July 8, 2015, Chicaman, Guatemala – Sister Nancy Jurecki, OP, was one of 214 volunteers – and a member of one of 10 service teams – from Providence Health and Services to make short-term service trips to benefit the people of the predominantly Mayan community of Chicaman in the central highlands of Guatemala.
Recently returned from her week-long trip to Chicaman, Sister Nancy said her team spent their time digging latrines in response to the local community’s need for greater sanitation. The dysentery in the area greatly increased the child mortality rate. To address this problem, Providence volunteers in the first 10 months of the system’s three-year commitment to Chicaman installed 230 sanitary latrines, as well as hand-washing stations. In addition, volunteers in other teams built 220 cooking stoves, according to Providence’s June 2015 newsletter. Another 4,400 received medical and dental care.
The people of Chicaman benefited from the funds donated by Providence, Sister Nancy said. Yet in some ways, she added, the volunteers who served in Chicaman in the first six months of 2015 benefited more than the local people. “We did the physical work,” Sister Nancy said. “The reality is that the people could have done the work, but it was a wonderful opportunity for growth for us” to have that experience. The time in Chicaman “opened up our world.”
The people of Chicaman live in one-room shacks and cook with stoves in the middle of the room. The new stoves built by other Providence teams help to direct the smoke out of the people’s homes. The intent was to alleviate the lung damage that the people suffered from inhaling the smoke in their homes, Sister Nancy explained.
The team from Providence stayed in a simple hotel about an hour’s drive on a bumpy dirt road because the people had no room to house them in their shacks. Still, Sister Nancy said she was impressed by the hospitality that the people showed them. “I was invited into somebody’s house,” she said. “We weren’t speaking the same language, and yet some kind of bond developed where somebody wanted to share their home with me.”
The people of Chicaman also took the time to share their lives and their culture with the team. “They did Mayan dances for us,” Sister Nancy recalled. “They pulled everyone in our group to dance with them. They were fully engaged with us and they allowed us to be fully engaged with them.”
Sister Nancy said she was especially moved by the sense of trust that the people showed in them. The Mayan people have been rightly skeptical of white people since the Europeans first came to Guatemala. The efforts of the teams from Providence seemed to rebuild trust, however. Sister Nancy recalled one of the leaders of Chicaman, toward the end of the team’s stay, telling them, “You’re taller than we are and you’re whiter than we are, but you care for our children and we trust you.”
The week-long experience also created a deeper bond among the team members, who gathered every day during their trip for prayer and reflection on the experience. Now that they’re back in the United States, the team members – who live and work in different hospitals in the different states served by Providence -- also connect with one another through conference calls.
The team members also let others from Providence know about their experience and what it has meant to them, encouraging others to be part of the experience during service trips in the next two years. As a mission leader for the system, Sister Nancy said, she has a unique opportunity to share her experience with people from throughout the system. Providence encompasses health care services in the states of California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Alaska.
Summing up her own experience, Sister Nancy said, “It was wonderful. It was very hard work, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”