Temple mission trip to Guatemala focuses on long-term results

The excursion aims to address the Panajachel community’s long-term needs and promote the importance of sanitation through education.

Alyssa Nguyen, a fourth-year pharmacy student, will be joining her colleagues for a week-long mission trip to Guatemala next month. | JEREMY ELVAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Following a pharmacy mission trip in Haiti, Alyssa Nguyen noticed that the relief efforts from various organizations extended far beyond a can of food.

She said that countries that typically only received food donations were unable to sustain their nation’s success, while programs that focused on education allowed a community to thrive.

“In the long-term, it has to be programs that emphasize education,” Nguyen said. “A lot of these people don’t want just your help, they also want to know how to help themselves. That’s why the education aspect is really important.”

Nguyen, a fourth-year pharmacy student, is one of nine Temple students embarking on a six-day mission trip in April to Panajachel, Guatemala. Part of an elective clinical rotation through Temple’s School of Pharmacy, the group will aid the area by installing a water filtration system and holding a lecture series about the importance of hygiene against preventable diseases.

The trip is part of a partnership with Woodland Public Charity, a nonprofit organization addressing the lack of education, health and safe drinking water in Central and South America. The organization has partnered with Temple University since 2010.

This Guatemala trip is only one of Woodland Charity’s eight planned for 2019.

“We don’t just try to go there one time and then disappear,” said Jorge Coromac, Woodland’s Central and South American Program executive director. “We try to establish a community-based program and that means the communities themselves have to lead the initiatives.”

Nguyen and her peers will advise the community on the measures taken to prevent infectious diseases like Zika, yellow fever and malaria. In addition, the group will give families check-ups, blood pressure tests, eye scans and glucose tests, something Nguyen considers “basic health care services in America.”

The group will also mentor local nurses in the area on the distribution and proper storage of medicine.

Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America and home to more than 16 million people. According to Agro America, 53 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and 51 percent have poor sanitation resources.

In addition to programming, the group participated in multiple fundraising projects like a raffle event at Tavern on Broad on March 8 to raise money for medication.

Donations from the campaign will go toward water filtration systems, which are expected to last up to 10 years in the community. Leftover funds will be used for supplies to construct beds for children and distributed to 50 families in the region who otherwise sleep on floor mats.

Nguyen, the group’s financial adviser, sought to raise $2,500 dollars through GoFundMe for the cause.

“The trip is dynamic, like their needs may change year to year based on if there’s a natural disaster,” Nguyen said. “That’s why funding is very important to us because it all goes directly to the citizens and it determines what kind of care we can provide for them.”

The partnership with Woodland is beneficial because Temple not only recruits volunteers but also brings the students’ knowledge and talents to share with the communities, Coromac said. Both students and communities can learn from the experience, he added.

“We provide this cultural experience to the teams,” he said. “They have meetings with the local leaders, they meet with the teachers, they travel to see the local clinics, pharmacies and hospitals so they can have an idea of the challenges these people face in regular life.”

The trips are possible because of the work of Nicole Sifontis, a Temple pharmacy clinical professor who will guide the students on their pharmacy mission trip to Guatemala, Coromac said.

“Dr. Sifontis has traveled consistently to these locations, and she’s well known in the areas for doing pharmacy work,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen and her peers have an affinity for global outreach, she said, and she hopes to continue using her pharmaceutical skills to benefit communities.

“At the end of the day, it’s not just about the recognition or putting something on our CV,” Nguyen said. “We all genuinely joined because we really want to make a difference that lasts and show everyone what pharmacists are capable of doing.”

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