You may know that at Readers.com we are passionate about spreading happiness beyond our four walls. One of the ways we do this is by partnering with Timmy Global Health to expand access to healthcare across the world. Our partnership with Timmy Global Health involves us donating our reading glasses to underserved communities in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Ecuador. However, last month we had the opportunity to send two of our very own team members, Kari Daffron and Julie Schieferstein, to join Timmy Global Health on their medical service trip to Xela, Guatemala.
We were so excited to hear about Julie and Kari’s experiences while serving the communities in Guatemala that we wanted to share their story with you too.
Welcome back from Guatemala! Can you tell us a little about yourselves, and what you do for Readers.com?
J: I am the Merchandising Manager and work to purchase our products for Readers.com.
K: Hi, I am Kari and I am the Content & PR Manager in our Marketing Department at Readers.com. My team oversees social media, graphic design, content writing, PR, and more.
You just got back from a service trip in Guatemala with Timmy Global Health. Can you tell us about what made you decide to work alongside Timmy for this trip?
J: Being in Merchandising, I have had the opportunity to work closely with Timmy when organizing our product donations. I have always been fascinated by the trips Timmy takes and wanted to see the difference they make in other’s lives first hand. They offer a young professionals trip to Xela, Guatemala each year so it was an opportunity to work alongside the medical professionals to help these communities with medical care and see our glasses given to people who need them.
K: From the first time Timmy Global Health came to visit Readers.com to inform our team members about their health brigades, I had a desire to work alongside them. Not only does their mission align with my personal and professional goals, but their execution was truly admirable.
Can you give us a little background information on who Timmy Global Health is and what their mission is?
J: Timmy Global Health’s mission is to expand access to healthcare and empower students and volunteers to tackle today’s most pressing global health challenges. They work with a local organization in Guatemala to offer clinics 4 x per year in 5 different communities. That way, people with chronic conditions like diabetes, osteoporosis, or any other illnesses or ailments, can see a doctor and get the medical help they need and maybe don’t have regular access to in their village.
You both work for Readers.com, where eyewear is a part of your everyday work. What was it like to be in a place where eyewear is not accessible for the people who need it?
J: Many of the women who needed reading glasses could not read and needed them in order to weave or work. Giving them access to reading glasses helps them continue to contribute to their family’s income. It was pretty powerful. These glasses aren’t just for hobbies. They can vastly improve someone’s life.
K: You only realize how truly fortunate we are and what we take for granted most days when you are in an environment which things are not as easily accessible, or accessible at all. Most of the patients we worked with during our time in Guatemala could not even explain the need or want for reading glasses, but instead would describe the impact of their everyday lives by not being able to see their detailed work. Most of the community members depend on detailed work for their everyday living. It was a remarkable task to be able to provide such a simple tool to help assist them, and know that will truly impact them and their families.
Was this your first international service trip?
J: It was! I have always been interested in traveling on a service trip, but besides our partnership with them, what really drew me to the Timmy trip was their emphasis on continuous care.
K: This was my first international service trip! It was my first official service trip all together. My husband and I are avid travelers, but being fortunate enough to go on this specific international service trip has been a trip of a lifetime. I plan to continue these trips and spread even more happiness beyond our four walls here at Readers.com.
How did this trip compare to your expectations of what a service trip would be like?
J: The logistics of a weeklong trip that takes us to 5 different communities are a huge task that Timmy takes on with ease. I really didn’t know what to expect in terms of environment or my usefulness as a non-medical professional, but Timmy always found a place for me in the group. From getting to scribe for doctors, to taking patient vitals, I felt like I was still helping to run a smooth clinic. The experience was so eye opening!
K: Timmy Global Health did a remarkable job of helping all of the volunteers prepare mentally and physically for what this service trip would need/entail. I felt I was the most prepared I could be, but nothing can truly prepare you for the feeling you will experience when seeing the patients and working with them one on one. It has been one of the most joyful experiences throughout my life.
What was your role while serving with Timmy?
J: My role within the brigade was switched up almost daily, which I loved because I got to see almost every side of the operation. From running the patient flow, to scribing a doctor’s prescriptions, counting out those prescription medicines to taking patient vitals. I also helped administer reading and sunglasses which I felt right at home doing! It was so fun to be apart of the process start to finish!
K: Each day my role on the brigade changed slightly. Everyone was in charge of helping prepare for clinic each day by getting bags packed before we left in the morning and then setting up once we arrived on site. Some days I worked as a scribe for a volunteer doctor on the brigade. I would type in notes as they examined the patient, the pain points the patient was having, and would enter the prescriptions for the pharmacy to fill at the next station. Other days I was in the pharmacy filling prescription and counting out vitamins for the adults and children that would be visiting the clinic that day. An additional role of mine was to take vitals after patients were checked in. This included blood pressure, heart rate, height, and weight.
What did you learn about the people you were serving?
