Evan Minniti staff writer
If one were to trek through the Nepalese Himalayas or cut through brush in the Guatemalan jungle, there is a chance that junior Julia Yaris would be there, too. Since 2014, Yaris has visited Nepal and Guatemala multiple times with her mother as part of medical missions organized by Himalayan HealthCare and Helps International.
Yaris’s mother, Jackie Yaris, asked her if she wanted to take part in a medical mission to Nepal. Yaris agreed, knowing her mother had taken part in medical missions before, but had no idea that this trip would help change her life. It was on a trip to Guatemala that Yaris overheard a woman being diagnosed with a deadly cancer, which gave Yaris a lot of perspective on what was going to happen on these missions.
“There was a woman who came in and had two daughters… they were very cute. I was playing with them, but [the woman] had a huge cyst-like tumor [on her neck]. [The medical staff] to tell her she had cancer,” Yaris explained. “She couldn’t get to the major [hospital] that she would have to get to; that is often the problem for [sick Guatemalans], they usually live in the countryside and can’t get to the cities they need to get to. That was the problem with her, she couldn’t get there…She basically had to wait until she would die.”
Yaris discovered that she would have to distract the Nepalese and Guatemalan children while their ill parents received medical treatment.
“I have just been there when it happened. I usually just try to distract the kids…A lot of them are old enough to be where they understand what is going on and, God forbid if my parents were in that situation, I wouldn’t want to overhear it from the doctor. I would want to have my parents tell me. [When sick parents come in], I go outside and I try to play with the [kids], give them toys,” Yaris said.
However, Yaris had good experiences, too.
“There was one day where there weren’t a lot of people and it was the second to last day on our trip and I had just got to play with the kids all day. It was literally just me and 20 kids, outside playing soccer, doing whatever…I was trying my best [to speak Spanish], but I was completely butchering everything. They were just standing there laughing, and I was like ‘Hola!’ It was funny. That was a good day,” Yaris said.
Although these funny moments didn’t outweigh the disturbing ones, Yaris thinks those positive days made her trip better.
“There are certain days like that, it doesn’t make up for [bad experiences], but it makes the trip a little better as opposed to the days where you have to give people bad news,” Yaris said.
Though witnessing such extreme poverty, Yaris was impressed with the level of development in Nepal.
“[Nepal] is definitely [developing]. I get really car-sick and in Nepal, you have to take this bus up a super windy bumpy path. That’s not great. It’s more industrialized than you would think. They do have cars, they do have roads in the major cities. Kathmandu is the major city, the capital. It is pretty industrialized,” Yaris said before breaking out with laughter. “I think we had wi-fi there!”
Yaris left Nepal just before the country experienced a devastating earthquake, which killed thousands and halved Nepal’s GDP. Yaris admits that she misses the small Himalayan nation.
“We haven’t been able to go back because of the state that Nepal has been in now, but I’ve always liked Nepal more. You get to explore more and you get to see the actual country itself. When you’re in Guatemala, you feel like you’re helping people, but you’re not really seeing the actual country,” Yaris said.
Her experiences in these two developing nations put Yaris’s more privileged American life in perspective.
“Going to these countries definitely gives you a perspective and it helps you grow as a person. When you come back [to America] and say, ‘Oh my god, I’ve got this APUSH test, my problems with friends or whatever,’ you can just be like, ‘Okay, but I just saw this woman with one arm who has to hike up these mountains all day!’” Yaris said.
Jackie Yaris, Julia’s mother, is quite impressed that her daughter chose to follow her to Guatemala and Nepal.
“I am proud that Julia finds it important, as I do, to give back and help others less privileged. I am thrilled that she is becoming a global citizen,” Jackie Yaris said.
Going forward, Yaris wants to continue taking part in the medical missions and plans to fly to Guatemala in April.
“These experiences are life changing,” Yaris said. “I think these experiences will teach you much more than anything you will ever learn in school. It gives you a greater perspective on life, a greater perspective on your [personal] issues, on other people’s lives. It gives you a new take on everything going on in the world, a new sense of compassion for people.”