To get to Pachoj, you need to be able to pronounce it.
There’s a group of families who grow coffee on the steep hills where they live. The coffee gives them a shady side to walk on, but it’s a long road from their houses to the nearest village. The village at the end of that road is called Rancho Viejo, which has a school and on Saturdays has running water. Rancho Viejo is another dirt road away from the town of San Antonio Huista, which is a six-hour bus ride away from Huehuetenango, which is the center of a remote department of Guatemala.
It takes some time, a good map, and a horse or a four wheel drive to get to those families. One stretch of road on the way curves almost into Mexico, and it’s a convenient place to send illegal drugs up, and to bring guns and money back down. If you’re not involved in that business, and you’re not involved in coffee, people wonder why you’re there. Federal police stopped us, in fact, and asked us what we were up to. Our habit is to drive by checkpoints unless a gun is pointed at us, or a man is standing in the other lane; this man was standing in the other lane. The three of us - a medical doctor, an entrepreneur, and a driver, none of us Guatemalan - did our best to seem friendly, helpful, and utterly out of cash.
We went through the formalities of an armed roadside checkpoint, and we tried to keep the conversation light: How’s work? How’s your family? It’s pretty this time of day. If someone’s going to shake me down, I at least want to make it as personal as I can. That strategy has kept us from being robbed more than a few times over the years.
The officer steered the conversation toward us: who are we? What do we do? Why are we here, in the middle of nowhere? I wish I could have gotten a picture of us together, the three of us and these policemen. But in a place like that, it’s a fair assumption that it’s not the police who controls the roads; the drug traffickers control the roads and the police. We didn’t want to be robbed, but didn’t want to get a young policeman in any trouble, either. So no photo.
We told him who we were and what we were doing:
We don’t actually have anything. We’re just middlemen. People from outside of Guatemala [I was talking about you, by the way] give us medical supplies, and they give us money, which we turn into more supplies. They pay for us to ship it, import it, and put it into our warehouse just long enough for our friends here to come pick it up. They are doctors and nurses from all over Guatemala , and they take care of anyone who needs help. When they have patients who can’t afford medicine and supplies, our friends use or give away what they were given. Antibiotics, syringes, eyeglasses, ultrasound machines. Today, we’re just driving out to meet some of the people who got supplies.
“I know there are a lot of organizations who come to Guatemala to help,” he said. “And, you know - there are people here who do need help. You see how people live out here.” I said I did.
“I guess most people stick to the big places, though. I don’t see people come this far out to help.”
He asked if he could email if he knew of a pressing medical need somewhere, and I penciled my email address into his notebook. We suggested we’d better go before we lost too much more sunlight, and he let us. We shook hands and were glad to drive away.
But back to those families and their coffee. In one of those houses there’s a woman I’ll call Silvia, whose body is unable to fully support itself. Silvia’s father and brother work, her mother tends a small plot of coffee trees, and sometimes Silvia is alone at home. The family was somehow able to find an old institutional wheelchair, which made it easier for everyone to move Silvia around, but it was not designed for her. She needs a system that is designed to support her.
Here’s where it gets complicated, but stay with me because there’s great beauty in this complexity: Felix Camposeco grew up in Rancho Viejo (the village with the school) and lives in San Antonio Huista (the closest town). He works with two organizations that support small coffee-growing families, ACODIHUE and 410 Bridge (both are great and you can probably look them up). Felix told Mike Mannina at Thrive Farmers (coffee suppliers to Chick Fil A - you can definitely look them up) that Silvia and others needed specialized care, but of course nothing like that was available within two days’ drive of where Silvia lives.
Mike and I had coffee at Thrive Farmers’ Atlanta offices a day or two after Felix had told Mike of the need. Mike showed me Felix’s pictures of seven or eight families who needed wheelchairs. A few weeks before that, our friends at Joni and Friends/Wheels for the World had asked if we knew where 200 wheelchairs could be given to families who needed them. We knew plenty of families, so when Mike told me about Felix and Silvia, those chairs were already onboard a Dole Ocean Cargo Express ship plowing through the Pacific ocean, in a container that was on its way to to our warehouse in Guatemala.
