It was an obvious choice for our colleagues from Pulp and Performance Chemicals (Eka) in Amititlán, Guatemala to continue their support for the Hospicio San José. This shelter for orphans infected with HIV/AIDS is located just 14 km from the Eka site. When our volunteering employees initiated their involvement in 2013, they first had to be trained on HIV/AIDS handling and care instructions in order to meet the standards for working with people in this condition to mitigate risks and prevent infections. As this was not necessary again in 2014, a logical continuation of the actions of the previous year could take place smoothly.
The Hospicio San José, founded in 1989, cares for young children, teenagers and adults who live with HIV, AIDS and other illnesses. It has a day hospital and offers medical care and testing and food bags for adults, as well as providing shelter and education for children. In 1994 they obtained a legal status, but were still dependent on donations from private sources. After moving from venue to venue, they now have their own location where laboratory services, distribution of medicines and food (for poor patients that lack adequate nutrition) are provided. Minor emergencies occurring in the community, not requiring specialized treatment, are also attended to and above all attention is given to the health of the small children.
The hospice is always in need of support and in 2013 our volunteering colleagues helped install solar water heaters in the kitchen as well as in the laundry areas to improve the hygienic circumstances and to protect the children from viruses and bacterial infections. Another infrastructural problem was the playground which was severely damaged and not safe for the children to play. Damaged and old parts made of steel and wood were replaced and painted. Also the garden was re-arranged by weeding and planting fruit trees. After having finished the infrastructural jobs, the volunteers returned to the Hospicio San José in August and September to help the children with their homework, play games with them, do the cooking and clean the common areas. ‘We are always glad to be in a position to help people in need, but the community activity of this year has been a real eye opener’, said coordinator of the project Boris Salguero. ‘There were many difficult moments like when we saw the huge numbers of medication which the children need every day. This and the contact with the poor children meant a great deal to us and we have experienced this as a valuable lesson of life.’
In 2014 the focus was on further improving the sanitary conditions for the children and to invest and work on the water purification process, the hygiene hands system, general hygiene actions and improve the sanitary condition of bathrooms. It was identified that drinkable water for children was a high risk. This water was taken from an artisanal well and did not have an integral purification system. With support from the Community Program our colleagues installed a chlorine dosing pump, water filters, and antibacterial hand soap dispensers in all public areas to minimize contamination risks. Besides these actions, clinics’ bathrooms and all bathrooms which are used by the children were cleaned and properly painted.
When a good cause speaks to people’s hearts, they want to help as much as possible. The Pulp and Performance Chemicals colleagues decided to support the hospice for the third year in succession. As the young people’s medical conditions mean they may face discrimination in the future, when they seek to make their way in the world, the volunteers’ most recent project was devised to improve their education. A lack of technology or internet access meant computer skills were not being developed fully so, with help from the Community Program, five laptop computers and a heavy-duty laser printer, plus paper, were purchased. The AkzoNobel colleagues also divided into three groups to work with the children to help them progress in different academic areas. “The first group, led by Eleazar Chivalan, will provide basic learning on the donated computer systems,” explained project coordinator, Boris Salguero. “The second group, led by Ulises Lopez, will work in an area that includes language and mathematics, and the last group will be involved in other academic areas, led by Elizabeth Quiñonez.”
Further hands-on involvement at the hospice has also been given, with volunteers working in the laundry, kitchen, drug store, dining room and health clinics. Their efforts are improving the daily lives and prospects of some 80 children aged from seven to 19.
Elizabeth Quiñonez said: “Through the experience I have acquired when sharing my time with them, I have realized how happy these children are when we talk and play with them. It is so touching to see all these babies and makes you want to share more quality time with them.”
“I thank God that we have the support of the company because it is so good that we do this. It would be good to improve what we do each time we go – support them with their school homework, read, play and do other activities depending on their ages. I volunteer myself any time I am needed.”
Another volunteer, Heidy Ralda, said: “The Community Program is excellent because it gives us the opportunity to provide a human service to the children at the Hospicio San José. The 2015 activity was very nice because I could see how happy the children were when the AkzoNobel team visited them. I could also see their faces when they saw the cake we shared with them during the activities – two girls told me they are all really happy when we visit.”
Sayda Orozco, who was part of last year’s activities, said: “It was my first time working with people and children affected by the HIV virus and it was wonderful to see AkzoNobel people helping, making minor repairs and making it a nice and happy time for the children. It also helps us to work as a team and value our own health and lives more.”