PTS in Guatemala

Blog post by Kaitlin Mulcahey, CCC-SLP

In August of 2016, I was given the opportunity to attend a mission trip through Orphan’s Heart at a malnutrition center in San Juan, Guatemala. When I heard about the trip through my church in Lakeland and knew it would involve working with the pediatric and special needs population I knew it would be a great opportunity. I attended this trip with a previous PTS employee and physical therapist, Miss. Gia. The trip started off by the plane having to make an emergency landing in El Salvador due to an issue with the brakes and the runway in Guatemala being wet, it was too risky. Where we arrived, there were thousands of people lined up outside the airport to greet their loved ones. After we made it through customs, we were sent to a hotel on a bus where we spent the night.

We headed to Guatemala in the morning. Our first stop was a coffee plantation where we were able to either go on a coffee tour or go zip lining. The next morning, we headed to the malnutrition center. The children at the center essentially live there because their families do not have the financial means and resources to feed them and provide them with a healthy childhood; the average income in San Juan is between 1,200-2,000 US dollars per year. These children live at the center and their parents and family have the opportunity to visit them weekly. The children are followed by a pediatrician, social worker and nutritionist and are sent home when all three professionals feel they are ready and once their families show they have the means to care for them.

While we were at the center, we worked to lead the children in daily activity time such as crafts, time outdoors, free-play and music time. It was essential that we spent time 1:1 with each child because many of these children were severely delayed in all motor skills. Some of the main things that stood out to me during this trip were the drastic differences between being a therapist in the clinic and being a volunteer at the center. As a therapist, the focus is often on age-appropriate skills and making improvements toward goals involving language, gross motor and fine motor tasks. At the center, the focus is on nutrition. It is not important if the children are feeding themselves and holding utensils properly, it is more important that they meet caloric needs. The nannies, who spend each day with the children, feed them as quickly as possible during each meal.  There is often only one nanny assigned to each room of 10 – 15 children at a time.

The children are often required to entertain themselves, so they love when teams go out and visit them because they are given more 1:1 time. It was admirable to see that even though these children have close to nothing they were still so happy. I am looking forward to going back and learning even more from these little ones.