Category Archives: Blog

Family as a Foundation: Bridges Global Medical Missions

By Lindsey Blisard

Dr. Claudette Heyliger-Thomas founded Bridges Global Medical Missions in 2008 with the sole purpose of giving back to the country that she is from–Guyana.

Her team of volunteer medical professionals ranges from nurses and social workers to doctors of different specialties, such as endocrinologists, gynecologists and cardiologists.

Food For the Poor, an organization in the United States that helps to provide donated items, meals, and healthcare to poor areas, has been one of her greatest supporters. They supported her in the beginning of her mission work and continue to support Bridges Global Medical Missions by donating shoes, clothing and toiletry items for her to distribute in the country.

When Heyliger-Thomas started Bridges, she knew in the beginning it would be challenging to help the entire country, so she decided to start near where her mother grew up – West Coast Berbice and Parika.

On her first medical mission in 2008 to Guyana, Heyliger-Thomas brought along with her a team consisting of her cousin (a cardiologist), her daughter (a surgical resident), her childhood friend (a pharmacist), and her husband’s cousin (a nurse).

“It was family. Family, family, family,” she said. “I talked with them… they jumped on board, and we did it.”

Heyliger-Thomas left Guyana when she was 18 to attend university in Montreal, knowing that when she left, she wanted to be a physician. After going to UMDNJ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, she became a pediatrician and has been doing private practice in Atlanta, Georgia.

In addition to her medical outreach, Heyliger-Thomas has also started a Continuing Medical Education program in Guyana. Since 2009, she and her medical team give lectures at the hospitals that they rotate at, but in the beginning, they felt they were leaving much of the country out and that not enough people were getting chances for expanding their education.

In 2017, as a  collaboration with the University of Guyana, they put out ads in the newspaper to invite nurses, physicians, and allied health professionals to the Continuing Medical Education program. Diversity was important to her in order to get as many people to come to the conference as possible.

The number of people who showed up was something Heyliger-Thomas was not expecting.

“We catered for 100 people and 350 showed up,” she said. “I walked into the room and we were absolutely blown away.”

Sharon Armstead, a respiratory therapist, has been a part of the group since 2015. She is also from Guyana and, with Bridges, was able to return home for the first time since she was a child. She has gone with Bridges back to Guyana in order to help expand the respiratory therapy knowledge in the country.

Armstead said she appreciates Heyliger-Thomas because of the amount of passion she has for her profession and her country.

“She gets people from all over the world and all over the country to come and volunteer their time for free,” she said. “And they come because of Claudette.”

Heyliger-Thomas has several future projects she is working on.

Currently, she is trying to get a grant to help provide support for maternal health and prevent maternal death nationwide. She is also working with the University of Guyana to offer a respiratory therapy program within the school.  

Bridges has worked with the Ministry of Public Health to provide care in the country. During a press conference in January of 2018 at Georgetown Public Hospital, Volda Lawrence, the minister of public health, and Dr. Karen Cummings, the minister within the ministry, explained how important the work that Bridges is doing for the country.

“We do not offer a first-world health service, but I can assure you that we are working towards that,” Lawrence said. “And we will reach our goals.”

Since she is close to retiring from being a physician, Heyliger-Thomas will make Bridges Global Medical Missions her primary focus. She hopes to work toward providing care to many other countries. Originally, her organization was just called Bridges Medical Missions, but after starting her missions and realizing that she wanted to go to places other than Guyana she added Global to expand her mission.

“My focus is not only Guyana,” she said. “My focus is to go to other places in the world.”

Featured image by Nigel Durrant

Advertisements

People are the memories I will never forget

By Katie Burrell

I met so many different people in Guyana from children to elderly to travelers like me. Each person left a memory with me, allowing me to value my time in Guyana even more.

While abroad, we met people from the Ministry of Health who watched over us and helped us get places. They took us to hospitals, schools, and orphanage and a senior citizens home.

I’ll never forget my visit to McKenzie High School. We took a day off of working in the Linden hospital to visit the school and conduct asthma screening.

While we were there, I met students with big dreams of playing in the World Cup, visiting Canada and even a student who will be moving to Texas after she graduates. These students and their goals helped me realize, amid all the excitement, that I was living out one of my high school goals to leave the United States for travel.

While I was watching these kids play soccer in the courtyard, I realized I achieved my goal a few years later that 16 year-old had planned, but I think my trip to Guyana was right on time anyways. These kids inspired me to keep my goals high too, as I’m confident they will surely reach their’s too.

