In a trip that took more than 20 hours some West Georgia Technical College instructors took a bus, a train and three airplanes -- one of them a prop plane -- to reach Guyana.
Once they arrived, their luggage was dumped on a piece of plywood that served as luggage claim, said Pat Sailors, an instructor in WGTC's nursing program. It was an eye-opening experience for someone who had never strayed far from her Georgia home.
"To me it was God working in my life, because I had never done anything like this before and it all just fell together," Sailors said.
The need was overwhelming, said Sailors, 66. The hospitals were not air conditioned; the cancer wards might be smaller than her office, there were shortages of medical supplies everywhere, she said. Even in places where they were scheduled just to train medical personnel, they were greeted with long lines of people hoping for some medical treatment, she said.
The medical mission trip in October was arranged by the Organization for Social and Health Advancement for Guyana with the support of WGTC's Health Services department. Pam Lewis, a Guyana native and another instructor in the school's nursing program, introduced Sailors to the mission. Lewis, 69, said Guyana is a third world nation in South America bordered by Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname.
It's a society that shuns medical attention sometimes until it's too late because of persistent superstitions and stigmas, she said.
"People don't like to share these kind of personal things because they feel that it's the life you're living in sin or you must have done something in your life that's why that's happening to you," Lewis said. "It's very primitive sometimes."
It's something she feels sure could be changed with education, Lewis said.
The two traveled with their husbands, chaplain Joan Davis, Debbie Trim and Theo Lewis, a doctor from New York, among others, Lewis said. The medical schools are hungry for resources, she said. She had heard that the nursing schools in the country had a very low passing rate -- out of 176 students only 23 passed. The WGTC health services donated books that helped increase the pass rate to 97 percent, Lewis said. The trip was an extension of that help. The traveling instructors visited hospitals and nursing schools in Georgetown, Berbice and New Amsterdam. They certified 39 students in CPR.
"The most important thing was the CPR," Lewis said. "Because of this I'm going to become a CPR instructor, too. So that we can be teaching in two different locations."
There are not enough training programs available for the students and classes such as CPR are filled based on a lottery system, Lewis said. Anybody can get a CPR card here, she said. The country is trying to build up its medical structure now, she said.
"Guyana has had a brain drain," Lewis said. "Look where I am. Everyone's looking for a better life."
The people were very receptive, Sailors said. They were warm and hospitable, she added.
"The food, I really enjoyed the food," Sailors said. "It was so different, with all the Caribbean flavors."
The people all have gardens and have fresh fruits and vegetables everday, Lewis said.
Before the two left, they asked students for a list of subjects they wanted to learn more about, they said. They'll be ready when they return in a year.
"I just can't wait to go back again," Sailors said.