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AmeriCares in the Field: Caring for Santana in El Salvador

  • November 18, 2010

Penny Crump, an AmeriCares staff worker, reports from our El Salvador Family Clinic.  Here she shares the story of Santana and the Clinic’s impact on her family.

I saw Santana for the first time walking into a seniors health program, one of 33 education programs in the AmeriCares El Salvador Family Clinic. She was frail, slightly stooped and used a cane, yet she carried herself with a definite purpose. 

Noticing my concern, my colleague Dr. Lopez told me that Santana, just a few days shy of her 87th birthday, was a regular at the Clinic. She benefits from the Clinic’s classes osteoporosis screening, nutritional supplements and other support services. Dr. Lopez nodded and smiled as Santana sat in her place of honor, a seat with a red cushion in the front row.

When class was over, I met Santana. She was very gracious and asked me to call her “Abuela” – meaning Gramma. She told me she liked the Clinic because it helped her stay as healthy as possible. She receives treatment for painful arthritis and gets supplements to prevent her osteoporosis from worsening.

The health care services provided by the Clinic are particularly important for Santana since El Salvador has a limited safety net for the elderly. And Santana has good reasons to look after her health — she takes care of her orphaned grandchildren, ages 11 and 14.  With no pension or anything like Social Security or Medicare, she works nearly every day selling tomatoes and doing odd jobs.

“My grandchildren are very obedient at home and are very good students,” she stated proudly. This determined 87-year grandmother will pay for their transportation and tuition through high school, an amazing accomplishment considering that studies show only half of poor, rural people in El Salvador are educated beyond sixth grade. “I would do anything to make sure they could stay in school,” she said. “I promised my daughter I won’t let them give up their studies.”

Santana then spoke of the great sadness in her life — the loss of her daughter from anemia-related complications several years before the Clinic opened.  Her son-in-law, a soldier, was killed during the aftermath of El Salvador’s civil war. She held onto my hand for the rest of the time we spoke.

Santana brightened when she talked about her healthy grandchildren who come to the Clinic for their check-ups and vaccinations. She says the doctors are kind and helpful, and the medicines are very good. Patients at the AmeriCares clinic get free or heavily subsidized prescriptions on-site, saving them money and a long trip to the nearest government pharmacy. If not for the Clinic, some families would have little choice but to buy expensive, questionable medications in the local street market. In one small town, I saw a man selling pills like a Times Square hustler selling designer knock-offs.   

Santana was particularly grateful for hygiene items, like soap and bug repellent. In a place like El Salvador, which has insect-transmitted diseases such as dengue fever and many strains of bacterial and parasitic infections, these basic items are important to her family’s health.

When our talk was over, she gave me a big hug goodbye. I am glad to know my Salvadoran Gramma and her grandchildren are in good hands with my AmeriCares colleagues in El Salvador.

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