On our last day, one of my favorite memories was making 100 peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches to take to Sofia, a care center for children under 18 who may not have families. Our group hurried to make all of these sandwiches, load donations into two vans and hurry over to the senior home before meeting at Sofia to decorate and meet the kids.

While at the senior home I met with five people who had lived in Guyana all of their lives. There they met their spouse, raised their kids and worked their whole lives. They went to church, read books and told each other stories. Here I made memories listening to others share theirs and it assured me. The seniors talked to me about their travels, their great loves and even the little things they have done daily all their lives to enjoy happiness.

Much further in their lives than the students at the high school, I will remember the zest for life and living out their dreams these people had. One senior told me about her dream to have children and how she had two happy, healthy children who visit her every week. She told me about the joy of ready to grandchildren and sharing a meal with them each week.

The people of Guyana reminded me of the joy that comes from achieving goals and enjoying life as it comes.

When we went to the children’s home we witnessed pure happiness. I watched children run their fingers through their new books, run around with beach balls and stuff yummy peanut butter in their mouths.

In each of the places we went we saw happiness and laughter. We heard stories of dreams and goals being achieved. We exchanged stories of our cultures and of our families back home. I’m grateful to the people I met for being fun and entertaining but for reminding me, during a long journey away from home, why I was there.

Eating food Guyanese style

One of the main questions that we have been asked since we arrived back home from Guyana has to do a lot with what it is that we ate. Luckily, we have some photographic evidence of that very thing!

While we were tired of eating chicken and rice towards the end of our trip, we did eat many new things that most of the students had never tried before.

Stewed Chicken with Fruit
Usually with our lunch and dinner we were always served with fruits and vegetables. Pictured here clockwise is stewed chicken, boiled pumpkin, collard greens, baby banana, papaya, and rice with beans.
Pepper Pot
Pepperpot is the national dish of Guyana. It is made of meat that is stewed in a preservative made of cassava, cinnamon, and sugar. This dish is popular for both breakfast and dinner and is typically kept on the stovetop at all times.
Curry Chicken
After a shift at Georgetown Public Hospital, we went to a local restaurant and had a mix of Indo-Guyanese food. Pictured here is curried chicken.
Stewed Chicken with Rice
Our first meal of arriving in Guyana was stewed chicken, rice, long bean, and a dish called cook up–a mix of rice and vegetables.
Burger King
Guyana did have many American chains. One day for lunch, we ordered Burger King. A few of the other restaurants were Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut, Church’s Chicken, and Popeye’s.
Resort Food
Baganara Island Resort served us barbecued chicken, rice with veggies, potato salad, and fresh mango juice.
Chipz
A lot of their snack foods in the grocery stores were very generic names–Chipz and Tortillaz was a good example of this.
OMG Restaurant
OMG! Steakhouse is an Americanized steakhouse that had lots of options like steak, fried chicken, and even a philly cheesesteak sandwich. These places seem to be more appealing to the tourist crowd.

Guyana: Home Away From Home

As we all stood in a clustered group at the American Airlines terminal awaiting the last of our study abroad group members to arrive to the San Antonio International Airport, I glanced around and questioned: How will I relate to my peers in the program and where will we feel most comfortable in Guyana?

The introvert in me began to get anxious as I thought about how I would be spending the next 11 days with a group of people I barely knew in an unfamiliar place. I thought back to my reasoning for signing up for this study abroad trip and told myself that if I wanted to experience something new, I would need to find comfort in being uncomfortable.

After a few days of working in Georgetown Public Hospital and sitting window-side during our drives in Georgetown, Guyana, it was nice to take in the view as we passed by the same buildings, shops and seawall every day.

Through our interactions with the locals, we were always greeted with welcoming smiles and open arms. The growing familiarity of our surroundings in Georgetown and the hospitality of the Guyanese people made me feel more comfortable with being abroad.

Our group of mass communication students would get together any chance we had to tell each other our stories of the day. I enjoyed the times we stayed up late talking and the night we decided to stay in and make spaghetti for dinner. By sharing these similar experiences with each other during our study abroad trip, it brought our group closer together.

Throughout the duration of our trip, we also began to learn more about each other – our childhood, our fears, our goals, and much more. I found that I began to feel a sense of belonging with the group of people I once considered strangers.

Never did I think it would be possible to feel this close to a group of people in this short amount of time. As I reflect on our study abroad trip to Guyana, I am grateful for the many friendships that were made on this trip and I could not have asked for a better experience. Together, we created a home away from home in Guyana.

