Community Health in Patanatic, Solola, Guatemala

If you have been following our work in Panajachel, Guatemala you may be familiar with our goals of educating the community about Bitcoin, fostering bitcoin adoption among local businesses, and introducing bitcoin mining as a way to create sustainable economic opportunity without creating dependency. The last goal will also provide economic incentive to help clean lake Atitlan. If you are not familiar with our work, you can start here.

I’ve spent my entire career as a surgeon and have participated in many medical missions around the world. Because of this, healthcare is something I always think about in any community I’m in. Panajachel has been no different. Access to basic healthcare can make a huge difference in a community. Any healthcare analysis demonstrates that in order to improve the health of a community, you have to target women. Women drive healthcare decisions (universally) in every family. In Patanatic access to healthcare services can be challenging. While Panajachel is located in an indigenous region, most doctors that provide services there are from Guatemala city and are of European descent (lighter skinned). Patanatic is heavily Mayan and women from the community often face discrimination and/or don’t trust those outside of their small community. These factors dramatically affect access to healthcare in Patanatic. In the indigenous Mayan language Patanatic means “between the rocks.”

And so begins the truly remarkable story about the community health clinic in Patantic. Only ten minutes from Panajachel up the mountain, Patantic might as well be another world. There are no tourists in this community. In fact, coming into Panajchel, you pass Patanatic on the way into Pana. As mentioned, it’s a Mayan community and the Maya women face discrimination and lack trust in the healthcare offered in their neighboring town. The townspeople recognized they needed their own healthcare services and set about to change this situation.

The health clinic is wrapped by a cobblestone road with an incline from 20 degrees on the right to about 45–50 degrees on the left side (not shown)

The ground that the health clinic is on was an area covered by stone and rock. The men of the community got together and working in shifts over a period of six months, leveled the land by hand! Inside of the clinic there’s actually a well where water from the mountain trickles in through the stone.

After leveling the land by hand, they then set out to build the clinic by hand as well! It was completely a community led effort. Communities in this part of Guatemala are extremely close and protective. Trust within the community is extremely high and is a result of the brutal, long Guatemalan civil war.

Centro Educativo y de Salud Patanatic (CESP) opened its doors (2009). The current structure took three to four years to complete. A substantial amount of equipment and resources were donated through outside funding and donations: enough that basic medical and surgical care can be provided in the community.

Triage room with excellent basic examination equipment, labor and delivery, rooms for post-op recover, neonatal intensive care (with incubator) and consultation rooms.

The two nurses that currently staff the clinic gave an impressive presentation about the work of the clinic in the community and the statistics they keep about the welfare of the community. Every family in the community or visitor from outside of the community has a file (also digitized). From the information they keep, they were able to identify students who needed support to complete schooling. At one point, they were able to offer small scholorships for this purpose.

The clinic has had excellent outside support to help promote its mission.

Prior to COVID, the clinic ran the following programs: Vision & Hearing screening with glass and hearing aid fittings; dental exams, prenatal care, diabetes care and education, annual pap smears, and fluoride applications. They routinely dispensed vitamins and basic medications and provided water filtration devices and improved stoves (smoke and carbon monoxide toxicity are common problems since most cooking is done indoors).

Once COVID lockdowns began, all funding to the clinic dried up as did the arrival of teams from the US and other countries that provided clinical help and equipment.

Effectively, the clinic has not been able to provide their services for the past three years. They have received soft commitments for teams to return in 2023, but nothing is firm at this point.

The clinic staff felt that they were running a self-sufficient operation but COVID lockdowns revealed the stark reality of the dependency they had upon outside funding. If you notice in the outside photo of the clinic above, you will see a table with articles of clothing. They have had to resort to selling clothing as a way to provide a basic income for the three staff members. They received a large donation of soccer uniforms which they also sell.

I found out about the clinic through Mae Ardon. Mae (pronounced My-ehh) is Guatemalan and owns/operates a new restaurant in Panajachel with her partner Chris. Mae also works for a non-profit called GoPhilanthropic Foundation. I first met Mae and Chris back in May of 2022 as Eliazar and I spoke to them about Bitcoin. Chris has actually been in Bitcoin for quite some time but was not familiar with the lightning network. We orange pilled (about lightning) them a couple of days before the grand opening of their restaurant: Amaranto (the best food in Panajachel).

Mae and GoPhilanthropic were actually in the final days of vetting CESP when she mentioned the clinic to me. She asked if I would be interested in seeing the clinic. I jumped at the opportunity. About six weeks prior to this, I actually reached out to a contact (now friend) on Twitter who heads a global community health foundation. I specifically called to get his thoughts on help to create a community health project (not what I called it at the time, but he educated me). The first hurdle of any project like this is community engagement, funding and staffing for the clinic. CESP has already done all of the hard work and demonstrated resounding success in fulfilling their mission. Like so many for-profit businesses around the world that suffered at the hands of illogical and harmful COVID policies, CESP suffered as a non-profit so dependent upon outside help.

If you have followed our work, you may recall that back in the spring of 2022, we serendipitously found three multi-thousand liter biodigesters that had been installed in a community to help contain sewage. Those biodigesters happen to be within a stones throw of CESP. In fact, the school that is next to the biodigesters is a school that CESP works with to teach children about health and hygiene.

Three large biodigesters that are not being used — the third is not visible, it is behind the shed. Note the school in the upper right side of photo.

You may recall our goal is to use these biodigesters to mine bitcoin and distribute a portion of the bitcoin back into the community (DBI — decentralized basic income). Since infrastructure is in place, a large portion of the bitcoin produced could effectively go back into the community and CESP.

I’m excited to see where this could lead. If you would like to be involved to make this happen, please reach out to me at Bitcoinlake@reacher.me. You can also follow us on Twitter @LakeBitcoin.

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