A group from Wesley United Methodist Church embarked on a mission trip to Guatemala earlier this year to build a school and operate a medical clinic in the small village of La Soledad located in the southwestern part of the country.

“The secondary school consisted of two crude buildings with dirt floors, chicken screen and salvaged boards; there was no electricity, no desks, no tables and no textbooks," Mike Erickson, the group's leader, said. "The neighboring villages called it the 'chicken coop school,' but now they're no longer able to say that; the students are in a new concrete block building with a floor, doors, windows and electricity."

The team also built tables, shelving and benches for the school. This is the first year of an expected three-year project, Erickson said, and by the end of it, the team hopes to stock the school with up-to-date textbooks and other supplies.

This is the 10th year that Erickson and several on his team have ventured to Guatemala to build schools and operate medical clinics. Former seasonal residents and Wesley members Norris and Fran Allen of Dickson, Tenn. led the first trip in 1973.

This year's team consisted of sixteen members, a bus driver and four translators.  A large part of the group – a doctor, a physician assistant, registered nurse, pharmacy tech and two aides – operated a medical clinic in one of the primitive buildings using donated tables and shelves for examination tables and a pharmacy. They saw approximately 138 patients a day, and most of the examinations consisted of acute and chronic conditions. 

The pharmacy tech filled prescriptions from the doctors at the rate of more than 250 a day.They also provided much-needed vitamins and infant formula, both of which are usually too expensive for villagers to afford; the typical rural Guatemalan family lives on less than $5 a day – a can of baby formula costs $24, and will feed a baby for five days.

For the last eight years, Wesley United Methodist Church has worked in conjunction with the Living Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to working on sustainable development projects in rural Guatemala. The foundation, led by Carla Gonzales Ramirez, has made education a priority in the more remote areas of the country, which has a literacy rate of less than 30 percent.

As part of its educational mission, Living Heritage Foundation has developed a scholarship program that enables children who otherwise would not be able to go to school to get an education.

“We can’t wait to go back next year," one Wesley United Methodist Church parishioner said. "They are such a wonderful, caring people who've never had a chance to get beyond a survival mode of living. Anything we can do to make their lives easier, healthier and share the love of God and Jesus is what we were called to do.”

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