Gratitude – Vera from the Camioneta

Our medical intern, Vera Goldberg, reflects on what she is thankful for this holiday season.


1238144_10151825098461005_2007995665_nVera Goldberg recently completed her 3rd year at Harvard Medical School, and is taking a year away from Boston to work for Maya Health Alliance | Wuqu’ Kawoq. She enjoys salsa dancing and learning new languages – she is currently studying Kaqchikel. A career as a pediatrician is in her near future, and she hopes to split her time between providing medical care and advocating for underserved pediatric populations in the United States, Guatemala and Gambia.

Thursday, November 26, 2015.

It’s Thanksgiving Day. I finish a morning home visit with the técnica de nutrición  (nutrition technician) and head to the bus terminal in Patulul in search of a camioneta to begin the first leg of my trip to turkey dinner.

Say hello to your old school bus. A camioneta is often a former school bus, usually from the United States, which has made its way to Guatemala. During your school bus’s reincarnation, its engine is refurbished, the inner walls are decorated with numerous peel-and-stick decals referencing Jesus, the outside is re-painted with vibrant colors, and it is bestowed a name such as Esmeralda (Emerald), Xoyita, or Esperanza (Hope).

The camioneta named Princesita, the Little Princess.

I have spent quite a bit of time riding in camionetas (also called “chicken buses”) or waiting for camionetas while working in Guatemala. It is a challenge to get work done while the bus zips down undulating highways and jostles passengers from side to side. Sorry to dash your hopes and dreams, this post was not written while in a camioneta. However, the camioneta ride is often an excellent opportunity to reflect or to chit-chat with other passengers and inevitably become, literally, quite close given that three adults along with little ones typically squeeze into a seat and people pack the aisles. This morning was an occasion to reflect – after all it was Thanksgiving.


I give thanks for the opportunity to live in Guatemala again, for the families that have welcomed me into their communities and homes again and again, and for the opportunity be part of such a hardworking and earnest organization, Wuqu’ Kawoq.  

Here I am in clinic, high-fiving a little one.

I am especially thankful for the opportunity to return once a month to a remote community in northern rural Guatemala that I first visited in summer 2013. As the camioneta roared down the road past rows of corn crops, I am reminded of this community and the struggles they face. This year was an especially challenging one. The rainy season came late, and when the rain finally did arrive, it was feeble and insufficient to quench the parched earth. Insufficient rain meant failed crops for a community of campesinos (farmers) who earn meager wages by planting, cleaning, and harvesting corn and beans. Failed crops translated into lower earnings and rising food prices and thus less food to feed their families in a community that has limited access to food at baseline. Water does not automatically flow from an opened faucet, a luxury I enjoy while in the States; rather, it comes and goes. Possibly the only silver lining to the scarcity of rain was that the river separating this community from the surrounding region did not grow, making it easier to traverse the waters by vehicle. The only bridge connecting this community to the rocky path across the river is a rickety, narrow, wooden bridge for pedestrians and motorcycles.


Typically, families buy their fruits and vegetables once a week from the nearest open market, which is at least one hour away by vehicle. The combi (microbus) only travels to and from their community once a day, and sometimes community members walk on a rocky, dusty path for 45 to 50 min to get to the nearest main road. Since the community is not connected to an electrical grid, there are no refrigerators to store food. A few families do have solar panels, and as a result other families can charge their cell phones for a small fee.


This year I am especially grateful that Wuqu’ Kawoq helped two children in this community to get much needed medical care. Thanks to Wuqu’ Kawoq an infant with a facial hemangioma that once swallowed up her right eye and much of the right side of her face is responding well to treatment and is beginning to open up her right eye for the first time since she was 1 month old. Thanks to Wuqu’ Kawoq a little boy, who everyone calls Chico, with an inguinal hernia the size of a tennis ball, underwent a successful surgery.

photo 1
Chico is his nickname.
photo 2
Here he is after his successful hernia surgery!

When I was in this community two years ago, it would not have been possible to coordinate care for these two patients. I was not connected to Wuqu’ Kawoq. I did not know how to navigate the health care system. Thankfully this time around I am connected to Wuqu’ Kawoq, which opened up the opportunity for crowd funding, care-coordination, imaging studies, access to high quality care, adequate medication, and reliable follow-up. I am so grateful that Wuqu’ Kawoq took on these cases. Thank you Wuqu’ Kawoq – Dr. Peter, Anne Kraemer Diaz, Merida (patient coordinator), Dra. Waleska, Dr. Boris, Katia (complex care coordinator), Oscar, and other members of Wuqu’ Kawoq – for not allowing these children and this community to be forgotten. A special thank you to donors who made it possible to provide medical care for these two children and for many, many other patients who receive care through Wuqu’ Kawoq. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Gracias. Maytöx.