November 20, 2017

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ACMC-Granite Falls Dr. Darrell Carter and ACMC-Benson Nurse Linda Gallagher Bringing Patient Care to Mexico

Dr. Darrell Carter seeing patients as a volunteer during a trip to Puerto Vallarta.

Dr. Darrell Carter seeing patients as a volunteer during a trip to Puerto Vallarta.

Nearly 20 years ago ACMC-Granite Falls family medicine physician Dr. Darrell Carter took his family on a tropical winter getaway. Over the next several years he and his wife—and sometimes his family—traveled to Acapulco, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta.  After a few trips to Puerta Vallarta, Dr. Carter and his wife Hazel wanted to find a way to help while they were in Mexico.  Hazel came across an organization that was working to help the people in one of the poorest areas of Puerto Vallarta.

The World Outside the Resorts 

While tourists are basking in the sun and enjoying vacations of a lifetime in one of the luxurious resorts that line the beaches of Puerto Vallarta, extreme poverty lines some of the villages nearby.  Vacationers can’t even imagine what life is like outside those resort walls for many locals.

It’s a world so poor that “houses” are ten-by-ten shacks pieced together with bed box springs, dirt floors and tin roofs; where the view is the mountainous garbage dump across the street. There’s no running water, electricity or sanitation. It’s a world where adults and older children scavenge through garbage day in and day out just to provide a meager existence for their families.  It’s one where children fend for themselves and are poorly nourished and uneducated. For those living near the dump, their life is all about survival.

Children of the Dump

“We wanted to help anyway we could,” said Dr. Carter.  “Hazel found this organization called Children of the Dump through a church in downtown Puerto Vallarta.  Over the years what this organization did and how we got involved evolved.”

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At first Dr. Carter and his wife helped with the food programs they offered. They’d assemble food and take it to local elementary schools to distribute to the kids. The kids would get rolls and a drink—some kind of nourishment to help get them through the day.  Then they’d join a group of volunteers who traipsed from one local excursion to another. Resorts often host these day trips for their guests; many excursions include meals. Food that was leftover was donated to the church, and gathered by volunteers like Dr. Carter and his wife, to distribute to local children who needed the food.

As the years passed, the program began to change its focus. They began to visit the dump with the goal of helping some of the most destitute children and families in the region.  In addition to bringing food to them, a number of other projects began to take shape.  One was to get the children in school, which meant getting them birth certificates and uniforms. They also worked with the city to pass a law that wouldn’t allow children under the age of 14 to work the dump.  The Carters remained active in the feeding program, and one day a volunteer announced that a doctor was there. Soon Dr. Carter had a line of 25 people waiting to see him.  As a former nurse, Hazel helped care for the patients, too. The two worked hand-in-hand, visiting with the people from the dump and caring for a variety of ailments from infections to sick kids and even advising pregnant women on how to care for themselves. Though they continued to help with the food programs, a new mission was born: bringing medical care to this underserved area.

ACMC Comes Together in Mexico 

It was while in Puerto Vallarta in 2004 that Dr. Carter first met Linda Gallagher, a nurse at ACMC in Benson.

“It’s such a small world,” Linda said. “We practically live in one another’s backyards, and we meet more than 2,000 miles from home.”

Like Dr. Carter and his wife, Linda and her husband wanted to do something to help others. The resort Linda and her husband stay at supports the same ministry Dr. Carter and Hazel were involved in. Linda and her husband went to the dump on an excursion organized by the resort.

“That day Dr. Carter and Hazel were also at the dump to volunteer, and one of the organizers announced they had both a nurse and doctor from Minnesota there. When we met we found out we both worked for ACMC,” Linda said. “We’ve been friends ever since, and every year we meet up while we’re in Mexico.”

And now 11 years later, through the work of the ministry and the generosity of the owners of the resort, many of those families have housing and clean water. More than 300 of those children of the dump are in school, the oldest of which has already graduated from nursing school. There is a local physician available to care for these families a few times a week. So Dr. Carter and Linda’s involvement in Children of the Dump has evolved yet again.

“It’s really special to see how far so many of these kids and families have come. To know we played even a small role in making life a little better for them is so humbling,” Dr. Carter said.

For more information about Children of the Dump or to learn how you can help, go to http://childrenofthedump.org.