A family gives backBringing a child into the world gives most people a sense of peace. For the Giesler family of Villard, their fifth child opened their hearts to give back.
By: By Greta Petrich, Staff Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
Bringing a child into the world gives most people a sense of peace. For the Giesler family of Villard, their fifth child opened their hearts to give back.
Chad and Kristie Giesler brought their adopted son, Gabriel, home from Guatemala two years ago. Last month they returned to the country with their two teenage daughters to help other children in need.
Eighteen-year-old Kelsey and Brianne, 16, are both interested in the medical field, so their mother, a pharmacist, thought a two-week medical mission trip was the perfect opportunity for her girls.
“We wanted to teach the girls there’s a bigger world than Osakis,” Kristie said.
They traveled with Children’s Aid Missions International (CAMI), a Kentucky non-profit corporation working in China, Honduras and Guatemala, to provide free medical and surgical care to indigent children and their families.
Two days before the group arrived in Guatemala, the main hospital filled up with cases of the swine flu, leaving the visitors unable to help.
That turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since they were then split into small groups for a new opportunity.
A strict rule for CAMI trips is any checked baggage must be filled with supplies.
For two teenage girls, the idea of one carry-on bag for a two-week trip seemed like the end of the world. They left cell phones and iPods at home, taking only the necessities.
In order to get a three to five minute hot water shower, you had to wake by 5 a.m.
“We learned to shut off the water while putting shampoo in your hair,” Brianne said.
“And you had to use bottled water to brush your teeth,” Kelsey added.
In addition, they experienced a limited menu – rice and beans, with no complaints.
A reality check came for the family when a small group came to town seeking a medical clinic for their remote mountain village, where medical care is so limited that if a person was hurt badly, they were taken to the cemetery to die.
“It’s definitely a culture shock, but we had to figure out quickly this is normal for them,” Kristie said.
For Chad, a carpenter, going on a medical mission trip made him concerned as to how he could help. It took only a short time for him to realize being useful takes little more than the ability to love.
“All the kids loved him,” Kristie said. “He found a way to help without even realizing it. They simply wanted to play with Chad.”
The group of 20 took part in running a one-day clinic in the rural mountains. Working out of a simple building in the middle of nowhere Kelsey saw a whole new world.
“There were 20-year-olds with 10-year-old kids and kids my sister’s age (16) that weighed the same as a 5-year-old,” she explained. “And more people had worms than shoes.”
Kelsey checked patients for signs of malnutrition and worms. They handed out de-worming pills, Tums, vitamins, antibiotics and pain medicines to the 170 people who showed up for free treatment.
“It was not sanitary whatsoever,” Kesley said. “Houses were literally pieces of tin held up by a log – just enough so they wouldn’t get wet. Yet every place had a monument of Mary and Jesus.
“I never imagined people could live in that much poverty,” she added. “Americans put so much value in things that don’t mean anything. There, people struggle every day to survive.”
She also accompanied two medical students to Roosevelt Hospital, a free hospital in Guatemala City, where she observed several surgeries.
Reality hit quickly after she held the hand of an infant boy waiting for surgery. Everyone scrubbed in, the doctor came in, looked at the child and announced they wouldn’t be doing the surgery because the baby was going to die.
“They just left him in the room,” Kesley said, still saddened by the memory.
Brianne faced a similar situation with an autistic boy in intensive care who had pneumonia. Instead of trying to treat the pneumonia, they gave him medicine to control his seizures and waited for him to die. Brianne held his hand for five hours.
“Death to them isn’t the same,” Kristie clarified. “They know they are going to a better life.”
In addition to surgery, Kelsey helped with physicals at a girls’ orphanage where she checked for scoliosis, measured height and weight, and took pictures. It was a big event for the girls; many had never had their picture taken.
Throughout her experience, Kelsey, who had been struggling whether to pursue pre-med or pre-pharmacy in college this fall, made some personal discoveries.
“Personally, if I didn’t go I’d still be thinking about going pre-med in college,” Kelsey explained. “Now that I’ve been in the OR and I think of my career I realize I’m not cut out for surgery. It’s totally different than what you see on TV. Now I know pharmacy is the right path for me.”
Taking time to play
For Brianne, a trip to an orphanage left a lasting impression. Forty-five nuns ran an orphanage with 180 boys ages 3 to 13.
Soon after arriving, a little boy attached himself to blond-haired, blue-eyed Brianne, who fell in love instantly.
“I thought he was 2 and it turned out he was 5. He was so small and couldn’t walk,” she explained. “He had a big scar by his kidney and a burn on the back of his head. They have no idea what happened to him.”
Putting his maladies aside, Brianne quickly realized he didn’t need her pity. Just being held filled him with joy.
While some think of these orphanages as bad places, this facility impressed the Giesler family. It was clean, everyone had a bed with matching blankets and clean clothes, all received schooling and the nuns were kind.
With such limited resources, a child with any abnormality isn’t allowed to go to public school in Guatemala, Kristie explained. So the children in the orphanage were lucky. They received an education and a nice place to live.
“We took the attitude wherever we went you do what you can do and that has to be enough,” she said.
One of those gifts was buying rice, beans, soccer balls, sidewalk chalk and bubbles for the orphanage, then spending the day playing with the boys.
Surrounded by these loving little boys touched the family deeply, especially because they were in the same city Gabriel comes from.
A mother’s instinct
If they could take another child in, Kristie said she would in a heartbeat. Except the Guatemalan government basically shut down adoptions. The year the Gieslers got Gabriel, there were 5,000 adoptions a year, last year there were two.
They felt a special attachment to a 1-year-old boy with severe burns. Kristie’s motherly instinct kicked in and now she is helping arrange treatment for him through the Shriners organization. Yet again, they face roadblocks getting approval from the government for him to come to the U.S. for a year-long treatment.
The shoe doesn’t always fit
Since the children in the orphanage live on donations, they make due with what they get, such as shoes. Except most of the shoe donations don’t include tennis shoes. Yet wearing oversized men’s dress shoes doesn’t stop the boys from racing around the playground playing soccer.
The trouble with donations of actual items comes from the Guatemalan government. Any medical supplies brought into the country are taxed at 100 percent of value.
That is why, Kristie explained, there are buildings full of donations, including high-priced medical equipment, waiting in the U.S. While the CAMI organization is grateful, it has to pay full price for everything it brings into the country.
Kristie hopes she can find a way to get these active boys into shoes that actually fit.
Looking for a lifeline
With all the good it does, the Giesler family was shocked to find the orphanage is in danger of shutting down. It has an old steel water tank that’s rusting, causing clogged pipes and it could collapse at any time. Without money to repair the tank, they will be without water and will have to shut down.
“This is probably the only family these boys know,” Kristie said. “It’s only $7,500 to build a new water tower. It’s not a lot, but it is a lot for one family.”
Kristie said if she was able to raise the money, she would gladly return to Guatemala to get the bids and line up the work.
“We have to help,” she explained. “There has to be a reason we were brought to this orphanage. If all I can do is get them water and shoes, that will be a start.”
For more information or to help the Gieslers with this cause, e-mail email@example.com or call 320-808-1087.