Dick Rutgers (last piece of the puzzle, I promise) gives everything away. He gives away wheelchairs; he gives away dinner most nights to neighborhood kids; he gives away all his time and his skills as a disability specialist. When Dick picked up those chairs at our warehouse, we told him about Silvia and others in her area. He packed the trailer that bounces behind his four wheel drive with specialty chairs and tools, and he met up with Felix. They spent a week together visiting families and customizing chairs. As far as I know, Dick is the only person in Guatemala who has the skills, experience, and willingness to go past the paved roads to put chairs together, and that’s what he did for Silvia.
I met her the day after we shook hands with the police, which was a few months after Dick had given her the new chair. Felix went into the house and found her alone and doubled over in her old chair. He was mad. Why was she alone, and why had no one helped her into her new chair? The only word Silvia used was “mama,” so we didn’t know. Silvia’s sister in law walked in out of the trees and explained that the rest of the family was away working. Silvia’s mother and brother knew how to use the new chair, but in their absence, the sister in law had been afraid to try.
Felix went back into the house. Silvia had been quiet all morning, but when when he rolled the new chair out, she yelled. She screamed. She moved her hands, she laughed, she said “mama” over and over. She was thrilled just to see the thing.
Felix put her in the new chair, her back straightened by the pads and supports Dick had built. He strapped her in and made her secure. She talked and laughed and smiled.
Silvia lives a long way from any place with resources to help her, and without a remarkable group of people, she would have stayed inside her house, alone, or in a chair that hurt her body rather than helped it. But think about that group of people: There’s Felix, who lives nearby and keeps his eyes open to the needs of his neighbors. Dick Rutgers has made a life of giving away what he doesn’t own in the first place. Mike and the folks at Thrive are dedicated to doing more than just getting good coffee at a good price. Joni and Friends/Wheels to the World arranged the donation, refurbishment, and distribution of that chair and thousands more just like it. You, the friends of Vine, sent chairs to Guatemala and put them in Dick Rutgers’ hands.
And of course nobody could have done it alone. In fact, take just one person out of the story, and the story disappears - Silvia and dozens of her neighbors with disabilities would still be stuck without the care they need. But together, Felix, Dick, Mike, Joni and Friends, and you were the Body of Christ, working together to express how God loves people. He moves and reaches all the way out to where the cops say nobody goes - to people up in the highlands, past the village, away from town, under the coffee trees, at home, sometimes by themselves.
Dennis and Cindy McCutcheon manage Vine's distribution system in Guatemala. This is Dennis' report from the first two weeks after the Fuego volcano erupted on June 3.
Sunday, June 3rd, we noticed how dark it had become. No thunder or lightning. We went outside checking news on phones. Volcano Fuego had erupted with a column of gases, and super-heated ash shot over 30,000-feet into the sky, casting a 33-mile shadow. When that column collapsed, pyroclastic flows shot down the side of the volcano following the valleys at 1300 F and a flow rate of 400 mph. No flesh in the direct path survives. Two rescue workers, in their vehicle with their climbing gear, simply disappeared in one of these events. They haven’t been found yet. The numbers are conflicting: over 100 confirmed dead, 190 missing, 5,000 displaced, according to government officials. Local school teachers report 10,000 students are without classrooms now. One teacher reported they are looking for over 300 students. Fire/rescue teams believe the number of people buried in the ash may be greater than 1,000.
From our medical aid warehouse near Guatemala City, Vine International quickly moved all appropriate aid into the hands of the bomberos working at ground zero. That included dressing material, tape, and burn dressings from a donation from DeRoyal in Knoxville TN. We were blessed with a cash donation from a US family that happened to be in-country and went to work being specific in our response. Vine’s daily work is to supply and donate tons of medical aid to over 100 partner medical projects throughout the country, and several responded immediately. One of these, a US doctor, was turned away by authorities and has met continued resistance to his offers to help. However, just this morning, we connected him to a ‘back door’ with one of our national partners. Another offer by a national doctor (and one of our partners), along with his team, were accepted. Still another from 4 hours away was there ahead of the government and they couldn’t make him leave. He’s quite been quite a force to be reckoned with. That first afternoon, he was one of 3 doctors actively treating patients, triaging, and providing appropriate medical aid in the central square of Alotenango -- located on the skirt of the volcano. Bomberos (volunteers mostly) came from all over the country. To help them, we purchased baby food, bottles, and diapers, medicines specific to the acute need, hard hats, work gloves, back packs, basic climbing gear, and ropes.
