New Hospital

Santiago Atitlan, 5th of October, 2005, Page 2 

By Surunda Velasquez

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It is a week since the disaster. The amount of work going on with the relief efforts has been as relentless as the Hurricane a week ago was with the rain. It did rain, or should I say, pour constantly for a week.
coffinsBy now, the aid has arrived from the outside. There were the 1st and second days when Santiago was on its own, and people were going out to bring in the dead in seemingly countless coffins of mostly kids, as the coffins were small with every now and then a long one that were the adults. The town square was packed . By then, we had set up a soup kitchen to cook for the bomberos and all the able young men with hoes who were bringing in the bodies. And as we were working in Argentina Sojuel’s classroom on the square, we became a witness.Hospitalito Atitlan It is part of tradition to witness the death and give dignity to the dead to identify it and put it to rest in the cemetery. And now several days later the land in Panabaj is called a “campo santo” an official cemetery as the people after digging for 6 days, are tired and the danger is high health wise to be out digging in the mud.
The first 2 days it was considerably dangerous to be digging in Panabaj because of the continued rain. The town of Panabaj is now off limits and condemned so there can be no return of the survivors.

The next days were filled with receiving the help of the neighboring towns. The solidarity of the people here is high and the outpouring of corn and food and people to help dig in the mud was overwhelming to see and experience.

  field of mud To be on the receiving end of this gives all of us feel quite human and extremely grateful. In the market, people gave or sold for a good price. The vegetables for the soup pot were cooking in the soup kitchen. The feeling of solidarity has been and still is very high.Panabaj Hospital
The aid from the outside was jubilantly received. By then the survivors were told to register at the shelters called Albuergues. And most people have settled or registered in the shelters. It was determined that if one was not registered in these shelters one was not going to be elegible for aid. But as with all such plans, people do fall thru the cracks. There are so many families that took in extended families that survived the mud flow (there were technically 3 mud flows, one on either side of the town). Some households are housing as many as 50 people under one roof. There is a large task underway to locate and do a census of all these people that are desperate with hunger and have not received aid as of yet from the authorities. What aid that exists is still at the stage of being not quite enough. The clothing, for example are mostly clothing donated from the city population and from the outside in the first world. I, myself, have sorted the clothing that came my way and have a stack of clothing much to big to be of use for the small mayan physic. There is also a standard of cleanup crewchoice among the people here and the women need huipiles and cortes, not western pants, blouses, tshirts and jeans. The men here just won’t fit in the bigger sizes of clothes that have come in, not to mention all the smaller sizes of all the children and babies. And people need bedding. Hopefully, there will be enough to go around, but most of the neighbors know where the truly desperate people are and their goodwill makes it possible to find these marginalized families.pachichaj trash
The Red Cross wants to help us. They are bringing in supplies to continue a soup kitchen as well as distribute food. For everyone here tortillas are the one basic food. 2 pounds per adult a day is the average consumption. Of course, ideally, there are beans and other proteins as well. When you have 23 people in your household that works out to 46 pounds of corn a day alone. Unfortunately, the corn that was still out in the fields and close to harvest was destroyed by the storm all over the country. A lot of the people in Panabaj had just harvested their half years supply of corn and ended up having to abandon it in the mud.reading the press
They say on the internet that 75%of the country’s infrastructure has been destroyed. The roads are slowly getting cleared but there are a lot of bridges to cross that have been rebuilt hastily. We are still in rainy season, but that is much less rainfall than when a category 1 hurricane comes thru like last week.The hospitalito Atitlan, which reopened after 15 years of abandonment in April of this year and was progressing with a new operating theater, a new kitchen and medical storage building (which being on the mud flow side of the property actually served to save the hospital building), was halfway buried in mud. The mud did come in but it only filled part of the hall and the reception room.
The 2 story stone house across the road was not so lucky window at the hospitaland there is just no sign it ever existed but in one’s memory. As of today, the decision to move the hospital has been made and there is movement of looking at serviceable place to rent in town. To look for a building that has 6 –7 rooms preferably on one floor is next to impossible and to have car accessibility a dream. The choices are few but something will get arranged .hospitalito
Every day something is happening. One cannot help but be involved with the relief efforts. Today at Adisa – Amigos and padres of Descapacitados in Santiago Atilan, we combined the 3 groups of my beadshop where there are 12 families that are affected and the weaving cooperative Cajolya and Adisa to receive and distribute aid to the affected in all 3 groups that came in today. People from Quetzaltenango , Guatemala City and Antigua brought packages of corn, beans, noodle soup mixes, milk powder, soap, aqua pura and toilet paper.
From the 3rd day or so there has been a campaign to be using clorine to purify the water and to wash hands before eating.Soup Kitchen The threat of hepatitis is high. Cholera can be around the corner if things get out of hand, hygiene wise. There is a campaign for everyone to take their tetanus shot.There are teams of doctors and nurses from the US and Cuba and Spain. Hopefully some water filtration systems will come so drinking water will not be a problem.
As the day ends, we are tired but do feel a bit more optimistic that some aid is helping people get thru this emergency tonight.
Written by Surunda Velasquez October 12, 2005
foodcenterHospitalito window