José Figueroa

In the summer of my sophomore year, I spent six weeks as a health care volunteer in hospitals, clinics, and ambulances in the municipalities of the Sacatepéquez Region in Guatemala. While there, I observed a lack of resources and education on first aid training and certification among pre-hospital providers and the broader public. The consequence was a significant delay in immediate, on the scene first aid in emergency events due to the lack of knowledge and training, even for first responders such as police and firefighters. The problem was aggravated in less populated, rural, and more isolated communities where the nearest hospital was several hours away.

This experience inspired me to use the skills I learned as a member of the Emergency Support Team (EST) on campus. It also reiterated my interest in studying Global Health and commitment to the Civic Scholars program’s value of active community engagement. I decided to develop a Lay First Responder Training System in Guatemala as my civic project.

This summer, I traveled to Guatemala and worked with local community leaders to train community members in the districts of Chimaltenango, Escuintla, and Sacatepéquez in Basic First Aid Management. The topics included patient assessment, airway and circulation management, fracture management and immobilization, and safe transportation of patients. In total, I trained over 350 community members, including but not limited to municipal and volunteer firefighters, environmental protection agencies (DIPRONA), tourism and municipal police (DISETUR and PMT), volcano rescue organizations (CONAP), and of course, members of the community, community leaders like midwives, or laypersons.

Trainees received customized first aid kits to use in case of emergencies. As part of the training, we also emphasized that first aid management does not require complex materials to be effective – simple towels, fabrics, and even cardboard can be used for blood control, tools such as a tourniquet, and for immobilization.

In the municipalities where we provided trainings, there are now community members empowered and knowledgeable to act if they see someone in a medical emergency. By increasing the availability of immediate treatment, clinical outcomes of medical emergencies will dramatically improve and thus raise the quality of life for the people of Guatemala.

I aspire to being a physician, and this project has reshaped my view of medicine, adding a globally focused and community empowered lens.

The Collective Impact Grant has been one of my primary sources of support. Being in a different country can be daunting, and when things go wrong, it is hard to reach people who can support you and understand what you are going through. Sharing challenges and lessons with Lauren and Ishaan provided a great time for reflection. It also allowed us to learn from each other and the similarities across our projects. The constant collaboration allowed me to improve my project by learning from my peers, which I greatly value.

One thing that we have learned together is the fact that while every place has its own context, there are some universal values and characteristics present in every culture. For example, knowledge is a way to empower and connect communities together, especially when the knowledge is about well-being; people want to help each other if the resources and education are available; and community/group learning is one of the most effective ways to learn as it allows the teacher to learn the context of the people they teach.