Be The Good: Shreyansh Agiwal

REED’s Be The Good program provided funding for Shreyansh Agiwal’s recent service trip to Guatemala. He spent his time as part of a team that provided a variety of essential healthcare services and installed stoves in areas of need. This trip was organized by Michigan HELPS, a Michigan-based medical and dental team working in partnership with Helps International in Dallas, Texas, to bring medical services to the Mayan population in the highlands of Guatemala

Shreyansh shared a bit about his experience with us.

*Trigger warning: healthcare issues


How did you spend your time on this trip? What did a typical day look like?

As a high school senior with no formal medical education, my goal for this trip was to be wherever I was most helpful. As a result, I got to experience almost every aspect of healthcare. The hospital we set up when we first arrived in San Mateo had everything from operating rooms to intensive care to a dental office. During my time at the hospital, I worked with nurses on night shifts, EMTs who assessed patients and took vitals, surgeons doing operations and dentists who performed cavity repairs and root canals.

A day at the hospital typically started around 6 a.m. with triage bringing in patients waiting for the clinic around 6:30 a.m. During this time, the surgeons usually did their rounds while the nurses and anesthesiologists prepared the operating rooms and cared for patients in recovery. Around 7:30 a.m., the first surgeries would start and last until 6 p.m. The surgeons would occasionally visit the clinic to check on incoming patients between surgeries. Every day, a stove team would leave at 8 a.m. and return around 5 p.m. In total, the team performed 161 surgeries, treated 761 patients and installed 129 stoves.

Why are the services you provided vital to the community you served?

Guatemala is a developing country with no centralized healthcare systems or services. As a result, many communities across Guatemala suffer due to limited access to medical care. The city we visited, San Mateo, the 2nd largest city in Guatemala, doesn’t even have a single hospital. Patients in these communities suffer from diseases that countries like the United States find to be trivial. This is why HELPS teams are so important. Every two weeks, a new team enters an abandoned school that they convert into a hospital. These HELPS teams are often the only form of healthcare available to communities in the area, and the services are entirely free. The doctors’ work on the HELPS team is incredible and genuinely life-changing.

What was your favorite part of the service trip? 

My favorite part was scrubbing into surgery. I’ve been in love with surgery since I was a little kid, so getting to scrub into an actual procedure was incredible. The surgeons I worked with are some of the best in the country. Their work was meticulous and efficient, and it was amazing getting to watch them work. In a few of the procedures I scrubbed in on, I also got to help with actions such as holding the retractor or cutting the ends of the sutures. It was incredible getting to be a part of the whole process. 

Why was participating in this service trip important to you? Why was it vital to the community you served?

I’ve wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember. As a student, finding ways to get involved in medicine and my community has been challenging. This trip helped me accomplish both goals simultaneously because I got to be surrounded by talented healthcare professionals while benefiting an underprivileged community. The services provided are critical to the local people, who have no option other than the HELPS team. Throughout the trip, we saw people who had walked up to six hours just to be seen by a physician. 

There were patients with cleft palates, prolapsed uteruses, hernias and more. In the United States, these would often be minor procedures that could quickly be taken care of with minimally invasive surgeries. However, in Guatemala, these problems often spiral out of control due to limited resources. For example, one woman had a 16-pound fibroid (tumor) on her uterus that she had been living with for over ten years. 

In these communities, HELPS can make a significant difference because treating something like a hernia doesn’t just mean you’re helping a patient feel better; You’re supporting them financially since they need their body to work well to earn a living. 

What is one thing that surprised you about the local culture?

The most surprising part of the culture was the people’s grit. The culture is clearly built around hard work. People are willing to spend hours working every day for very little pay. Patients would come in with hernias because of how hard they worked, carrying around equipment every day. People who had injuries or diseases would push through the pain until the very last moment because they value their family and their livelihood over their physical health.

Another surprising thing was how much of their culture still traces back to traditional Mayan roots. People wore traditional clothing with vibrant colors and intricate designs, and several patients spoke ancient Mayan dialects. 

Why did you decide to go on this trip?

I’ve always felt like I should be doing more for the community, so when the opportunity came up to help people in need, I pursued it. I’m interested in the medical field and everything it offers, so going on this trip was an incredibly eye-opening experience for me. I got to see how healthcare functions in its most basic state, and I spent time with exceptional professionals who care deeply about making a difference. Going on this trip allowed me to meet and work with people who are actively changing the world. I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was a little kid, so this trip was a dream come true.