They came bearing shoes. The mission team from St. Charles River Church carried 200 pairs of shoes, toothbrushes, medicine and medical supplies to Curundu, Panama, Sept. 15-22. The medical arm of the team included Michelle Arthur, RN, Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital interventional radiology; Phil Asaro, MD, Washington University School of Medicine; and Tom Donovan, RN, Barnes-Jewish Hospital special float pool.
A construction and an outreach team also spent the week at a school/community center called Juntos Podemos, located in a slum in Panama City. Juntos Podemos provides a safe haven for children from the streets. “They came running for the shoes,” Arthur says. “They were desperate for them. They didn’t care about color or style.” Arthur and Donovan had never met before the trip. “It’s amazing how this experience helped develop friendship between people whom you had never met,” Donovan says. The medical team treated 150 people in four days, mainly for intestinal parasites, but also for asthma and high blood pressure. They also educated children and adults on personal hygiene to prevent illness. For Arthur, who grew up in a small town in rural Kentucky and speaks very little Spanish, it was a long way from home. “My Southern accent doesn’t work well with Spanish,” she says. “I ordered sweet tea in a restaurant in Panama, and they just looked at me.”
Michelle Arthur says Jose was the first person to arrive
at Juntos Podemos every morning and the last to leave.
But Arthur says her first mission trip was very rewarding. “I wasn’t expecting the emotions I felt as soon as I got home,” she says. “We are rich in the United States, and extremely blessed. I came home with an overwhelming desire to simplify.” The gratitude of the children touched her. “The children were fed one meal a day, and they were happy to get it,” Arthur says. “They were so appreciative of the little things.” A teenage boy named Jose particularly left an impression. “There is tremendous pressure for boys his age to join a gang,” she says. “I think the school was the one place Jose felt safe. He was interested in all of the medical supplies and what we were doing.” Arthur wants to return to Panama. “I am definitely going back, with massive amounts of shoes, more medicine and more help,” she says. “Even if you help just one person, I feel like you make a huge impact.” Donovan agrees. “If you ever have the opportunity to do something like this, take it,” he says. “It’s amazing, and it restored my faith in humanity.”
Kelly Pahl, email@example.com