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Longtime Jeannette board member participates in mission trip

| Thursday, March 20, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
A typical residence in Guatemala.
Two little girls receive pairs of 'kitten shoes.'
PHOTOS: Submitted by Dave Valerio
Dr. Dave Valerio and his wife, Fran, pose with two recipients of services are the clinic during their mission trip.

Chiropractor and Jeannette School Board member Dave Valerio serves his community and now he serves the less fortunate in Guatemala.

After a three-hour trip to Atlanta and another three hours further south, Valerio, his wife Fran Valerio, his grandson and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints landed in Guatemala City, a city with the one of the highest crime rates in the world, to deliver much-needed goods and services to the people of the mountainous areas.

The mission crew went to a clinic adjacent to an orphanage, named “Casa de Sion,” or “House of Utopia.” The clinic was started around seven years ago after the Guatemalan government shut down all orphanages country-wide because of the fear of human trafficking. The orphanages that have reopened are subject to the newly implemented inspection processes to deter this crime from occurring.

According to Valerio, children who are living at the facility go to school on the property, as well as participate in an afterschool program with a meal. Infants are also provided with formula and care. As part of the children participating in school, the mothers are required to volunteer in some capacity, so as to discourage any sense of dependence or entitlement.

Orphanages are not necessary only for children whose parents have died, but the country is so poverty stricken that many families simply cannot feed their children. While the children are happy, even with little to own or play with, Valerio said, “They were happy because they had help from the mission. Even the dogs are depressed. I see maybe not anything to look forward to.”

The clinic itself is extremely small, only 20 feet by 30 feet and there is no doctor on staff. All of the service and medical care is provided by volunteers and, although Valerio is a chiropractor by trade, he found himself providing medications to the native people as part of his mission.

Emergency medical care is essentially non-existent, unless patients can make the day-long walk to the nearest hospital.

“There is no welfare system whatsoever and no health insurance,” Valerio said. “If you need an X-ray, you need to go to Guatemala City and pay for the procedure.”

Most of the supplies at the clinic are donated and include items like Ace bandages, vitamins and topical antibiotics.

Not all of the mission was for medical service delivery. Most of the kids wear trendy, donated clothes, even though they are in the center of Mayan culture.

“They're so nice and appreciative, because they have nothing,” Valerio said.

Because of the terrain and culture, many of the children Valerio treated had difficulty with their feet. Two little girls, in particular, Valerio said, were brought into the clinic by their mother after complaining of foot pain.

Tradition and poverty result in homemade shoes that often leave the toes swollen from having to clutch the shoe with the foot to keep them.

Neither girl ever had a pair of real shoes — they got pairs with kittens on them.

Also, as part of the mission, Valerio and other mission workers built a swing set on the orphanage grounds, as well as monkey bars. They were immediately surrounded by the kids.

All in all, Valerio valued the experience and was so moved by the interactions and assistance he and his church members provided, he plans to return in September. While he waits and plans, others are likely waiting and planning on his return.

Maria Tyger is a contributing writer.