Help came from Japan, Israel, and I saw a team from Honduras arrive with ice cream (impressive). A climbing team of Mexican bomberos raced to the site from Chiapas before the government closed the border to aid early in the week. I understand it’s now open. Cuba sent medical help and the Shriners Hospital (TX) received some burned children.
Saturday we made another delivery to the bomberos. They asked us to take the baby food and children’s things to a church on the corner of town square church. The pastor’s first concern was that the food be delivered to areas where the need was greatest and the distribution would be effective. His town had some food but was struggling to get it out to the right people. So we pressed on, around the mountain, and put it into hands that would get it to a point of need.
The climbing gear was received with emotion. At last check yesterday the two missing bomberos had not been found. Dr. Jose took some donation funds we gave him for his transportation and instead bought Kevlar gloves and asbestos reinforced protective sleeves. Even a week after the event, the ash, 2-feet down, was burning the arms of the bomberos as they worked to retrieve bodies. Ash depth in ravines was estimated at 20-feet in places. It will take weeks, maybe months for the mass to cool.
The Big Picture: Vine is working a 3-part plan. (1) Keeping our ear to the ground and responding by purchasing items we can procure in Guatemala in order to quickly meet specific medical needs from our project partners. (2) Restocking our nearby distribution warehouse and continuing to respond to partners’ urgent needs by replenishing many of the supplies they need. To do that, Vine will be shipping 40-foot ocean containers from our Knoxville, TN warehouse. Currently, one is loading on June 20, with another scheduled for June 28. From a multitude of US resource partners, we’ll be loading tons of aid, including, rescue worker back boards, dressing supplies, ace wraps, orthopedic splints, IV supplies, stethoscopes, blood-pressure cuffs, oxygen tanks for treatment and transport, and nebulizers, along with exam and surgical gloves and dust masks. We’ll also need surgical masks, suture material (3-0, 4-0 nylon, absorbable), and betadine, just to mention a few of the needs. Two of our largest resource partners -- Samaritan’s Purse and MAP International -- are also working with Vine to fill these huge containers to ship. This part of the story alone could be a full-length action adventure book. (3) We are planning to cache materials to be able to respond with immediacy at the next event somewhere in the Central America region. Vine knows that in this part of the world, it’s not a matter of “if” – but just a matter if “when.” Older Guatemalans remind us that the last major Fuego eruption preceded (by 2 years) one of the worse earthquakes in the country’s history when 20,000+ people died in in the Capital in 1975 . For 25 years, Vine has been doing medical relief in Guatemala, in Christ’s name, and we intend to be ready, whatever comes – so stay tuned.
Dr Jose Amezquita needed Pedialyte.
He needed Petzl helmets. Stethoscopes. Hartmann solution, backpacks, baby shampoo, hydrocolloid dressings, snap links, syringes, infant formula, Enalapril, static line, and lots of gauze.
None of it was for him, of course. And he used to have a small supply of most of it, in a little room at his house in Totonicapan. When the Fuego volcano exploded last Sunday, Dr Jose and his team of volunteers drove to the mountain and went to work.
Dr Jose has a paying job as a physician. The little room in his house where he kept that small supply of medicine is actually a clinic he opens up on Saturdays for any neighbor who needs medical care and can’t pay for it. Ever since he started the clinic, you - the people who give to Vine - have been keeping him more or less stocked with medicine, equipment, and supplies. In addition to whatever he can fill his car with, the Vine staff adds bear hugs and prayers when we see him, and Jose always leaves us with an order to thank you for all of it.
When a rescue worker on the volcano needed climbing gear, the most natural thing for Jose to was to give his away. It didn’t take long for him to run out of medicine, and there was a time when the rescue crews were short on food. Tennis shoes didn’t last the day with ground temperatures close to 200 degrees. As naturally as it came for Jose to give away his equipment, and to administer all of his medicine, it was just as natural for him to get in touch with Vine to see if we had anything he could use. Your regular gifts make it possible for him to serve his neighbors in need, which means together, you and he are working in disaster situations all the time. The difference after the eruption is the scale and the horrible urgency.
