A Very Special Home Visit

On the sixth day of the jornada (medical mission) we were almost back to Antigua when ACPC Director of Operations Ariel Marroquín invited us to make one more stop. Health Promoter Gabriel Vásquez was traveling with us, and he was due to check in on one of his families. Did we want to tag along?

Ariel warned us that the approach to this house could be a challenge: a quarter-mile down a sandy and slippery path. It was a hot day, but we had water and agreed to take it slow and steady. I am so very glad we went.

Here’s what impresses me about the folks at Partner for Surgery and Association Comparer para Cirugia (ACPC), and what I saw demonstrated over and over again in the clinics and home visits. They don’t just monitor cases. When they follow up, they don’t assess a surgery. They visit a family. They build relationships.

This family lives just 18 miles from Guatemala City. Close enough for the father to work there, but so far away in every other sense. As we followed the path we saw men working in corn fields. Corn is a subsistence crop and is planted wherever there is dirt, including on near-vertical hillsides. It is planted, tended, and harvested by hand to feed the family who works the field. They cook over open fires and collect wood continually, carried in large bundles balanced on the head.

We were unusual visitors: we were many, some of us were from North America, and some of us spoke little or no Spanish. But we were Gabriel’s friends, so we were welcome. We met 15-month-old identical twins Laide and Nanci Noj. They are the youngest of the seven children who live here, and each was born with cleft palate and lip. They had their first surgeries, on their lips, last November. Nanci’s was successful, but Laide’s got infected and opened up again. Both girls will have surgery again in September. Nanci will have her cleft palate corrected, and Laide will have her lip re-done.

The twins were born at home with a midwife and were referred to ACPC when they were just eight days old. Gabriel saw that the family of nine were sleeping in one bed, a crib, and on the dirt floor. Through donations, ACPC was able to deliver two more beds. Gabriel stops by once a month with the nutritional supplements crucial to the health of the babies. While we were there Ariel explained the story to us in English while engaging effortlessly with the children, offering his big silver watch to first the younger boy and then his older brother. Just a little gesture that brought some smiles.

It was a long, hot walk back up the sloping hill to the van. We passed a mother with a baby on her back and a bundle of wood on her head who smiled in shy greeting as she went about her day. And the young woman with an even bigger bundle of wood who agreed to stop for a picture. And the little kids who raced past us like there was nothin’ to it. Just people. Living their lives, caring for their families, and — some of them — getting the support they need from the caring folks at Partner for Surgery/ACPC.

You can find out more about the impact they have here.


  1. Ellen Davis-Zapata

    If this is the same family we visited back in February, and I think it is, (similar story about the twins and mattresses) I have to commend you on the hike into and out of this ravine. It was sandy and slippery and steeper than the photos can depict. Yes, they traverse it every day and I’m sure they don’t have the difficulty and fear that I had. And, I’m sure they’re carrying something or someone every time they go. You have characterized the resilience and fortitude of our Guatemalan family very well.

    • Yes, it is the same family, Ellen. We talked about your visit. And, yes, it was steep going back up. We were very happy that meeting people along the way gave us an excuse to stop for a minute. :-)

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