I Saw Community

There are not adequate words to describe all that we have experienced in these first few days in Coban, Guatemala. We have been warmly welcomed with hugs, smiles, and infinite expressions of gratitude. While sitting in the LAX airport Saturday night as a team, Dr. Stephanie said something that stuck with me as we embarked on an adventure in a new place. She said, “Community is responsible for your health.” At the time, I thought of this in a more literal, geographic sense. Yes, of course community is responsible for health. Where people live ultimately impacts their health outcomes. Poorer communities suffer greater health issues due to increased exposure to unsafe conditions. It was when I arrived in Guatemala that I saw what community means to the people and how community truly impacts the health of its individuals in miraculous ways.

In Coban, community is reflected in an eight year old boy holding his 3 month old cousin during her doctor appointment, communicating with the doctor entirely on his own. It is a 74 year old Indigenous woman with hands that tell a story, carrying a machete and loads of grass to her home when a friend offers to drive her there in his truck. It is the face of the school nurse who works effortlessly to learn what is needed to care for the kids at Cuidad De Esperanza. Community is the teacher that gives her heart and soul to the well being of the students she is serving. It is the family of ten living in a wood home with two beds and a tin roof, which is filled with immense worship and gratitude and love. 

Yes, I’m certain that community is responsible for one’s health. That is why the people of Coban live rich lives. That is why the people of Coban are well. The sense of community that is cultivated in Coban is reflected in the infinite smiles of the children, the never ending gratitude of the elders, and the humble happiness of Ciudad de Esperanza and in the homes of the community’s people. Before coming to Guatemala, many people expressed their concern of how difficult it will be to witness so much suffering and poverty. When I arrived in Coban, I did not see suffering. I saw joyous human beings full of purpose and love. I saw kindness, humility, and faith. I saw a rich culture with old souls and kindred spirits. I saw poverty and sickness. I saw circumstances that were different than mine. But most importantly, I saw people. I saw community.

To end, I’d like to illustrate a home visit I went on today to visit an eighty six year old woman. When we arrived, I could barley see her face through her withering body. Her back was hunched. Her skin was dark with deep wrinkles, as someone who had spent many years in the sun. Her long, white hair was pulled behind her in an elegant way. She coughed in pain that took every bit of her energy. She looked defeated, sad, and sick. After establishing that the woman was clearly ill, Dr. Richard discussed the possibility of taking her to the hospital only to find that she had just been there a few months prior and was sent home immediately. Was it worth it to go to the hospital and put this woman through so much and take her from her home and environment and family only to have her sent home or not adequately cared for? At that exact moment, the woman’s grandson hopped up into her fragile lap. Her posture instantly rose inches and she looked up for the first time. Her eyes twinkled. This little boy was his grandmother’s community. He was the best medicine that this woman needed at the time and it was right in her home.

Kye Madsen


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