We had given away most of our burn and wound care (read that great story here) and we’ve never kept rescue equipment in stock. But you - friends of Vine and now friends of Dr Jose - you have been sending money. We've been turning it into Pedialyte. Helmets. Stethoscopes, Hartmann solution, backpacks, shampoo, proper rescue gear, baby formula, 15 different kinds of essential medicines, and 20 other things I don’t want to bore you with. Plus a night in the McCutcheon’s guest bed and $30 worth of Taco Bell. All for the tired and hungry doctor, for his team of rescue pros, and for their patients.
The reason Dr Jose does this, and the reason Vine exists, is that we hope we can express God’s love for people this way. If you give to Vine regularly, you put a lot of lifesaving supplies in the right peoples' hands in the first days of this disaster. If you are giving to Vine now, your money is there on the mountain today. It's being used to heal people, to find family members, to protect rescue workers, and to feed families whose communities were destroyed in an instant. Thank you!
Last year I got a call from a family who said, "We're giving a boat for a boat."
I asked what they meant, and they explained that they had decided to sell their ski boat. The kids didn’t use it much anymore, and they thought that money could be put to better use. So they sold the boat, and with the proceeds they sponsored an entire 40’ container - the medical supplies, the shipping, the importing, the taxes, everything. Our containers arrive in Guatemala on cargo ships, so: a Boat for a Boat.
Some of the most important boxes in the pickup truck in this picture came on that container. We don’t usually have many burn dressings in our warehouse in Guatemala, but this week, when the Fuego volcano erupted and buried entire communities, we had these. DeRoyal Industries had donated a significant supply of burn and wound dressings to us, and the Boat for a Boat container got them to our warehouse. The pickup in the photo is the supply truck for a firefighter/EMT unit that is currently deployed in the disaster circle around the Fuego volcano. Vine’s Dennis and Cindy McCutcheon have a long relationship with the unit, and were able to supply them with 25 cases of masks, those DeRoyal burn dressings, antiseptic wipes, zinc oxide tape, and all the alcohol swabs we had in the warehouse. We keep a few cases of bottled water in the warehouse for when the work gets sweaty, but Cindy thought they would better off in the hands of her neighbors, the rescuers on the mountain.
Somehow, Dennis and Cindy are also buying supplies in Guatemala and preparing recovery kits for families and ministries who will have to return to damaged and destroyed communities in the coming weeks. Your regular giving (like the Boat for a Boat!) has made immediate relief supplies available to the guys who are wading through ash right now, finding and treating victims. Any donations you mark “volcano” will go to help the recovery work in the days to come. Thanks.
Thanks for thinking of Guatemalans in need.
If you've ever been to Guatemala, you probably visited Antigua.
And if you were in Antigua, and if the weather was clear, you were fascinated to watch the Fuego volcano puff gray clouds of ash all day, and glow orange at it’s tip at night.
Maybe you’ve seen some news - here it is if you haven’t - but Fuego erupted in a big way and for 16 hours yesterday. There was some slow-flowing lava like my sons used to poke sticks in when we lived there, and like I’ve seen on the news in Hawaii neighborhoods. But yesterday Fuego exploded with fast-moving pyroclastic flows, which can’t be outrun and which buried entire villages. The death toll is at 65 as I’m writing on Monday afternoon, , and at least 3000 people are living in shelters. It will probably get worse in the next few days as the army and EMTs finally reach all the affected areas.
We’ve learned over the years that Vine International’s role in emergencies is about the same role we take in development: we figure out who is doing good work in hard places, and we try to get them what they need. We know people who were working around these communities the day before Fuego erupted, and who will be working in these communities next year and the year after. We want to get them what they need so they can help people.
Guatemalans are helping each other. Supplies are coming in from Guatemala City and soon from neighboring countries. We’re putting together disaster relief kits for some ministries we work with in the affected areas. We’ll hear from our partners what they need the most, and we’ll either pull it off our shelves or go buy it. Masks, medicines, diapers, formula, bandages, burn dressing, brooms, sponges…a few years ago we used money you gave us and bought a brick making machine so that a village in Honduras could rebuild after a terrible earthquake and landslide. Today, on the day after the disaster, we don’t know exactly what our partners will need the most. But we’ll find out soon, and with your help we will be ready to help.
If you would like to help the thousands of people whose lives have been radically changed by this explosion, write a note on your donation and of course all of it will go to buy what they need.
Thanks for thinking of Guatemalans in need.
