Sikaab'e is a Q'eqchi' word that means “find your path.” Q'eqchi' is one of the many languages used by indigenous people throughout Guatemala of Mayan decent. Sikaab'e is a message of an inner commitment; a dedication to finding purpose in our mortal journey. It is a beautiful message of hope in a land with limited choices and opportunity.
Whether it was good fortune, providence, or just plain luck of the draw, an acquaintance was made in summer of 1980 that has proved to be one of my life’s greatest blessings. For the next three years I would draw from a deep well of both knowledge and spirit. I worked for a Provo dentist who would become not only one of my greatest mentors but his entire family would become lifelong friends. All those many years ago, Dr. Roy had the philosophy of
“Feed a man a fish - he will eat for a day.
Teach a man to fish - he will eat for a lifetime.”
With my limited twenty-year old comprehension, I thought I understood what that meant.
In the eastern highlands of Guatemala, my understanding of this philosophy recently took a quantum leap as I witnessed, first hand, how this idea has become a lifelong mission for this visionary dentist. Based on this notion of sustainability, Dr. Roy Hammond has trained men and women around the world in extreme rural situations in basic dental skills. Infected teeth not only cause pain but are the source of unchecked infection that can be life threatening if left untreated. Villagers are at increased risk due to very limited dental care as well as education about oral health.
Sebastian is an indigenous, Q'eqchi' speaking Guatemalan man who was blessed with such an acquaintance several years ago that changed his life. He was selected for his leadership abilities and a strong work ethic to be trained as a rural dentist by Dr. Roy. His tutelage began with simple extractions, sanitation and oral hygiene education. Over the years, Sebastian's training has been expanded to include more difficult extractions and on this particular trip his education expanded to include simple ceramic filings.
He is a village professional, he is loved and respected. He is striving to keep his fellow villagers out of pain and free of infection. He is a humble servant who has never forgotten his good fortune in this vision of humanitarian work and has worked diligently to develop a vocation to provide for his family.
Much of the world lives in poverty. By definition the word poor means “worse than is usual, expected, or desirable; of a low or inferior standard or quality.” Some of the world lives in extreme poverty. The World Bank reports that 10% of the world’s population lives under $1.90 per day (U.S. dollars). This is the new standard for extreme poverty.
In a profound way, I realized that the eastern highlanders might fall under the definition of extreme poverty but they are not poor. They are rich in the things that matter; they have mothers and fathers that love them. They belong to families that care about them. They believe in God and have a sense of community. What they don’t have are opportunities and choices. They are less fortunate when it comes to the power to make productive changes for their families and in their quality of life.
There is no wealth but life. ~ John Ruskin
Diego, the young village doctor delivered a baby a few days prior to our arrival and told the father that the mother had “lost the light in her eyes” and needed to go to the hospital because of significant blood loss. They opted to let her die at home rather than in the hospital. Rural settings don’t have blood banks and options for serious infection. They also don’t have adequate education to teach people there are options in health care. While we were in the highlands, this young mother passed away - completely preventable in the United States and likely preventable in Guatemala if the family had been educated about services that hospitals can provide. Few choices; limited access; few opportunities; lack of education; - that is what makes people poor.
My heart broke as I assisted a dentist who treated a thirty-seven year old mother whose six front teeth were so infected that they could not be saved. It spite of diligently trying to save one of them, they all needed extractions. Thirty seven years “young” with no options, no choices and not very many teeth.
On a beautiful green, jungle covered hillside in eastern Guatemala there is some good work happening to promote hope, opportunities and education. Not only a Q'eqchi' word, Sikaab'e is the name of a technical training vocational institution built by Sikaab'es first graduating class of masonry students. The vision and construction of this school is through direction and funding of CHOICE Humanitarian and its partners with the mission of helping villagers help themselves through a variety of vocational and agricultural training. Young and old are learning the art of masonry and construction, agricultural skills, culinary skills, and animal husbandry. They are learning a new path; one that includes education and options. They are learning the beautiful and enduring concept of hope.
“Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” ~ Christopher Reeve