The Founding of Walk With

Courtney Slanaker
Nov. 4, 2013

Before I would arrive in Guatemala to start classes at the Center for Mesoamerican Research (CIRMA) and an internship with Centro de Salud, a free public health clinic in Antigua, I really did not know what to expect.

Two weeks after my arrival, the nurses asked me if I would like to join the traveling nurse team that administers immunizations in the surrounding rural communities.

My first day in the community was rough. I was not proficient in Spanish and the nurse, Daniel, expected me to be able to give shots and understand all the instructions in Spanish. This was not my idea of fun, and it was not a productive day.

Over the next couple days of traveling, Daniel trained me how to do everything and walked me through the processes. About a month later, we were in Buena Vista, a small community outside of Antigua. There, we were providing dogs rabies shots.

Daniel asked me if I wanted to visit his friend Rufino who had ichthyosis, a skin condition that causes dead skin cells to build on the surface of a person's skin. But he had no treatment plan.

My first introduction to Rufino was his home and surrounding property and when I saw him I was speechless. I had never seen a person in such suffering. The moment Rufino forced a painful smile out to greet me I knew I needed to help him. I didn't know exactly what to do, but something had to be done. Seeing his suffering changed my idea and perception of suffering. I finally understood what true suffering was and realized that if I could do something to alleviate his suffering, small or large, I had a responsibility to take action.

I contacted my CIRMA adviser Jennifer Casolo. With the help of local contacts, we scheduled an appointment for Rufino with Dr. Edgar Alvarez Lopez, one of the top internal specialists in Guatemala City, free of cost. Within one month we were able to get a diagnosis, prognosis and treatment regimen.

I, along with Brittney Kinsley, another student who is studying physiology, then started an online campaign to inform others about Rufino's story and to raise funds. The campaign resulted in $3,500 to help with the costs of treatment, improved hygiene and better nutrition for Rufino. And along with many donations of time and materials from both locals and U.S. contacts, we were able to have concrete floors, a shower, toilet and partial kitchen built at his home.

Currently Rufino's condition has improved and is stable, however there is no cure for his disease.

After spending many hours and days with Rufino, I realized there are many other structural problems that contribute to poverty and adverse health conditions for people like him who are suffering from poverty and lack of health care. I decided to start filming a documentary about the public health situation in Guatemala, working with Rufino to help bring light to the many health disparities faced by people living in Buena Vista and many other communities.

Along with the documentary, I decided to launch in Arizona a nonprofit called Walk With, which focuses on local community development and empowerment. Communities are encouraged to start their own projects using Walk With as a resource to accomplish their goals. Walk With can be used for any type of public health associated project, such as building clinics, water purification systems, efficient wood burning stoves and also to collect supplies for clinics and food donations.

Our current project is in Buena Vista, where individuals are working to build a new clinic and install water purification systems throughout the community. We plan to work with different communities to inspire and affect positive social change. The goal of Walk With is to inspire others to take action, whether you donate time, money, skill or expertise.

We are set to start a new fundraising campaign to aid a small community of Guatemalan women and also Walk With. Called the Bracelets for Change Campaign, the initiative involves the sale of colorful bands of tightly-knit material custom made by expert Guatemalan artisans. These bracelets represent our purpose and intentions, and those who wear them show their dedication and participation in our attempts to bring a healthy and sustainable life to the people of Guatemala. All revenue generated from this campaign will benefit the artisans and their families in Guatemala.

Making a commitment is the key to affecting change within an individual's life or even a whole community.

Courtney Slanaker is a UA Honors College student in the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. Slanaker is also pursuing a minor in Spanish, graduating in May 2014. Contact: Courtney Slanaker, founder of Walk With, at walkwith.gt@gmail.com.

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