A day on the dock at Vine’s warehouse in Guatemala is an extraordinary experience. Watch visitors come and go for a day and you’d wonder what any of them had in common: the blue-eyed woman in the jungle-ready van; the indigenous guys in the four wheel drive delivery truck. Two men barely make it through the front gate in a wheezing old sedan, and a husband and wife team roll up in a nice SUV. You’d be tempted to make some assumptions based on what they’re driving and what they’re doing, but the man loading medicine into the pickup is a CEO, the woman stuffing the battered car with gauze and vitamins is an MD, and neither one will hold on to what they’re collecting. They’re picking it up to give it away.
Vine serves more than a hundred and twenty organizations across the country, and many of them drive to the warehouse for their supplies. What they have in common is what brings them to Vine: they’re serving people who are in desperate need. Some of theirpatients can’t pay (orphans, people with severe disabilities, and remote communities aren’t able to buy much of anything), so our ministry partners offer what they have: their lives, and your supplies. Many communities can only afford fees that are important but symbolic, and they don’t cover the costs of service or supplies. In those cases, our ministry partners offer what they have: their lives, and your supplies.
One doctor looked around the warehouse at the wheelchairs, wound care, antibiotics and vitamins available to him through Vine. “We’re there in the communities,” he said, “but without these supplies, what can we really do?”
Vine isn’t the source of any of this aid, and we’re not the end user. We call it Vine, not Root or Produce. We think it’s an expression of God’s love for people in need, and God lets us be a part of it. We know how to multiply what’s given to us, and how to get it to people who can use it best, but none of it happens without people like you, who give in the first place. Part of the beauty of how Vine works is that you may never meet the ones who use these supplies, but you can still be involved in each others’ lives. I get to meet some of them, the ones doing frontier medicine in the forgotten corners of Central America, and here’s what they say when they pick up supplies: Thank you. They say, send us the material, and we’ll use it here in the lives of people who would stay sick without it. You couldn’t do this without them, and they couldn’t do it without you.
I don’t know of a better way to give: A $1000 gift to Vine sends medical supplies worth $50,000 to the people who need it most. There will be a day on the dock when they’ll show up - doctors and dentists, nurses and nuns - and once they’ve gotten what they need, they’ll drive away with a smile, thinking of the patients they’re about to go help. That’s a story I want to be part of. Give to Vine, and you’re in the story too.
Here is a note we received from Maureen Casey, founder of Los Gozosos home for special needs children in Chimaltenango, Guatemala. Maureen takes care of kids who, in some cases, no one else can or will care for. It’s incredibly difficult work, and she’s been doing it for decades. She sent this note to us, but it’s really for you who support Vine.
This is [“Maria”]. She was left on the street at a couple days old by her family because she suffers from Epileptic seizures. Her birth certificate has a long line of numbers in place of her name and the address of the storefront where she was abandoned. After a month in the hospital she was sent to an orphanage that has lots of babies in line for adoption.
After almost two years there, she came to us dying from severe acute malnutrition, advanced pneumonia, and with extensive brain damage because they had never kept her seizures under control.
She spent less than two days in our home before we admitted her to the public hospital. She has been there, on and off the ventilator five times for the last four months. YOUR medical supplies have saved her life and many others:
-You gave us pediatric tubes for the ventilator that allowed this underfunded public hospital to replace their contaminated lines.
-Then you gave us some super antibiotics in IV solutions [which we passed on to hospital staff], right when our Maria had a super resistant hospital infection. We do not know how many lives were saved through that medicine, since the medical staff is not allowed to give me specific information.
-Then you gave us adult ventilator tubes. I am an eyewitness to the fact that the same pediatric unit has been able to help and heal more older children than ever before. That is more lives saved because these national hospitals are severely limited by their lack of supplies. They can only help the patients that they have the equipment to serve.
So thank you a thousand thank yous for all your hard work to serve the medical needs here in Guatemala.
Wiggly Hugs and Sloppy Kisses from all my Special needs kids,
Founder/Director Los Gozosos Chimaltenango
We will only add that our while our medical supplies come from partners all over the US and Europe, this time the antibiotics and tubing came from MAP International out of Georgia. The timing was providential, of course - we haven’t had that kind of antibiotics before or since Maria’s need. Our job at Vine is to put vital resources in the hands of the people who need it most - in this case, Maureen, for Maria - and that can only be done together, with you who support Vine. Thank you!