The Best Kind of Partner

July 2, 2018  |  Guatemala, Partner for Surgery, Travel

This June, Todd and I joined a team from Partner for Surgery and their counterpart Asociación Compañero Para Cirugia (ACPC) on a medical mission to the highlands of Guatemala. We visited four towns in four days — Chajul, Nebaj, Chiché, and Zacualpa. Doctors examined patients and referred many cases to surgery in Guatemala City or Antigua.

That alone is impressive. When we arrived to set up at 8:00 in the morning, people were already lined up waiting for us. Many had walked there from some distance away. Some people could be treated on the spot with medications from our traveling pharmacy. Others presented with birth defects, injuries, burns, hernias, and a myriad of conditions that could be corrected with surgery.

But diagnosis was only the beginning of a partnership that would make positive outcomes far more likely. Many of the people we saw didn’t speak Spanish, but rather one of at least twenty-two distinct Mayan languages spoken in remote regions of Guatemala, and many had never been outside of their region. They could not be expected to manage travel and negotiate the mysteries of a big hospital on their own. They needed a partner.

That’s what makes this model so unique and successful. Every surgical patient is assigned to a “health promoter” who speaks their language. Almost every month, surgical teams come from the United States and Canada to Guatemala City and Antigua, and the health promoter schedules surgery when the appropriate specialist will be available. They arrange travel and housing for patients and family members, supervise recovery, return with the families, and — very important — follow up. It is a true partnership with the welfare of the patients at the heart.

In our four days, 743 patients were examined and 167 were referred for surgery. Countless women were screened for cervical cancer and had breast exams. Antibiotics were dispensed as appropriate. We made home visits to check up on children who had had successful surgeries for cleft palate and lip, and to monitor the well-being of babies who will receive those surgeries soon.

But numbers don’t really tell the story. For every patient diagnosed, entire families felt relief and hope.

In short, lives were changed before our very eyes. Including ours.

If you would like to support this important work, you can find out more about Partner for Surgery and ways you can help here.


  1. Becki Calkins Leavitt

    Dorothy, What a great endeavor! Your images are so rich and poignant. Thanks so very much for sharing.

  2. You have described the aid very eloquently and your pictures tell the story well. Thank you.


  3. Beatriz Coningham

    Thank you for the beautiful and compelling story!

  4. Wonderful summary. I am forward it on to my friends

    • Thank you, Frank. Your organization does amazing work. Todd and I were so pleased to participate and hope we’ll see you again one day.

  5. toni littlestone

    Dorothy, I am so moved by your story and your beautiful, haunting photographs. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with this valuable project!

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