University of Vermont

CULP Continuing Promise Guatemala

I will not lie, I was nervous when I first read my deployment orders for Guatemala.  Not much was specified other than that I was translating on a US support mission.  How did I end up with this?  Months prior, I opened an email I had received about a program called CULP (Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency).  This is a program the US Army created to help develop ROTC cadets, as future leaders, to obtain awareness and understanding of foreign languages, so they can achieve an intercultural edge when they are out on deployment.  One of the countries that cadets were deployed to the prior year was Peru, where the mission was to give aid to a local hospital.  My goal in the army is to become a doctor, so the second I read the kind of deployments that the Army was offering, I knew I wanted to be involved.  I wanted to experience and see for myself what military medicine was like.  But when I got my orders for Guatemala, I wasn’t entirely sure if that was what I really signed up for.  Did I have enough Spanish proficiency to provide translation support for the mission?  Well, I was soon to find out.

                Our mission in Guatemala was to provide Spanish medical translation for the Continuing Promise mission that was supported by the US Navy.  Continuing Promise is a five month mission that travels from port to port, with the U.S. Navy Ship USNS Comfort, to different South American countries, providing health service support and promoting clinical information to patients in need.   Within their mission in Guatemala, Continuing Promise triaged over 8,000 patients.  Five stations were provided for the patients ranging from pediatrics, family medicine, dermatology, optomology, and dentistry.   Patients that required more medical attention were triaged to see the general surgeons to determine if they needed to be sent onto the USNS Comfort for surgery.

                In addition to providing translation support for the doctors, I was also able to work hands-on with the patients, taking blood pressure and so forth.  And, in doing so, I was able to connect with these patients.  Although Guatemala City is one of the most dangerous cities in the world right now, because of their issues with drug and organ trafficking, people forget that criminals aren’t the only ones that live in this magnificent country.  The most warm and kind-hearted people you will ever meet live there as well.

The days were long and hot, with sometimes little to no breaks and even sometimes little water.  But I quickly reminded myself what the patients went through to see us.  Many traveled over 8 hours to seek medical help, hoping for a cure to their pain.  Every morning we saw families that slept overnight in these lines (lines that people wait in to see a Justin Beiber concert!); but they were only waiting to see a doctor.  When they were finally able to enter the medical site, they had to continue to wait up to an additional eight hours with little food and water.  Many of us would be bitter and angry that we had to wait so long just to see a doctor.  Yet, these same patients at the end of the day gave us a hug and said “Dios lo bendiga” (God bless you) for all the help that we gave them.  Many didn’t realize at the time but we made a big impact by giving these families aid for their health issues.

Being there as an ROTC cadet was a once in a lifetime experience.  It helped me remember why I am an ROTC cadet and why I want to be a doctor, to help and serve our soldiers.  Not only that, but to provide aid to foreign countries as well.  No cadet should think that they have to know Spanish or a foreign language to do this program.  Other deployments are available, ranging from Africa to the Philippines, teaching English at local schools to helping build houses for families.  All that is required is for one to be open-minded about another society’s way of life, and with that you will gain the experience of a life-time!     

                CDT Rachel Querido