Name: Miriam Lemon
Occupation: Office manager for St. Joseph Clinic; founder of Love in Action Mission
Hometown: Guatemala City, Guatemala
Miriam Lemon didn't know when she awoke the morning of Feb. 4, 1976, that it would help define the course of her life. She didn't know she was lucky to have awoken at all; that more than 23,000 others hadn't or wouldn't live to see another sunrise.
As the population of Guatemala City lay sleeping, a 7.5 earthquake had struck, devastating the impoverished country. The death toll was higher than the capacity of Finley Stadium. More than 1 million survivors were left homeless.
And 40 percent of the national hospital infrastructure was destroyed.
"A few blocks from my home there were soccer fields, and they would bring helicopters with people," Lemon says. "It was where the biggest hospital was but the resources were so limited back then."
It wasn't the first time she had seen the painful reality of her country's medical capabilities as compared to the need. Though growing up in the small nation's largest city, she knew about the conditions of those in the rural areas. Even on the outskirts of the city, many lived in adobe houses, shacks and makeshift huts. Like the flimsy structures that collapsed on their occupants Feb. 4, the medical infrastructure was ill-equipped to support the population.
"It impacted me so much, because I saw people homeless and living out of cardboard boxes. I was interviewing them to write a paper and they were asking me could I do something," she recalls.
"As a child and teenager you cannot do much about it, but it's something that sticks with you."
So after emigrating to the United States in 1979 and later settling down and raising four children, she decided to start a nonprofit that offers medical equipment and services. Hoping to provide support wherever necessary, the organization also now provides an emphasis on higher education, taking Baylor students over to help mentor Guatemalan students and, perhaps one day, bringing students to experience school in the U.S.
» Love in Action Mission started out of a desire to relieve some needs I knew existed in rural areas in Guatemala and Peru and other countries. For now, we're focusing in Guatemala, but we're also planning a mission to Peru this coming year.
» There's not an organized medical system in Guatemala, especially for rural areas, where specialties are nonexistent.
» Before going to Guatemala, I started helping another organization in Peru. I went several years and organized medical missions.
» I always came back with my heart broken thinking about my own country, thinking "Who is going to my country?"
» In this country [the U.S.], working in the medical field, I see that there is so much waste of medical supplies and equipment. I decided to start helping my country.
» We ask doctors, we ask nurses; whoever has contacts. It's a lot of knocking on doors and hearing people say no. Then, finally somebody will call me one day and say, I have this ultrasound or this anesthesia machine.
» Even though we don't have any paid employees, we have been able to accomplish great things. We've been able to get an ambulance, and we started a clinic that was pretty much an empty campus and we have been equipping it little by little.
» The goal is to open a specialty clinic where we can have different specialties. We're getting ENTs, gynecologists dentists. The clinic is flourishing. It's a wonderful place where different doctors can provide free services for people who otherwise wouldn't have access.
» I don't want to take away from the doctors there, I want to help them. And I don't want to go and put Band-Aids on people. Our mission is a mission of impact. I want to train the doctors there and help them get impact. There are doctors, and they are good, but they are without tools.
» This year we had about six trips. We have planned for next year eight.
» Some missions, there can be as many as 1,300 to 1,400 people that come. Depending on the mission, we've had as many as 59 surgeries at one time.
» Our hope is that we can have one mission every month and bus them from other places to the clinic, until we are in a position to go to another community and build. The dream is there and I'm definitely working hard at it.
» I don't doubt anymore. I used to doubt and say, "No, I can't do this." Now I just trust that it will happen. And it has.
» Right now I'm working on a case with a little boy [who doesn't] have legs. I never will forget the words of his father: "Now I'm at peace because I know now my son is going to be helped." That made me want to continue, because this is exhausting work.
» I'm working all the time trying to recruit volunteers to go. The more volunteers who go, the more service we can do.
» I'd like to invite people who have a desire to find the joy of service to come on one of our medical missions. We do humanitarian services and for that, volunteers with no medical experience can help, too.
» Everyone has a talent. And to see the people making lives different, it's what gives me the fuel to keep on going.
To learn more about Love in Action Mission, to donate or to get involved, visit loveinactionmission.org.