Kathryn, Tia Volunteer

Kat

We bumped along the dirt road. A golden disc of sunlight backlit layer after layer of purple mountains framed with glowing pink fog.

As we climbed higher into the mountains, I peered out the van’s window at rolling hills covered in spikey blue agave that would soon be made into mezcal. We were headed toward a town called Zapotitlan de Vadillo, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Guadalajara.

If you’ve never heard of Zapo. De V., that’s okay. Most Guadalajarans haven’t either. I certainly didn’t know it existed until I agreed to join Laura Libman and The Tia Foundation medical brigade on this trip to bring health care to underserved communities in rural Mexico.

There were over a dozen of us packed into two rented vans—several doctors, a psychologist, a nutritionist, a nurse, Tia staff, and a few people who just wanted to help, like me.

We bounced around another turn. Impossibly, yet another mountain came into view. We continued along the winding, pot-hole-ridden road past grazing cow, cacti the size of large trees, narrowly missing a stray dog poking its head out of a roadside bush.

As we reached the crest of a mesa, I thought, “We’re literally on top of the world.” Then of course, the fog faded a little to reveal the outline of yet another towering ridge. That’s about how the last several hours had been: one unbelievable view after another, interspersed between dusty roads, hair-pin turns, and plummeting cliffs.

Since we’d arrived in Zapo. De V., we’d started our days with a homemade, locally-cooked breakfast and a drive into the mountains. Today’s trek was long, giving me time to think over the week so far.

We’d treated hundreds of patients. Taught 84 local health workers everything from the Heimlich maneuver to burn treatment to broken leg setting. And we’d put together botiquines (medical kits) that would serve thousands more.

When I thought about it, it blew my mind.

I helped do this. Me.

I have no medical experience, like Doctors Temok and Guillermo; no psychology expertise, like Fabian. And I wasn’t a trained nurse or nutritionist like Linda and Katherine. On top of that, my Spanish is embarrassing. I hadn’t known anyone on this trip until a few days ago.

Somehow, I’d found my little niche as honorary brigade pharmacist because what I could do was keep Tia’s boxes of pharmaceuticals organized and read scribbled doctors’ handwriting to ensure patients got the right dosages.

So when the vans finally pulled to a stop outside the tiny, sparsely furnished centro de salud, I hopped out automatically and started unloading boxes to set up my farmacia in the back room. Then I helped complete consultations with several dozen more patients.

That afternoon, instead of rushing down the mountain after consultations to teach, we hurried down to celebrate. Students would share cauldrons of birria, pots of beans and rice, piles of warm hand-made tortillas, and coolers of horchata and tamarind juice to thank us for our help. We’d take photos with locals like we were celebrities and find each other on Facebook.

Then, we’d fall into hard beds in shared rooms for a few hours of much-needed rest before piling back into vans headed for Guadalajara.

I knew I’d be dog-tired, but I didn’t care. My week with the Tia volunteer brigade was no vacation. But it was an unforgettable trip that changed thousands of lives for the better—including my own.

Won’t you come join us next time?

The author of this and other stories to be featured here is Katherine Casna.  After traveling into the field on a Tia project, Kat generously donated these lovely stories to make our work come alive to our friends and donors.  Thoughtful and brilliant, Ms. Casna is a freelance writer who can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathryn-casna-freelance-writer/

Dr. Roberto

When Dr. Roberto walked into the Centro de Salud, you noticed. Everyone did. Even among a brigade of lab-coated doctors and volunteers, he stood out as the man who quietly took charge of the situation. It didn’t matter what the day brought—corrupt federales barking up the wrong group of volunteers for a bribe, a lesson on how to deliver a baby without a hospital, or enjoying homemade tortillas and posole  while conducting health interviews in private homes. Dr. Roberto steered the ship.

It helped that Dr. Roberto’s six-foot, broad-shouldered stature towered over almost everyone. It also helped that he had a friendly face and an infectious smile—and that he knew how to use them. They helped soften his no-nonsense commands to set up the patient intake table here, la farmácia over there, and a quiet area for psychological services out back.

Even with exams in full swing and the line, dozens of patients long, moving right along, it was hard to lose sight of Dr. Roberto. If you did, it was because we was taking a rare break.

On these occasions, you might find him squatting to pet a stray dog, making kissing noises at the pooch and paying no mind the mud squishing onto his tennis shoes like chocolate frosting on a cake.

Or, you might find Dr. Roberto sitting on a tree stump, smoking a cigarette, baseball cap turned backwards and a plaid shirt and jeans peaking out of his open lab coat. He’d be contemplating the sweeping mountain views before him. Or perhaps simply enjoying a few moments of well-deserved rest.

Typically, a Tia brigade would leave Guadalajara before dawn and travel by van for several hours on the first day of a trip. They’d rush to their first community, set up for consultations, and help as many people as possible in the few short hours allotted.

Then, Dr. Roberto would give the order to pack up and head to town where the group would teach skills like splinting broken limbs with things you’d find around the house and how to recognize and treat dehydration. All who want to learn are welcome.

