July 25-29th was a very special week at Safe Passage. Not only were we visited by the famous Quinceañera team, but we also hosted a team of 18 dedicated doctors!

Shared Beat, a non-profit organization based in Austin, TX, has been contributing generously to Safe Passage since 2006. Generally sending down two medical teams annually, the organization further stepped up their contribution to Safe Passage in 2011 as the sole sponsors of our clinic.

Their support is comprehensive – everything from providing health records with a physical exam, height, weight and visual screen on each child every year, and supplying glasses for students with visual problems, to donating the salary for a full-time Guatemalan clinic nurse and a part-time Guatemalan clinic physician and covering costs for year-round clinic medications and supplies. They also coordinate Safe Passage’s medical volunteers and act as a consultant for all Safe Passage medical and clinical issues.

Safe Passage’s clinic is open five days a week to all of our affiliated students and their immediate family members. The core focus is on prevention and keeping current records on each student’s health. During medical team weeks, however, we also open our doors to the entire community for the last three days the volunteers are at the project.

Executive Director of Share Beat Jenny Hartsell volunteered in the clinic for six weeks in 2010 and was instrumental in the hiring process of our new nurse and doctor. “This July, we had patients from all over Guatemala including places like Mixco and Belen. The children in Safe Passage are far healthier and cleaner than the children we see from the community,” says Hartsell.

For these medical weeks, Shared Beat accepts a range of volunteers. Ted Goles, a high school junior from Texas who is interested in a career in medicine, said his Safe Passage experience was better than anything he expected. He did find it was challenging both physically and emotionally “to handle the magnitude of those who still need help while doing the best that we could.” He said that the best part of his week at Safe Passage with Shared Beat was “watching the kids walk away with a new pair of glasses and be able to see.” Beverly Chambers is a repeat volunteer with a background in nursing and has been to Safe Passage four times since 2008. She says that after the first time, “I was hooked and just keep coming back! The best part is the consistency of coming year after year.” Chambers has seen great strides and has noticed a “healthier growing population. That speaks to how Safe Passage integrates health information and care into the program.”

If you are interested in volunteering at Safe Passage and have a medical background, you might consider serving on a Shared Beat team. When asked what she looks for in a team member, Hartsell said:

The short answer is flexibility, the ability to serve, and kindness. The number one quality of a team member is flexibility. It does not matter who you are or what you do. If the floor needs sweeping and a doctor has time, they sweep the floor. We are a team, and in that vein you have to be able to do what is needed. This is a wonderful experience for volunteers. We try to match skills and give participants a well-rounded experience, but the people we serve come first. If you'd like to join one of our groups, send us an e-mail info@sharedbeat.organd let us know you're interested. Our needs include : translators, physicians, nurses, and support staff. Our trips fill fast, so get your applications and deposits in early!