Building a home for a family, caring for malnourished babies, and educating women about prenatal and pregnancy care are the kinds of experiences that have fueled Celeste Musick’s passion for the people of Guatemala.
Musick, 21, returned March 19 from her third trip to the Central American country, where 59% of the population lives below the poverty line. She volunteers with The God’s Child Project, a North Dakota-based nonprofit organization. The God’s Child Project has established a hospital, schools, a playground, a clinic, a chapel, a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen and more to serve the city of Antigua and its outskirts.
“I love helping people. I don’t like seeing people suffering or in pain. I just love taking care of them,” said Musick, who works for Home Instead in Rapid City and is a student at the University of Minnesota.
“Everyone says, ‘You’re so brave to go down there’ and I say no, the people living there and surviving — they’re the brave ones,” she said. “You see someone suffering and in need and you have what they need, you go and do it. It’s something we’re all called to do.”
Musick ultimately plans to become a physician’s assistant. She knew before she graduated from high school that she wanted a career in health care. That interest prompted Musick’s first trip to Guatemala when she was 18 and was invited to be part of a team of volunteers. She thought the trip would be good experience.
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“I got bit by the bug and I keep going back,” Musick said. “You go down there and bring a little bit of joy for a little while.”
The God’s Child Project does not want people to depend on handouts, Musick said. Mothers can earn points to obtain vegetables from local farmers, clothing and quilts for their families by attending education classes, counseling and more. Musick describes the campus as a secure sanctuary where children and families can feel safe while going to school and getting medical care. The project brings some children to its campus for care. In other cases, parents travel for hours to take their children there because they know The God’s Child Project will provide care, Musick said.
Musick’s recent 3-1/2 week trip to Guatemala was full of firsts — including traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because she provides home health care and is an essential worker, Musick was vaccinated for COVID-19.
She was impressed by the precautions Guatemala has put in place, including daily curfews that give cleaning trucks time to spray down the streets.
“I felt safer in Guatemala than in South Dakota,” Musick said.
“Down in Guatemala, people respected the pandemic and took it more seriously than here. Temperatures were constantly taken. Everybody wore a mask. Restaurants set up tents so people could eat outside,” she said.
Musick and other volunteers fill many roles with the project. An almost daily task was caring for babies at the project’s Casa Jackson hospital.
“I was feeding babies, changing diapers, brushing their teeth. There was a 4-year-old that had never brushed her teeth before,” Musick said. “I was going out and playing with them. (Some children) are so malnourished some of them can’t even walk. You want them to smile. That’s my biggest thing.”
Infant and new mother mortality is a chronic struggle. Musick assisted with a midwife education session, during which educational materials and donated medical tools and supplies were distributed.
“It’s hard to have a baby there. There isn’t an (obstetrician) you can go to,” she said. “A lot of women in the community have put it on themselves to become midwives. … These women don’t get paid a lot. They do it out of the goodness of their heart. They were so excited and grateful for everything. It makes a really big difference. God’s Child wanted to distribute goods and education to the community and it made a really big difference.”
Musick built her first house on this trip, then celebrated and prayed with the family that moved into it.
“It costs $2,000 in American money to build a house,” said Musick, who was one of seven people who fundraised and split the cost of a one-room house.
“The people we build houses for are homeless. You go and see the family before we build the house (and see their living conditions) and that’s the hardest day. The main goal is to get them on a concrete floor to prevent disease and get them out of the elements of weather. It’s a more humane way of living,” she said.
Musick left a piece of her heart in Guatemala after meeting 7-year-old Louvine, the boy she sponsors through The God's Child Project.
“This was my first time meeting him,” Musick said. “His mom met me and he did. He wrote me a little card and had a flower for me, and he automatically knew we were going to be besties. We played on the playground and he was very talkative and wouldn’t let go of my hand.”
Musick and other volunteers also provided relief for the staff at The God’s Child Project campus office. The God’s Child Project was established to care for orphaned and homeless children, and the office staff are people who were rescued as children by the project, Musick said.