15.JPG
Texas State University Global News Team members, Alana Zamora, Skyler Jennings, Ashley Skinner, Katie Burrell and Lindsey Blisard (left to right) with Lecturer Holly Wise (far left). Photo by Denroy Tudor.

Blisard: I won’t forget the people I met

By Lindsey Blisard

When I left for my study abroad trip to Guyana, I did not know what to expect. I never would have thought that a week after coming home, I would long for returning back to the country at the next opportunity. While this has been my only mission-type trip abroad, it has had a great effect on me.

Meeting Guyanese people and learning about their lives touched me in ways that I have trouble even getting onto paper (…or keyboard). We saw how they lived, the jobs they worked and how resourceful and resilient they can be.

We met high schoolers that want so much for themselves and that were inspired by these college students from Texas. The fact that you have these people that have never met you before, yet are so enthralled by you just being there in front of them gave me warm and fuzzy feelings. Those feelings sank straight into my chest and I hope they stay there forever.

Two people I met have impacted me the most—Sharisee, a student at Mackenzie High School and a little boy whose name I never even learned.

Sharisee, a senior and future journalist, talked to another Texas State student and I about her life and what she does on a day-to-day basis.

When the school day came to an end, she didn’t want to leave our sides, and to be honest, I didn’t really want her to leave either. She talked to us about her plans for the future—college or maybe traveling the world—and I want every dream she has ever dreamed to come true. She will be something one day… I have never been more sure of a first impression of someone.

The little boy I met lived at the Sophia Care Centre in Georgetown. While we were there, we gave out toys, snacks, clothing and books to the kids.

I had a stack of books that I would hand out to every kid and every time I brought out a different set of books he would ask me for one.

While most of the children only barely had any interest in the books, he was set on collecting every single book that we had to give. I eventually began to sneak over to him and hand him every one that I had. The books varied in subject, from U.S. History to women in the Civil War and technology development.

Before we left the center, I went up to him and told him that I hope he reads every book I gave to him. He looked up at me with a missing-toothed-grin and told me that he would. I have the highest of hopes for the boy whose name I will never know.

Featured photo by Alana Zamora/Global News Team

How traveling to Guyana changed me as a student

By Katie Burrell

I went on a trip out of the U.S. with the goal that I would learn to be brave and independent.

Having only left the country once before on a family cruise to Mexico, I knew I was missing out. As a completely unseasoned traveler, my worldview was sculpted from growing up in North Texas, moving back and forth to Oklahoma and a couple days in the most touristy spot of Mexico.

However, as a journalism student, I’ve made it a priority to diversify my friendships, read stories by other people about other places and cultures and to always look at the planet with an open mind. This mantra, albeit harmless, was insufficient. Reading and listening to others’ ideas and experiences can keep a student keen, but now I know life is learned best when experienced firsthand.

So, I spent two weeks in Guyana with five of my peers from the mass communication department, and five students I had never met before from the College of Health Professions at Texas State. I flew on a plane for the first time, in the aisle seat of course, from San Antonio, Texas to Miami, Florida and a major layover later I was in Trinidad/Tobago then to Georgetown, Guyana.

I experienced so many firsts within those 24 hours-my first plane ride, my first-time on the other side of the U.S., my first time meeting some of my trip mates and my first time feeling completely elated knowing that I had no idea what the next few days of my life would look like.

We got off the Caribbean Airlines plane and immediately stepped foot on black pavement, surrounded by darkness, stars and humidity. Straight through customs, baggage in tow, we were through the small airport and welcomed by a camera crew. I talked to fellow journalists for a quick online segment that was posted the next day, and squished myself into a van for a bumpy, and what felt like forever ride to Project Dawn. We stayed at Project Dawn, a large hostile in Liliendaal, Guyana for the majority of our trip.

Project Dawn is where I made spaghetti one night because we were too exhausted to go out. It’s also where I learned to play gin rummy, met a Canadian anesthesiologist, ate countless meals of chicken and rice and learned the value of being far away from home sometimes.

I wanted to be a more adventurous student. I wanted to consider myself a brave traveler and well-rounded journalist and I hope I am still on my way to be all of those things. But what I really learned on this trip, following students around in hospitals, interviewing locals and hanging out with school children was that my whole life is not in Texas. I discovered that I felt most at home when up late at night discussing sources with my roommate, fighting off mosquitos in the Guyana interior and laughing too loudly in a bumpy van.

My trip to Guyana was not easy and each day presented a new challenge but with the help of my peers I felt at home because I was thriving as a student. I learned firsthand what it really means to be open minded to the world and to myself. The culture of Guyana bears its similarities to the U.S. but is overall so different, and I’ve learned to embrace that.