by Victoria Calderon


I read once that discovery wasn’t so much as seeking new lands but learning to see things with new eyes – a new perspective. This July, I embarked on my own discovery to Guatemala, where I learned at the hand of strangers and volunteers a newfound sense of hope, strength, kindness and little known heroes.

I joined a medical mission from northwest Ohio made up of physicians, medical students and volunteers given the chance to help indigent and medically needy people. Armed with twenty-two, fifty-pound army duffels filled with supplies, we traveled east of the country’s capital to San Lucas Toliman.

Surrounded by lush greenery and mountains where white, puffy clouds sit, it’s hard to believe staggering poverty lives in this Central American paradise.

For one week, I lived in a world where worms in your belly were the norm and something as simple as a supply of Tylenol gave people peace of mind. In San Lucas, a man without legs could not leave his home for twelve years because there were no wheelchairs narrow enough to fit through the alleyways that led to his home. Children cared for babies while their mothers cared for more siblings, and they treated new flip-flops and stuffed animals like they were made of pure gold.

I learned what humanity is as our mission gifted a specialized wheel chair to that immobile man, and gave out simple Albendazole pills that cured those tapeworms. And while it hurt not to have enough shoes or toys for every needy kid, the look on the faces of those we could help made all the difference.

The men, women, and children of Guatemala are no different than the kind we find around the world, although our struggles vary widely. However, it’s easy to be dissuaded by the superficial differences – what we wear, how we speak, what we look like – and we can forget how very similar we all are.

This type of discovery wasn’t comfortable when I compared how different our quality of life was. These realizations hurt with a dull kind of heartache that snuck up on me but melted at the sight of a happy baby on a mother’s hip or a heartfelt “thank you.” I know this trip caused me to take a hard look at the things I consider important and especially the things I take for granted (clean water, a sanitation system, refrigeration, shoes).

I felt reminded that often the scariest things to do such as talking to strangers or exploring a new country are often the most rewarding, and that learning a little more about our humanity never hurt anyone. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s one of the few things that have always helped. 

So yes, there are lessons that you can’t get out of a book that are waiting for you at the other end of a flight (in the words of Henry Rollins), but there are so many lessons about people and what we can do to help them and each other right outside of your doorstep too.

Discovery is not in just exploring new lands but in seeing with new eyes – a perspective that compassionate, patient, and even a little bit hopeful of the future.

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