A Sunday of Lessons

Written by Betsy Station

The town of Mizque is less than 100 miles from Cochabamba, but the journey by bus takes more than three hours over winding mountain roads. After arriving in Bolivia on Saturday, Solidarity Bridge’s multi-specialty mission team embraced the Sunday morning road trip not only as a chance to take in panoramic views, but also to rest, reconnect with our Bolivian partners, and prepare for the upcoming week of work together at Dr. Augusto Morales Asua Public Hospital.

Time on the bus also allowed us to savor two big accomplishments: 18 missioners’ safe arrival from points around the USA and our delivery of 1,800 pounds of medical supplies to Bolivia. Each missioner who departed from Chicago was able to carry three large suitcases packed with supplies—from pacemakers to lap sponges to surgical packs—that will support surgeries in Bolivia all year long.

As the bus snaked southeast under blue skies and bright sunshine, the terrain was dry and dusty. The rainy season will soon begin here, but a severe, multi-year drought has left much of Bolivia with inadequate water for agriculture and other basic needs. In conversations as we traveled, our friends from Puente de Solidaridad reminded us of important aspects of the local context: that access to water and health care is not something rural Bolivians can count on. That the patients we see in Mizque will have traveled for many hours—often worried and in pain—from remote areas to reach the hospital. That our partner hospital may have different approaches and fewer resources than what we are used to—but rather than ask, “What is lacking?” our attitude can be, “What is here, and how will we work together with what we have?”

When we arrived at the hospital, the hallways and waiting room were quiet, but the entire leadership, including director Lic. Rudy Rojas Córdova, had come to offer us a heartfelt welcome. After unloading the bus, we quickly gathered to exchange introductions and view the consulting rooms where US specialists in cardiology, dermatology, family practice, gynecology, pediatrics, and physical therapy will treat patients in the coming week. Members of the Mizque team led their Solidarity Bridge counterparts to consult with three patients awaiting surgery.

Our annual Multi-Speciality Mission Trip often begins with uncertainty about what to expect. This will be our first mission trip in Mizque, but through advertising on local radio and other media, Puente de Solidaridad has worked to spread the word about the mission to low-income patients in need of treatment. The Mizque hospital has partnered with Puente de Solidaridad on three previous mobile surgery campaigns to offer laparoscopic surgeries to patients who would otherwise lack access to care. On Sunday afternoon, missioners met with several patients who were served by those campaigns to learn more about their circumstances.

As the day drew to a close, the mission team returned to our hotel on the town’s central plaza to celebrate a Mass with Fr. Bob Oldershaw, trip Chaplain. He reminded us that we are outsiders, but at the same time, deeply connected to the patients and partners we will be privileged to know in the days ahead. As we stood in a small circle and lit candles, bells from the nearby church rang out to accompany Father Bob’s closing prayer. It was further proof that, far from alone, we are one human family, joined by ties both seen and unseen.

The 2018 Multi-Specialty Mission Trip takes place September 28 to October 7, 2018, in Mizque, Bolivia. The team is comprised of a general surgery operating team, clinical physicians in cardiology, gynecology, pediatrics, family medicine and dermatology, and a physical therapist. US missioners will work alongside their Bolivian colleagues to provide care to hundreds of patients in need.

Betsy Station is a communications and development volunteer with Solidarity Bridge. She is also working as an interpreter in Mizque, on her first mission trip.