It’s Sunday morning, the day after their arrival in Montellano, Guatemala. Meghann McLeskey, Allie Greco and Christina Ponomarenko pack into an old church in the middle of the isolated village. The red walls of the building are discolored and peeling because of the immense humidity and the community’s lack of money to fix the church. The people around them are speaking Spanish, a language neither of the girls know enough to speak fluently. However, they don’t feel out of place.
When the worship begins, the girls realize the church is singing a song they all know by heart. The hymn being sung in Spanish is “When We All Get to Heaven.”
Looking back, the girls said this was one of their favorite memories. This moment was when they knew, despite the language barrier, they’d make deep connections with these people.
“We were very aware of how different we are, but more aware of how similar we are and how we are all going to be in heaven, no matter what language we speak,” said McLeskey, junior from Burnet.
McLeskey, Ponomarenko and Greco, all nursing majors, spent a week in Guatemala working with Health Talents International to give medical treatment to the people in the city.
HTI, a group who promotes medical evangelicalism to developing countries, hosts doctors and nurses from all over the world to perform certain types of procedures each week. The week they were there was aimed toward promoting women’s health. The four main surgeries performed that week were hysterectomies, gall bladder removals, hernia repairs and biopsies.
Many of the patients the girls saw had been waiting for a long time to receive help for their conditions.
“I was shocked at how extensive their medical needs were,” said Greco, junior from Allen. “One patient I saw had a hernia for 20 years and it was the size of a fist.”
Greco said another shock for them when they arrived was how much responsibility they were given as soon as they got there. She said they were treated like nurses, not students.
“You give medicine, you take care of patients just like a nurse,” Greco said. “Even though my name tag said, ‘Allie Greco, Student Nurse,’ it didn’t matter.”
The girls joked and said they got called “doctor” quite a bit by their patients.
While all three of the students got a chance to work night and day shifts, Ponomarenko, junior from League City, also got the chance to travel with two mobile clinics to help outlying villages.
Ponomarekno said they were stationed in a church and constructed makeshift hospital rooms out of fold-up tables and curtains. She said people were already waiting when they arrived in the rural villages.
“They waited for three hours just to see us,” Ponomarenko said.
Her job was to take the patients’ blood pressures and vital signs. Ponomarenko smiled when she recalled being with a woman when she heard her unborn baby’s heartbeat.
“That was the first time she’d heard her baby’s heartbeat because they don’t have ultrasounds,” Ponomarenko said.
While Ponomarenko did not get to form deep connections with the patients at the mobile clinics, each interaction she had with them was encouraging.
“Every single person, even if I was just taking their blood pressure, they gave me a hug and a kiss,” Ponomarenko said.
She said each one told her “God bless” and was grateful to even have their pulse checked.
Greco said during her shifts she bonded with a Guatemalan patient named Maria, who was in the clinic from Sunday until Wednesday after an abdominal surgery.
Even though they spoke different languages, Greco and Maria got along really well.
“She was so patient with me, and we didn’t speak the same language, but you could see she had a funny, light-hearted personality,” Greco said.
Greco said she was nervous because she had to administer her first-ever inter-muscular shot into Maria’s thigh.
“Whenever you give a shot, you’re supposed to just stab it in and get it over with. I did not do that,” Greco said.
Greco said after easing in the painful shot, Maria still joked with Greco and was grateful.
When Maria left, she gave each of her nurses a headband as a gift to thank them.
While many of the stories the girls carried back from their trip had happy endings, one particular story, despite its sadness, stays forever in their hearts.
Ponomarenko recalls being with Dominga, a patient, when she discovered she had cancer and couldn’t be operated on.
Dominga was devastated, and when asked if she wanted to go home, she said she’d rather stay at the clinic because she was all alone.
“That night before we left, I asked Meghann to come pray with this lady, since that was really the only thing we could do,” Ponomarekno said.
McLeskey said the three of them prayed over Dominga in English and had a translator say it to Dominga in Spanish.
“Every single one of us was crying,” McLeskey said.
Through the successes and disappointments throughout the trip, the girls said the one thing that was always present between them and the Spanish speaking people was love and encouragement.
Ponomarekno said the people’s compassion taught her to be kind to every single person and appreciate what she has.
“They are so grateful and have barely anything,” she said. “It made me appreciative of what I have.”
McLeskey said the trip gave her a new view on life.
“Love is the only thing that can cover everything that can fully matter to someone, and it’s really the only important thing,” she said.
Despite having nothing, McLeskey said these people gave them their hearts and welcomed complete strangers into their town.
She said she learned that loving Jesus is the only important thing.
“You can literally have only the clothes on your back and live in a shack, but if you love the people around you, know you are loved and love the Lord,” Mckleskey said, “there’s nothing else that matters.”