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Creating Safe Spaces: Peter Caron’s Gentle Approach to Treatment

Peter Caron was instrumental in launching GHF’s weekly mobile clinic program to provide much needed healthcare to indigenous communities throughout the district of Quiché, Guatemala.  During the two-year period in which he served as GHF’s Central America Program Manager, our mobile clinic team provided comprehensive treatments to nearly 10,000 patients. Read all about Peter's story with Global Healthworks Foundation below.

Creating Safe Spaces: Peter Caron’s Gentle Approach to Treatment

The mobile clinic van approaches Mis Años Dorados (My Golden Years), a day center for senior citizens in Santa Cruz del Quiché. Three indigenous Guatemalans and one blue-eyed Californian-turned-New Yorker exit the partially rundown vehicle. The two male Mayans, Juan José Mejía and Lucas Guex, scramble on top of the green van and take down eight treatment tables. Clipboard in hand, Eva Carrillo, clinic logistics coordinator, dashes to find the director of the senior center. The fourth passenger, Peter Caron, walks calmly into the building, his characteristically soft smile growing brighter as one of the center patrons approaches.

“¡Pin Pin!” she yells, in her native K'iche' language. “¡El Doctor Pin Pin está! (Doctor Pin Pin is here!)” A phrase that has no literal translation in Spanish or English, “Pin Pin,” the team has gathered, means something similar to very handsome. “Ojos pin pin, alto pin pin, sonrisa pin pin (Handsome eyes, tall [and] handsome, handsome smile),” she continues. “¡Es el Doctor Pin Pin! (He is the very handsome doctor!)”

Though many female patients appreciate his appearance, it is Peter’s treatment that is of the greatest value. One need only observe the manner in which he interacts with the mostly Mayan patients—and the way in which they respond—to understand why he and the mobile clinic work so well. “Peter ayuda tanto a los pacientes (Peter helps the patients so much),” says Lucas Guex, interpreter and driver for the mobile clinic. “Y tienen un respeto profundo en Él. Con los ancianitos, especialmente—los pone mucha atención especial. (And they have a deep respect for him. With the elderly people, especially—he gives them a lot of special attention.”)

Many of the communities in which the team treats have very little interaction with Westerners, and those that do often distrust non-Mayans due to previous incursion on their land or attempts to convert their culture. The mobile clinic, however, feels nothing like an intrusion. In fact, for the most part, it is planned and executed by a completely indigenous team. Peter’s role, he says, is “obviously important,” but it’s also somewhat minimal. “My goal is to teach them to empower themselves,” Peter says of his team. “For instance, I didn’t teach them how to set up the treatment tables. I let them figure it out for themselves. That’s a small example, but that’s how the clinic is run. Regardless of their background, I want to give them the respect they deserve and tell them that they can do anything.”

Peter began his position with the mobile clinic in September 2013, after volunteering on two of Global Healthworks Foundation’s Guatemalan jornadas (medical missions) and at its free New York clinic. Fellow acupuncturist and jornada volunteer, Norva Bennett, introduced Peter to Foundation Founder and Executive Director, Dan Wunderlich, after learning of his interest to treat abroad. “We were good friends, with similar interests,” she says. “I told him, ‘This is right up your alley. I connect with this. You will, too.’”

Peter connected, as did Dan. “I was looking for someone to fulfill a very important role—to leverage the health promoter training we did during past jornadas by launching a mobile clinic program,” Dan says. “The goal with the clinics is to provide much needed healthcare to indigenous communities throughout the district of Quiché, Guatemala. Peter is a perfect fit for it. He has an extremely competent skill set and an amazing ability to engage with patients in an approachable, caring manner. I could not be happier with how the program has worked out. It has far exceeded my expectations. And we have a lot of very happy patients!”


"Peter has an extremely competent skill set and an amazing ability to engage with patients in an approachable, caring manner."


Less than a year into his time as the Foundation’s local program manager, Peter’s local mobile clinic team has already treated more than four thousand patients and, along with his fellow team members, has made significant steps in improving people’s health. “I see transformation beginning,” he says. “There are a decent number of patients who get significantly better. And we do the work without battling their past experiences. It’s saying: ‘You don’t always have to suffer. We can smile, joke, use a diagnostic tool like sticking out our tongues, and laugh about it.’ Our goal is to help patients be more receptive to a few small recommendations that can really improve their health. When we model a healthy change—like drinking more pure water—and then they model it to others, we begin to treat an entire community, rather than just an individual.”

Treating his local team members is equally important. “Es amable con todos (He is friendly with everyone),” Lucas says. “Y para él, nosotros somos pacientes también. El nos hace sentir bien para que tratemos bien a los pacientes de la clínica. (And for him, we are also patients.  He makes us feel well so that we can treat the clinic patients well.”)  For Juan José, Peter is something like a father figure, and the team is like a family. “Nos quiere mucho. (He loves us a lot.),”  Juan José says. “Le gusta compartir con todos, incluso con los miembros del equipo. (He likes to share with everyone, including the team members).”

For Peter, the team’s bond is a result of a shared belief in the power of their work. “It’s what we do that brings us together,” he says of his three Quiché coworkers. “The team is very grounded. We all rely on each other. And we don’t spend time just talking about treating. We do it. We treat.”

And they treat well. Under Peter’s guidance, the mobile clinic family moves seamlessly from town to town and patient to patient. An immense feeling of love and trust permeates each treatment and conversation, allowing both patient and practitioner to feel simultaneously more relaxed and energized. “Peter has a gentle aura about him,” says Bob Stern, a Foundation advisor and mentor who has volunteered as a photographer during a few jornadas. “He envelops you, but you don’t realize it. You feel safe with him.”

Creating safe spaces in a region that suffers from high rates of poverty and violence is not always easy. Yet, with skill, love, and a touch of humor, Peter, his team, and their rundown green van, are treating Quiché with an approach that is both gentle yet effective, providing the opportunity for individual healing and community growth.