Walking together, working together with the people of Guatemala

Peter Liljeberg, MD, and Betsy Liljeberg, CNPP, of Middlesex recently traveled to Southwest Guatemala on a volunteer mission trip to assist with a medical clinic in the Boca Costa area, one of the poorest areas in Central America.

The Liljebergs have made this trip each year for the past eight years, leading a team of 15 to 20 volunteers to the Maya village of Zojola. There, Boca Costa mission has built a permanent medical clinic staffed by a Guatemalan doctor, dentist, nurses and health promoters. Teams from the U.S. travel there each month providing additional medical care and supplies. In an average week, the clinic sees more than 800 patients, providing care for basic medical problems including hypertension, diabetes, asthma, malnutrition and parasites, as well as providing health and dental education.

“The impact on the health and well-being of the community has been remarkable,” said Dr. Liljeberg.

“The Maya people we serve are truly amazing: proud, resilient, gracious and faithful. The children steal your heart! The work is hard but the opportunity to help so many, and without the time constraints of EMR, insurance companies, prior authorizations, etc., is energizing,” said Mrs. Liljeberg.

In addition to the medical teams, the mission group also includes construction volunteers. Each year the construction team installs 50 wood-burning stoves in the homes of some of the poorest families in the village. According to the Liljebergs, the villagers largely cook on open fire pits in the corner of their homes. Smoke fills the homes and leads to chronic lung problems as well as frequent burns resulting from children falling into the fires. The new stoves that are installed keep the fires out of reach and the smoke out of the living quarters. “Eight years ago we would run out of our respiratory inhalers on the first day of the clinic. On this last trip, with well over 2,000 stoves installed, we only dispensed two inhalers during our week-long clinic,” said Mrs. Liljeberg.

“Serving in Guatemala is a privilege and a wonderful adventure. We will be returning in the spring of 2018. We will be looking for medical and construction volunteers to join us as well as financial support to purchase medicines and stoves,” said Dr. Liljeberg.

Pete Liljeberg MD is a provider at Bon Secours Medical Group Hartfield Family Practice. Mrs. Liljeberg is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at Bon Secours Rappahannock General Hospital Bridges Outpatient Services.