Located in in the Guatemalan highlands, Todos Santos is a remote Mayan community where veterinary services are non-existent. A few years ago, after canine rabies and stray dog aggression became a serious health hazard to the population, the GAAP, along with other organizations like Veterinarian’s without Borders and Veterinarians International, started working on annual campaigns aimed at providing veterinary services as well as education about disease prevention and responsible pet ownership to the community.

Dr. Elena Garde and Andrés taking a blood sample

It was during these annual campaigns that we got to meet Andrés Carrillo, a young man from Todos Santos. He became a vital link between the veterinary teams and the community as he can speak Mam (the native language spoken in Todos Santos), Spanish and English. At first, his work was mostly administrative and later, he began working as an assistant during the campaigns.

Last year, Andrés became part of a new GAAP project focused on training a a local animal health care worker in the concepts of telemedicine used in human medicine to provide basic veterinary care to the pets of remote Todos Santos. Earlier this year, Andrés completed a 4-day training sponsored by Dogs Trust Worldwide in Huehuetanango at the Santa Rita Veterinary Clinic, with Dr. Adriana Contreras, Dr. Elena Garde and vet technician Melissa Payne from GAAP-Canada. Now, a new phase of the project has brought him to Chile, to continue his training at the GAAP Clinic.

During his second week at the GAAP, we sat down with Andrés to talk about the training, his first impressions of the GAAP and what he hopes to achieve once he’s back in Todos Santos.

“I didn’t know anything about Chile but regarding what I was going to do here (at the GAAP) I knew things were not going to be easy”. Was he scared? “Yes, I was scared but not in the sense that ‘No, I better not go’ but like… nervous. As the trip was nearing, I was getting anxious about how interesting the trip to Chile would be, what it would be like, and how long it would take. I was well aware that this was another part of the project, I knew that I had to travel. I knew that it was going to go well. What I’m living now is not something I hadn’t seen before. It’s more about adapting”, he concludes.

Andrés feels that differences between the work he’s seeing here and what he did during the training in Guatemala are not that big. “They’re different places, different processes but everything is similar. The technical aspects are not that different”, but he admits that a few things surprised him about the GAAP, like the lab. “In Huehuetenango they only had the microscope and the blood tests for parvovirus and distemper”. He was also surprised by all the work that goes into the other projects of the GAAP “the work upstairs (our NGO’s office)… that’s new to me. The fact that it’s not just the clinic.”

Once his training in Chile is over, Andrés will be back to Todos Santos to put his new knowledge to use. We asked him if he thinks things will be different during next years’ veterinary campaign in Todos Santos, considering all these new experiences. “I’m going to be more involved. With more responsibilities and at the same time, thanks to my training here, I will be able to help in even more ways than before”, he says. “I will know if I’m doing something wrong, of course, they’re going to tell me. And if it’s good, there’s always someone who is going to point it out. That’s going to be a real motivation for me”.

And what about his future work as an animal health care worker- the ONLY local source of basic veterinary care- in Todos Santos?

Dr. Angélica and Andrés performing a physical exam

“I think that’s the next step… to get out in the field. That’s where you get to see everything that needs to be done. That’s where all the work is, the effort, how you do things; being responsible and flexible in the sense that you have a team, it’s not just about what I want to do. It’s also about the team in charge”.

It is clear that for Andrés, the people around him; the vets, technicians, the people who’ve supported him are very important. The concept of “team” comes up often during our talk, making it clear that one of the most important parts of this entire process is knowing and trusting the people he’s working with. “I knew I was going to be with a team of people I know: Elena, Guillermo and Angélica. And that if anything were to go wrong, I know that you would correct me in the best way”. He feels close to the GAAP team and hopes to work well with them: “I don’t want to be apart (from the team). On the contrary, I want to be involved in everything that needs to be done. That’s how you get more confident and how you develop a rhythm. I want to be always available”.

Andrés also has a lot of respect for the GAAP-Canada team, especially Melissa Payne who worked with him during his training in Huehuetenango. It is very interesting how they have formed this work relationship considering the language barrier – while Andrés speaks English, Melissa doesn’t speak Spanish.

“There’s a mutual trust with Melissa and I. And when she finds out I finished this, she is going to be even more confident to ask me to do things because I will do it well. And if I don’t, I can ask someone who knows more”.

For Andrés, having a sense of security and confidence in his work and his team is essential. And he considers trust to be the most import aspect of working with the GAAP team: “we trust each other and when there’s trust, everything works out”.