J: Their sense of community spanned across generations. Many of the older patients spoke indigenous languages like Mam and C’iche, and their children or grandchildren would attend to translate to Spanish. You could see family and community bonds in each village we visited. Though these communities maybe didn’t have much from a westerner’s point of view, they were grateful for what they did have and grateful for organizations like Timmy who come to help.
K: The patients that we served while we were in Guatemala were astonishing. I truly feel we could learn so much from other cultures and should take bits and pieces back home with you as you travel the world (if you are fortunate enough to be able to do so). I hope the kindness I learned from them sticks with me during my lifetime.
What did you find challenging about this trip?
J: You know, I really didn’t know what to expect! I think not being able to 100% understand the patient’s via language was a challenge, and with double translation, was even more challenging. You used a lot of body language, especially when interacting with patients to take their vitals. Sometimes I wanted to be able to look at a patient and tell them everything was going to be okay, but that language barrier made that hard.
K: As I mentioned before, it is impossible to be 100% prepared for a service trip like this. What I thought would be one of my biggest barriers, the language barrier was actually less challenging than believed. The communication and emotions exchanged through no words, but often time laughter and expressions, are so much stronger than I could have ever anticipated. I was fortunate enough to be in the room when a mother was able to hear her baby’s heart rate for the first time, and in that moment, the differences of languages was not relevant at all.
Instead, one thing I found challenging was the diet change we had to make for an international trip. It seems so silly, but the affects the food and water can have on our bodies when we are not accustomed to it can really make or break a trip — especially one where the goal is to help others. Preparation is key!
What did you find rewarding?
J: Rewards came in many forms from this trip. First, being able to see and be the helping hand at a Timmy Clinic. It just made me feel good knowing that one woman could now see her weavings with her new reading glasses or another patient finally got some relief from back pain she was having with the stretches and Advil administered via the pharmacy. Another reward was meeting some amazing people on our brigade. Spanning our early twenties onto our 60s, I will always share a special bond with the volunteers we met. Everyone was positive and uplifting, but kept it real, which I loved. Even in the tougher moments, we all banded together, shared encouragement and laughs, and worked toward the common goal. I am so inspired by the people I met during my week in Guatemala.
K: The entirety of the trip I would describe as rewarding. I could not have imagined the experiences I would have gained and I only have a desire to go back, to Xela and other communities, to continue giving back. It is truly contagious.
How important is it to maintain a flexible attitude when going on a trip like this?
J: You HAVE to be flexible! You are traveling for hours each day to hillside villages and have a set amount of time to accomplish your clinic goals. A can-do attitude and a little laughter can go a long way! Haha I was just remembering the struggle of remembering to brush your teeth with water from a water bottle. That was a (pretty small but important) challenge! But your attitude is key.
K: Flexibility is key. Timmy Global Health has perfected the organization of each brigade, but each still is so different than the next. Especially when having to travel each day, new things are always arising. It is best to be flexible and willing to ensure that accomplishing the mission of providing care for those in need is the main priority.
How did your time in Guatemala affect your perspective on the challenges facing developing countries?
J: I had never visited a developing country before and I feel like what really stuck out to me on this trip to Guatemala was that you can have so much while having so little. It is all about your perspective. In the end, the people and relationships you meet and cultivate throughout your life are what’s going to drive you to success and happiness. I admire the people of Guatemala so much for their resilience and positivity, even when their situations haven’t always been easy.
K: The kindness and appreciation of the Guatemalan people were beyond what I could have ever expected. The closeness of the communities and the bonds formed, both with the Timmy Global staff and general volunteers, was amazing. Although they may not be as fortunate to have access to the things that we seem so accustom to in the United States, you realize they aren’t missing these materialistic things either. A different perspective truly opens your eyes when realizing what is important in life.
What is your favorite memory from your trip?
J: Hmmm, I think one of my favorite memories from the trip was when I was running the patient flow at clinic one day and needed to help an elderly lady to a seat in the waiting area. She was almost totally blind and her husband (her guide) was being seen by the doctor. She grabbed ahold of my hand so tightly, me, a complete stranger from a different country. That kind of trust really moved me. We were in it together for those few minutes and I felt honored to be entrusted with guiding her to her seat. It seems like such a small gesture now, but I think it represents the bigger purpose of the Timmy clinics and the trust and kindness we saw from everyone, all week in Guatemala.
K: There are so many memories from my trip, it is honestly hard to pick just one. I would say my top three memories were interacting with the patients one on one and truly getting to know them and understand their needs, getting to work with such amazing volunteers and the Timmy Global staff, and experiencing communities that were so rich in culture.
What advice would you give someone wanting to be a part of a service trip, but has never been on one?
J: Go for it! Have a flexible attitude and willingness to learn and help. Not only will you be helping others, you will get so much back in return.
K: Go! Do not let worries or concerns hold you back. It was a trip of a lifetime that will have everlasting effects that I could not be more thankful for. Until you have been on a service trip, the unexpected can be scary, but once you are able to experience it, all doubts disappear and you realize why you are there and what drew you in from the beginning.