On these trips, some of the brigade returned again and again, while others had no idea what to expect.

Dr. Roberto’s first brigade was years ago, and he was hooked ever since. Most communities Tia visits see a doctor once a year or less. All the communities have a Centro de Salud, but these small, spartan clinic rely on unpaid medical students who travel around to serve many communities. It’s community service, required as part of medical education.

Roberto loved it. “Most students hate it,” he’ll say, if you ask him. “But I’d rather be out here in the dust and mugre, where people need us, not in an office.”

Nine years after his first brigade, Dr. Roberto is Tia’s Medical Director and boots-on-the-ground coordinator in Guadalajara. And we couldn’t do any of it without him.

The author of this and other stories to be featured here is Katherine Casna.  After traveling into the field on a Tia project, Kat generously donated these lovely stories to make our work come alive to our friends and donors.  Thoughtful and brilliant, Ms. Casna is a freelance writer who can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathryn-casna-freelance-writer/

Rosie

The Tia Foundation’s first Supervising Promotora

“The day I first met Rosie, I was sitting on a bench eating a carnitas taco, taking a break from scouting El Reparo for a potential brigade trip.” Said Laura Libman, Tia’s founder, CEO, and president. “She asked me if I needed help.”

“Necesitas ayuda?” said Rosie.

After talking for a bit, Laura revealed why she was in town and asked Rosie if she’d attend a class if the brigade came to teach one in the town center. Rosie grinned. Of course she would.

Several months later, Rosie graduated at the top of her class. From then on, she’d be a Supervisor Promotora and health leader in her community.

But that was just the beginning.

As Rosie spoke with the other mothers, aunts, sisters, and daughters in her community, she realized there was a gap in her current ability to help them.

Verduras?” said one woman during one of the weekly sewing circles Rosie hosted. “What vegetables? The only good produce around here is in Sayula. It’s too expensive. And who has time to make the trip?”

Access to nutritional foods is a serious problem in rural Mexico. Most breadwinners work as subsistence farmers or cattle workers for large ranches, but fresh produce is often hard to come by for individual families. Most people can’t afford a car or the time it takes to ride a bus into town—if there’s a bus to take. Coca-Cola and Takis corn chips are much easier to come by, so they’re staples in many homes.

When Rosie went home to her own family that night, she pondered ways to get more nutritional foods into the bellies of her neighbors—as well as her own husband and four children. She thought about it all week and finally, just before it was time to greet her sewing circle again, she got an idea and presented it to her friends minutes later.

“We’re going to get more vegetables to El Reparao, and we’re going to start right this minute,” she told them.

Rosie laid out plans for a community-run co-op. Her sewing circle would embroider gorgeous table clothes and bed linens together each week, just as they’d done for years. Once the sewing circle had enough crafts, they’d ask designate someone in the community to drive into town and sell them—then use those funds to buy fresh groceries and distribute them among the sewing circle.

Soon, more families wanted to join the co-op too, even those without skilled embroiderers in the family. People could donate their time to help sell the crafts, money to help buy supplies, or their cars as transportation.

If you’re ever in Guadalajara, take a day trip to Sayula some weekend. You may find some of the co-ops delicate handywork to take home—and help this entrepreneurial Promotora prevent malnutrition, diabetes, and heart disease in her community, one verdura at a time.

The author of this and other stories to be featured here is Katherine Casna.  After traveling into the field on a Tia project, Kat generously donated these lovely stories to make our work come alive to our friends and donors.  Thoughtful and brilliant, Ms. Casna is a freelance writer who can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathryn-casna-freelance-writer/

10 Volunteers Needed on Sunday, Aug 19th at 9:00 a.m.

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Want a way to give back to the community in relaxed, air-conditioned comfort? Tia is hosting a volunteer event with coffee and envelope stuffing fun.  Our last party was a huge hit! The DeSoto Central Market at 915 N. Central Avenue in Phoenix has generously agreed to provide us with space upstairs on their mezzanine.  Get out of the heat, enjoy great coffee, nibbles and conversation with other friends of Tia.  We will be there from 9:00 a.m. on Sunday, August 19th (this Sunday) until all the envelopes are stuffed.  Message Nate Harris at tionate@cox.net or call him at 602-601-6056 to RSVP.  Thank you!

Our Largest Graduating Class Ever!

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On July 27th, 84 people from Zapotitlan de Vadillo graduated from Tia’s Promotores course making it the largest graduating class in our history!  We were quite spoiled and treated as honored guests in this gorgeous municipality.  Tia is now serving 198,000 people through our 676 Promotores.

Above, you can see VEA (Volunteer Expedition Adventurer) Linda teach our class how to set up an I.V. with the help of her daughter Berkley (background) and Dr. Cuauhtemoc (far right).  Linda is a nurse and clinician in California and Berkley is studying nursing.  It was great hands on experience for both of them who performed triage for around 300 patients while we traveled from town to town.

If you are interested in a VEA experience, contact Nate Harris at 602-601-6056 or tionate@cox.net .  We have another trip being organized for November.