Inspiring Commitment Shown by Paz Salud’s 22nd Health Mission to El Salvador
By Margaret Gaffney, CSJP-A
l-r, Sr. Susan Dewitt, Margaret Gaffney, CSJP-A, Srs. Marilee Murphy and Amalia Camacho
Sisters Marilee Murphy and Amalia Camacho, and Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace Associate Margaret Gaffney, were among the thirty volunteers who joined co-directors Sister Susan Dewitt and Kathy Garcia at the February 2012 week-long Paz Salud health mission in San Jose Villanueva, El Salvador. The group set up and conducted four clinics, eyes, pediatrics, ob-gyn, and general health, in the classrooms of a parish Catholic School which the pastor had closed for the week in order to allow the health mission the use of the facilities. The number of patients seen over the week’s time, 1650, is testimony to the efficient and organized way in which the health mission was organized and conducted, thanks to the year-round work of the co-directors, Sister Susan Dewitt and Kathy Garcia. The number of clinic visits was even higher, as most of the patients were seen in two, or even three, of the clinics.
Your writer assisted as an interpreter in “Ojos 3,” where we fitted patients with eyeglasses to match the prescriptions they received after an examination by the optometrists in the eye clinic. Each patient was also fitted with a pair of sunglasses. For most of the patients, it was the first time they had ever had an eye examination. Our supply of eyeglasses, and also sunglasses, were the thousands donated by the Lions Club. Some of the eyeglasses were brand new. Most of them had been pre-used. Each pair of eyeglasses was enclosed in a small ziplock bag with its exact prescription written on the outside of the bag, making it easy for the professional optician and her crew of assistants to correctly match the eyeglasses to the prescriptions written by the optometrists. The already sunny days in El Salvador were brightened even more by the looks on the faces of the patients who, when receiving their new eyeglasses, could finally see clearly. All we needed was a recording of the song from the 1960s, “I Can See Clearly Now…!” The health mission ended with a “Despedido,” a good-bye party, at which we were entertained by an excellent group of Salvadoran folk dancers accompanied by an enthusiastic group of local teen-age “disc jockeys.” We received heart-felt thanks from the pastor and many of the patients. We each received a certificate of appreciation, and a small, original, framed hand painting of a scene in El Salvador. We celebrated with cake and punch!
For the week of the health mission, we stayed in a very comfortable near-by retreat center in the hills. Our transportation was provided by the very pleasant, capable and accommodating Hernan, from San Salvador, who owns and operates a new, reliable, and comfortable tour bus, which our group of 32 filled to capacity! At the end of the week, after we closed down the clinics and returned the school to the parish, we journeyed on to San Salvador for a week-end of touring and cultural sights. We visited the Carmelite Chapel where Archbishop Romero worked and was assassinated, and the University of Central America, where the seven Jesuits and their housekeeper and the housekeeper’s daughter met the same fate. We also visited the gallery of Fernando Llort, a contemporary, very popular El Salvadoran artist, known for his characteristic use of bright colors, geometric shapes, and themes of nature in paintings, drawings, and tiles. The front of the San Salvador Cathedral had been decorated with a mural done by Fernando Llort until early January, 2011, when, tragically, and unknown in advance, the local bishop ordered the tiles removed. The removal was accomplished by chiseling the tiles off the front of the Cathedral, and reducing them to shards and dust.
Our final day was a Sunday in Suchitoto, where we visited Sister Peggy O’Neil’s Centro De Artes y Paz, had lunch in Susan Dewitt’s home, and spent the afternoon resting, exploring the small tourist town, and shopping!
I came home with strong impressions of the poverty in El Salvador, the hope and positive spirit of the El Salvadoran people, and the gang problems. But my strongest impression is my great admiration for, and thanks to, Peace Health and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, who have sponsored this health mission twice a year for the last eleven years! One of the other volunteers, a medical doctor from Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene, OR, spoke for the rest of us in his proclamation of pride in working for an organization that sponsors such a health mission, and his resolution to spread the good word of the health mission and the demonstrated commitment of its sponsors, in response to negative comments he hears about the commercial side of the healthcare industry.