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Flying Samaritans aid Mexico’s less fortunate

by Arturo Garcia Sierra

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03_13_Features_FlyingSamaritans_CourtesyFlyingSamaritansWhen San Diego State students from out of town hear the word “Tijuana,” or “TJ,” they might envision violence, illicit nightlife or at least a pair of authentic Mexican tacos with bright green guacamole and cilantro that can be smelled from miles away.

However, this isn’t what Tijuana means to Flying Samaritans, a national organization that travels monthly to one of Tijuana’s poorest communities to bring free medical care.

The Flying Samaritans bring doctors, donated equipment and pharmaceuticals that are partly funded by grants for those with limited access to healthcare.

03_13_Features_FlyingSamaritans1_CourtesyFlyingSamaritans

Members travel about 15 minutes across the border to the Tijuana suburb Ejido Matamoros. Once there, they set up a clinic in a donated trailer behind a local church.

Kinesiology and Spanish senior and SDSU Flying Samaritans President Ruth Aguilar said the organization has about 80 members, but can only take 30 people across the border each month. Aguilar created a list of requirements for members who want to attend the clinics—a competition for the fittest volunteers.

First, volunteers go to orientation, where they learn about clinic procedures. After orientation, they participate in a fundraiser.

For its last fundraiser, the Flying Samaritans sold Krispy Kreme doughnuts on campus and collected $400. Last semester, members hosted a fundraiser at Bar West in downtown, where they auctioned donated items, car washes, surfing lessons and gift cards to collect a total of $600.

After the members complete the first two prerequisites, they need to pay a membership fee, purchase customized scrubs from the Flying Samaritans and attend an event from another organization.

Instead of flying, members carpool to “La Parroquia San Benito Abad,” a local parish. Aguilar said members see about 45 patients per trip. However, they saw about 70 during their most recent trip because of an orphanage of 40 children who traveled to see the Flying Samaritans.

Biology senior and SDSU Flying Samaritans External Vice President Gabriel Vahi Ferguson arranged for a bus to pick up the children from the orphanage, which is 40 minutes into Tijuana. Aguilar said the orphanage isn’t funded by the government, but it’s run by a single nun, and started small.

“She first took two kids that were on the street,” Aguilar said. “Then, people started throwing kids at her door.”

All 40 children live in a house with one shower. Without other facilities, they use the patio as a bathroom.

“I remember the first time I saw one of the kids going to the bathroom right there,” Ferguson said. “It’s just what they’re used to. I think it would be great if we can change that.”

Ferguson found a local man who works at the orphanage every day, helping with construction and whatever the nun may need assistance with.

“The bathroom is getting remodeled, and it is almost as good as the ones here,” Ferguson said.

Many of the children had dust allergies, colds and lice.

“Almost all of them had a runny nose,” Aguilar said.

None of the children had been vaccinated.

“We only gave the flu vaccine to some because you can’t give it to them if they are sick—and most of them were sick,” Aguilar said.

The Flying Samaritans found that one of the girls had scabies, along with her little brother whom she shares a bed with. Another child was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Ferguson said they have found many people with diabetes who haven’t gone to the doctor.

“Certain people just grow accustomed to being diabetic,” Ferguson said. “In the U.S., people have physicals every year and as soon as there is a sign, they receive medication. At Matamoros people tend to live with it and change their diet.”

Aguilar said the trailer that houses the clinic was built by a man who was curious about the organization’s services.

“One day he decided to go, and we discovered he had diabetes,” Aguilar said. “It is so dangerous not to go to the doctor when you have diabetes. So many things can happen if you don’t do anything about it. We gave him medication, and now he’s been feeling better.”

Patients from the clinic undergo an organized process designed by Flying Samaritans.

The clinic is divided into sections. The first station is used to create files for new patients. The next, called the triage station, is used to take vital signs of patients to determine whether they need further care.

Volunteers check blood glucose and cholesterol levels, and give pregnancy tests. Students also shadow doctors and sometimes have the opportunity to give flu shots or remove fluid from a patient’s inflamed knees.

Ferguson said the members set up IVs for patients with urgent circumstances and give insulin shots to diabetics.

“This gets us even closer to being a hospital,” Ferguson said.

Many people at Ejido Matamoros have shown their gratitude for the students. Aguilar said a woman diagnosed with breast cancer returns each month to the clinic to bring them food.

“Last clinic, she brought us so many burritos,” Aguilar said. “Two clinics before that, she brought a full bucket of cut fruit.”

Visitors range from Ejido Matamoros community members to San Diego residents who don’t have insurance in the U.S., Aguilar said.

The people from Ejido Matamoros live in poor conditions. Aguilar said she takes donations such as food and clothing every month.

“If there is a table full of donations and they disappear within five seconds, then I assume that people are in big need of our service and donations,” Aguilar said.

The students’ volunteer time also helps their careers. They get firsthand experience in real-life situations by helping those who need health services. Yet, Aguilar said the real reason she helps in Tijuana isn’t to build her resume, but to serve those in need.

“I’m honestly doing this so that when I go to physician’s assistant school, I can come back there and volunteer,” Aguilar said. “To me, this is a huge thing–knowing why you are helping out people, not just because you have to.”

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