prepare to leave a piece of your heart in this beautiful country. I cannot wait to get back there!
Did you stay with a host family? If so, what was your experience?
I did stay with a host family. It was okay, but it was a bit much since we only ever ate there in the mornings, since there is so much good food to try throughout the city.
What was the best experience for you during your trip, overall?
Walking to the bus with the sun rising on the Volcan Agua. Getting the biggest smile and thumbs up from the nurse who never smiles. Getting to see smoke rising from Fuego. I can’t pick just one!
– Winter Benson (check out her Instagram photos @fitforislandlife)