Summer 2018 — For more than 40 years the Dominican Sisters have ministered to the Mayan people in Chiapas, who live in villages that are isolated and underserved. Yet these people descend from a civilization that thrived before Spanish colonialists arrived, decimating Mayan art, agriculture, identity and spirituality.
Five Dominicans make up the Comunidad de San Martin de Porres in Chiapas – two Hermanas from the Province of Mexico (Hna. Maria Isabel Hernández Rea, Hna. Francisca ‘Paqui’ Quintero Osorio), one Sister from the United States (S. Helena Im) and two Mayan candi- dates in formation to join the congregation (Dionicia Díaz Ruiz, Martha Hernández Sántiz). How apt that their community honors St. Martin, the lay Dominican brother who served Peru’s poor in the 17th century and is recognized as the patron of Mestizos, mixed-race peoples and public health workers!
When San Andrés Apóstol parish leaders described Chiapas’ persistent medical and vision challenges, the Sisters turned to Motherhouse and Mexico Province leaders for support. Endemic health challenges were also shared with four congregations that make up the OP West group - San Rafael, Oakford, Adrian, Mission San Jose Dominicans.
OP West agreed to help fund a volunteer medical visit in 2015. In Mexico, Ss. Helena and Paqui contacted local physicians and doctors and dentists from Clínica de Equipula who agreed to make clinical visits to Mayan villages three times a year – a connection that continues to serve isolated families.
The next step – identify volunteers to staff clinical visits to five Chiapas communities. The 2015 volunteers included Mexico and US physicians, California nurses, Spanish/English translators from Southern California and students from the congregation’s Colegio Robert F. Kennedy school in Mexico City. Parish Health Promoters and indigenous volunteers were trained to translate their Mayan language T’sotsil into Spanish, completing the team.
Hna. Paqui and S. Helena worked with the parish leaders to select five village sites, managing food, lodging, transportation logistics. S. Linh Dao, a registered nurse from Anaheim, assembled volunteer doctors and nurses, collected over-the-counter and prescription medicines and made travel arrange- ments for the 9-member US team.
Blessings and Challenges in 2015
Despite months of planning, shipment of donated medicines was canceled two weeks before the trip, jeopardizing the project. Congregational Prioress S. Gloria Marie Jones sent out an emergency appeal and Sisters in both countries scrambled to save the project. Word spread and in a matter of days $13,000 was raised from individual donors, Dominican and Franciscan congre- gations and diverse Vietnamese and Korean faith communities. With these funds, Sisters in Mexico hurried to purchase medicines and green light the project.
Volunteers and translators arrived on June 20th for a 5-day visit to Bayalemó, Potobtic, Cabecera, Noptic, Yolte. T’sotsil translators worked alongside English and Spanish speakers so volunteers could understand each person’s needs. Active listening and shared suffering attended each patient until the end of the day when the exhausted team returned to the convent for supper, conversations and assembling medicines for the next day.
The outreach healed villagers and volunteers, transforming lives in both countries. Figures fail to capture the blessings, but by week’s end volunteers created 694 new medical files and 87 dental records. Inspired team members promised to return and continue the outreach as an annual program.
A year later the Sisters sponsored a smaller medical trip to enhance Health Promoter clinical training. Two doctors, two volunteers, S. Linh and Chiapas health promoters saw 140 patients. Parish health promoters learned to administer injections, take vital signs and attend patients. This vision – creating a certified indigenous health team requires ongoing education and government certification, allowing the promoters to provide limited care, patient referrals and Mayan herbal and alternative therapies.
2017 Outreach and Outcomes
California volunteers boarded a midnight flight from Los Angeles. Two Dominican students joined them in Mexico City and all flew on to Tuxtla, Chiapas. After a 90-minute drive the team arrived at San Martin de Porres convent where the Sisters welcomed them.
The team rose early for a 6:30 AM breakfast. The volunteers brought personal water bottles and thermoses for tea or coffee. At 7 AM Health Promoters departed for the villages to prepare patients. The volunteers followed and exams began at 9, continuing until the last patient was evaluated. Team debriefs in the village closed each day before the drive back to the convent.
The team returned to Bayalemó and Yolte and three new villages – Suytic, Teopisca, Peña Blanca. Kidney cases were identified using the Phillips Lumify ultrasound unit and potential tuberculosis cases were also detected. Point of Care instruments provided onsite diag- nostics, demonstrating the health gains that could be achieved with locally available equipment and periodic doctor visits. A total of 634 people were examined – 418 medical and 180 vision cases, plus 36 physical therapy sessions. Doctors also left referrals for further tests or treatment.
Support for the 2017 Chiapas appeal totaled nearly $55,000 from 300 donors, pharmacists, physicians, medical supply companies and equipment manufactures. Contributions covered outreach expenses and provided sufficient funds for future patient tests, equipment, transportation and Health Promoters training programs as summarized in the budget (see left).
A small group of Dominican Sisters was determined to meet health and human needs among remote Mayan families. Collaboration with lay volunteers and donors offered a healing bridge, uniting rather than dividing and responding as one community. This is the transformation that continues in Chiapas and within each of us with your support.
Ask questions and share your thoughts with Mission Advancement Director, Margaret McCarthy at email@example.com