Mary Baldwin University sophomore and Healthcare Administration major Annalisse Vasquez Soto and alumna Colleen Pendry ’09 just returned from Perquin, El Salvador, where they joined a team of ophthalmologists to help treat the people of the region. Soto met the doctors during May Term 2012 while working on a community mural in Waynesboro with Mary Baldwin Artist-in-Residence Claudia Bernardi and art teachers from Perquin. When one of the teachers was given the opportunity to be fitted with a new glass eye at the University of Virginia, Soto drove her to Charlottesville and translated on her behalf. The doctors, who were so impressed with Soto, invited her to go to Perquin — where Mary Baldwin has a history of outreach — for a one-week medical mission. Mary Baldwin’s Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement provided funding for Soto’s airline ticket and the medical organization covered the remaining costs. Soto shares her story in her own words and images below.
This past May Term while working with Claudia Bernardi, Mary Baldwin faculty, students, and the Waynesboro community, I was invited to travel on a mission trip to El Salvador by the organization Eye Care International, a nonprofit group of ophthalmologists who have been delivering optometry medical services to the underserved population of El Salvador since 1995. After being invited to join Eye Care International in their mission, I was fortunate to earn the Sarah Forrest Thompson Hunt Mission Fund scholarship through the Spencer Center. I was also fortunate enough to turn this opportunity into an academic internship in my major, Healthcare Administration (HCA). With my determination and initiative along with the support of academic advisors Professor of HCA and Political Science Steve Mosher and Assistant Professor of HCA Eileen Hinks, on-site supervisor Phil Loar, Associate Professor of Art Marlena Hobson, and Executive Director of the Spencer Center Steve Grande, I was able to turn this vision into a reality.
From February 2–10, I was in Perquin serving the Salvadorian community. I awoke every morning to the sound of roosters and birds. As I made my journey to the mission site every day, I observed a new characteristic of the town that allowed me to absorb and appreciate Perquin more and more. Throughout the day I worked on various tasks, from being an interpreter to being someone’s shoulder to lean on. While serving and interacting with the community I encountered beautiful faces that are still hopeful and see the world through positive lenses despite living in the worst conditions. Learning about the patients’ stories was an amazing insight into what it means to be a Salvadorian living in such unfortunate conditions. Most interestingly, none of the patients exhibited anger or hostility toward their circumstances; they were patient, calm, happy, thankful people. After a day full of learning, serving, and sharing with the community every ounce of strength was well used in making a difference in people’s lives. Today, the Salvadorian community can see and protect their eyes while improving their quality of life.
As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Had I not had the privilege of this experience I would not be able to understand the true meaning of civic engagement and what it means to step out of my individualistic concerns and care for the broader community while making a difference in their lives.