DURHAM, N.C.-- Junior goalkeeper Kim Imbesi was in Guatemala with the Duke Medical Center’s CAPE Program. CAPE (Collegiate Athlete Pre-Medical Experience) is a year-round program offered by the Duke University Medical Center and the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center to female athletes on Duke’s twelve collegiate varsity athletic teams. The program provides participants with a wide variety of clinical experiences that provide exposure to the world of Medicine. CAPE is designed to engage some of the nation's highest achieving young women in medical science and to help them onto the path toward careers in Medicine.
Imbesi shared her experiences with GoDuke.com in a recent blog.
Some of you may have already read Emily Waner’s blog about our trip in Guatemala. I am here with her, Jen Fraser, and our CAPE coordinator Terry Kruger. Emily gave a very moving and accurate portrayal of what it has been like to come and visit this breathtaking country. For my blog, I am going to attempt to not repeat the things Emily talked about, but instead give you an idea of my personal experience.
Before coming to Guatemala I was sure of two things. One was that this would be a life changing experience, that I would leave this country and see myself as well as my surroundings in a different light. The other thing I was sure of was that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. However, after being here I have to admit that I was wrong, only one of my initial assumptions has come true. I have undoubtedly changed for many if not all of the exact same reasons that Emily talked about in her blog earlier in the week. But what I did not initially realize was that this was not a once in a lifetime opportunity and in fact it would almost be irresponsible to consider it as such.
Over the past week and a half I have been in some of the poorest homes one can imagine, ones made of slabs of wood with holes between each one, one room homes that housed not only one ore two, but three generations. And then I have been in magnificent hotels with beautiful gardens and architecture, places that just exude luxury and privilege. And it is very easy when in these latter places to forget all about what one has seen and learned from being in the former.
For example, after spending seven nights in essentially a broom closet with three other people and sleeping on army cots, when we first got to our little apartment in Antigua it was absolutely incredible. I think each one of us took about a 40 minute shower and then let ourselves be absorbed by our big comfortable beds. And in the mist of that I forgot that I was still in the same country I had been that morning. I was still in the country of all those people I had just helped and yet they would never have the means to see what I was seeing or experience what I was experiencing. It was in that moment that I realized how easy it is to become absorbed in one’s current situation, and forget about all they had seen or experienced even just hours before.
After thinking about this for awhile I realized that the challenge is not coming down here and making a difference in these people’s lives short term. That in fact is the easiest part, giving up one to two weeks of your life is nothing in the grand scheme of things. To be truthful, for many it is actually a way to make them feel better. The real challenge is in keeping these people with you once those two weeks are over. It is in finding new and different ways to help them, or putting your efforts together to make another trip to do the same thing for many others who are still in need.
For the last two days in Uspantan, I went out with Emily and Terry [Kruger] and worked on the stoves team. And at the end of both days the women congregated to give thanks to all of us who had put stoves in their homes. They were so grateful for just that small of a gesture and even pained that they were not able to give more back to us. But on the last day these women said some things that really stuck with me. They thanked us again for our efforts, but then made a point of telling us not to forget them, that there was still a lot more that needs to be done in their community. For example, many families during the dry season lose access to a water supply, so they are looking for something as small as a water retention bin or system to alleviate this problem. These women that spoke to us were exactly right, we can not forget them, and there is still a lot to be done.
Now, do not think that I have this crazy notion that we can just go down there and change everything with a few simple stoves or retention bins. I understand that this is not an easy thing, nor can it happen in the short term. However, what I have realized is that in one week I can improve the lives and health of over 1,700 people. If it is that simple to affect that many lives in the short term, imagine what one can do with 10 short term visits, or 20, even 40. Nothing can be changed in the blink of an eye, but with persistence over time and doing a little bit here and there one can really be apart of the long term change.
So, I do admit that I came into this experience with an incorrect assumption. I thought that this experience was once in a lifetime. However, what I have come to realize is that if you truly do experience what I have over the past week and a half, you cannot allow it to be your only experience. The amount of good that I have seen accomplished in the small amount of time I have been in Guatemala is nothing but a motivator for me to be apart of it again and again. I cannot imagine never going back to this country. I cannot imagine forgetting the people I have met and the task that they have asked of me. So, as I head back to the United States and get ready to start another school year, another season of lacrosse, I have challenged myself to remember these people and work towards getting down here again to do more good and to change more lives.