Pediatrician Returns from Guatemalan Medical Mission Trip with More than Just Memories

While it happens to be the time of year that highlights the tradition of giving, Dr. Jill Bolstad’s generosity exists far beyond the season. A pediatrician at Benefis Health System, Dr. Bolstad recently returned from a medical mission trip with Health Talents International to remote mountain villages around Chichicastenanga, Guatemala, where the group provided essential medical services for large families who manage on very little – most live on $80 to $150 a month.

“Historically, these have been forgotten people,” Dr. Bolstad stated. “They are loving, wonderful families who take as good care of their kids as they possibly can. The people work harder than anyone I’ve ever seen.” However, cyclical poverty has caused this nurturing, culturally vibrant community to be significantly undereducated and malnourished.

Most parents are laborers who only get paid when work is available, and because the majority don’t make enough to feed their whole family, kids drop out of school by age 9 or 10 and the cycle perpetuates. “Sixty-percent of children there don’t finish school. If they can stay in school, they’re more likely to get a job with a better income, and that impacts the outlook for the entire family,” Dr. Bolstad explained.

Once her spot in the group of ten traveling healthcare professionals was solidified, Dr. Bolstad asked Benefis to donate medical supplies for the medical mission. The impactful donation included anti-parasite medication, antibiotics, vitamins, prenatal supplements, skin cream, over-the-counter pain relievers, and anesthetics and antibiotics for surgical procedures.

The medical mission group provided a wide range of care. Conditions most commonly treated were intestinal infections from contaminated water, chronic malnutrition, respiratory infections, skin infections, and diabetes. Churches were converted into clinics as folding tables were brought in for exams and bedsheets were hung for privacy.

Dr. Bolstad was attracted to Health Talents International because of the organization’s primary focus on solutions for changing the cycle of poverty, especially through education. Their ABC Child Sponsorship program keeps kids in school and provides free medical and dental care. In turn, the children commit to maintaining good grades, meeting school attendance requirements, and getting their biannual physical exams and dental visits. The program also includes education for families on health-related topics, such as hygiene.

Because of her experience with the program, Dr. Bolstad is considering participating again next year. “I thought it was amazing,” she said. Until next time, she will help as much as she can from a distance. For Christmas, in lieu of material gifts for each of her five biological kids, she opted to sponsor five Guatemalan children until they are finished with school. Dr. Bolstad’s inspired giving reflects her positive experience with the Guatemalan people and her overall respect for humanity: “They never had the luxury of dreaming,” she said. “Now they can dream.”