Preparing For Your Trip

Your donation fee covers round trip airfare and ground transportation to and from the hospital. Room and board, beverages, including filtered water, and laundry while at the hospital are also provided.

Hotel stays and meals outside the hospital, as well as airport transfers are not covered in the donation fee. Team members also tip the staff and drivers; these tips are not included in the donation fee.

What to Bring:

It’s a good idea to order Guatemalan Quetzals from your bank prior to departure. You can also get Quetzals from ATMs in Guatemala but you have to find them. Most places outside Nuevo Progreso take debit or credit cards. Nuevo Progreso is rural; if you need to buy anything it’s easiest with Quetzals, and you get a better exchange rate. We also tip the bus drivers and hospital staff in Quetzals.

Please add an International Package to your cell phone so you can be contacted while in Guatemala. This is most important for efficiency in the OR so you can be texted or called when your case is ready. What’s App is also helpful. Check with your team leader to find out how they want to communicate in Guatemala.

We ask that you pack all your personal items in a carry-on, saving the luggage allowance for medical supplies and equipment. You don’t need much more than a couple of casual outfits, pajamas and toiletries.

Sheets, towels and scrubs are provided. You’ll wear scrubs most of the time, they are laundered daily. There is no need to pack a lot of clothing, you can put personal items in the laundry basket in your room each morning and you will find them on the community table the next morning clean and folded. Make sure your name is on all clothing sent to the laundry.

Bring your most comfortable shoes for long hours standing in the Operating Room. Days are hot and nights are cool, bring a light sweater or jacket and a rain jacket suitable for heavy rains which occur most days.

Bug spray(*see below) and sunscreen are important.

If you are a light sleeper ear plugs are necessary. (dogs,roosters,trucks,firecrackers,team members – the list of sleep interrupters is extensive!)

Bottled water is supplied in jugs around the facility so bring a refillable water bottle.

The food prepared in our kitchen is safe to eat. Even so, every year someone gets travelers diarrhea. It’s important to contact your physician and bring medication for travelers diarrhea, Lomotil and Pepto-bismal just in case.

The hospital Operating Room is fairly well equipped but if there is an instrument or supply that you feel you can’t function without, it is best to bring it with you.

What to expect:

When you arrive in Guatemala, if you didn’t bring Quetzals with you, it’s a good idea to get some at the airport for incidentals and tips while in the country. Some flights arrive early and money exchange may not be open but there is a possibility you can use an ATM to withdraw Quetzals. Your team leader will need to tip the bus driver on arrival in Nuevo Progreso so please have the money available to them before arrival.

Once supplies are retrieved from baggage claim and you clear customs, the supplies are loaded onto a truck and transported to the hospital in advance of the team’s arrival.

The team will be transported via bus to Nuevo Progreso. The trip is 7-8 hours depending on traffic and the number and length of stops made. Depending on the team, there may be a lunch stop and a brief stop at a shopping center for last minute snacks or personal supplies such as toiletries or liquids that didn’t meet airline carry-on limits. Debit and Credit cards are accepted at the shopping center.

After arrival, you should have time to unpack and familiarize yourself with the hospital layout. If there is time before dinner the team can start unpacking supplies and setting up the Operating rooms.

Lodging at the hospital is dormitory style with multiple people to a room. Your room assignment will be posted on a bulletin board in the dormitory. If you have a roommate request let your team leader know if advance.

Housekeeping staff clean the rooms daily.

Religious nuns, who administrate the hospital, live on the top floor of the dormitory. Please be mindful of noise in the dormitory and keep your voices down after 11pm.

Meals are provided by a wonderful kitchen staff who try their best to accommodate special diets, but no guarantees can be made. Eggs, beans and corn tortillas are plentiful and there are a few dishes they can make as vegetarian. If you have special dietary needs that may be hard to accommodate in a rural community, it’s probably best to pack some snacks and supplies for yourself for the week.

Electricity is fairly reliable and is standard 110 Volts, you do not need adaptors. The hospital has an emergency generator for blackouts. Generator power is turned off at 10pm; it’s literally ‘lights out’ at 10 if using the generator.

There is Wifi at the hospital, it is slow and unreliable.


Patient care:

While the doctors are seeing patients in clinic the first morning after arrival, the rest of the volunteers get busy setting up the Operating rooms and getting familiar with the location of supplies.

The Guatemalan doctors evaluate patients prior to team arrival and schedule their return as appropriate to see the specialties of the team. Patients line up early to be seen. Some patients show up unannounced. They are seen in the order they register and we see all the patients registered every day. Patients are told to be NPO in case their surgery will be scheduled immediately.

Hospital de la Familia Foundation H&P, and Consent Forms must be completed for all patients having surgery at the hospital. You must discuss the risks, benefits and alternatives of the procedure you are planning and make sure the patient understands what you have told them. The doctor giving consent and the patient need to sign the consent form. Once scheduled for surgery the patients go to the pharmacy to pay a small fee for the hospital stay, and then to the pre-op area which is below the hospital. In the pre-op area they will get an IV, and have an anesthesia evaluation. If there is any question about a patient qualifying medically for surgery please discuss it with the team.

Patients are seen all day, even as we are doing surgery; if it’s not possible to keep clinic running all day, it’s important to send someone (scrub out) to clinic as soon as possible after each case.

The “Surgical Safety Checklist” must be used and documented prior to each case. The Hospital de la Familia Foundation Operative Note must be completed immediately after every case. There are also standard order forms.  The safety checklist, op notes and orders are kept in the pre-op area and should be placed on the chart prior to going to the OR. There are standardized forms for post-op rounds, and pre-printed discharge instructions to be used for each patient.  Please make sure you are using only forms that have the HDLFF logo on the top.

We ask that you introduce yourself to the Guatemalan doctors as soon as possible upon arrival. These doctors are instrumental in pre-op evaluation, hospital care and post-op care of the patients. Please work together with them especially when discharging a patient to home. The local doctors completely understand travel and living conditions of the patient and when that patient is truly ready to go home.

Every patient needs discharge instructions before going home, including instructions to call the hospital and the phone number to call in case of problems. The Guatemalan doctors can be very helpful with this.

Cultural Sensitivity:

It’s important to remember that each team is a temporary visitor to Nuevo Progreso. Please be friendly, polite and respectful to everyone, including your fellow team members. You will be working hard in a new and foreign environment. There may be times when you have to deal with a different way of doing things, don’t have what you like or need, and feel tired or stressed. Please try to keep smiling and adjust your attitude as you help others less fortunate than yourself.

The patients of this area are very poor, they may delay going to the doctor, going first to a spiritual healer or feeling financially unable to make the trip. Delays can cause their medical condition to progress to a degree not seen in the United States. Patients travel long distances from very rural communities, miss work, and pay for multiple bus rides to see us, while already struggling to make ends meet. Please respect their beliefs and the hurdles they must overcome just to be treated as you explain their options to them.

Up to forty percent of the people in the rural mountainous communities of this area are indigenous Maya and do not speak Spanish or English. In most cases a family member will be present for visits to help explain what you are saying. Speak slowly and clearly to the interpreter and try to make certain the proper message has been received by the patient.

It is important to ask permission if you want to take a photo of someone, especially children. Be mindful of what you post on social media.

Please be culturally sensitive in your interactions with the patients, the people who work at the hospital, and your team mates.


Remember that this is a team and everyone has a role to fill. You may be asked to rotate between roles and cross-cover. If you are not busy but others are, ask how you can help them. Make sure everyone has a chance to go to lunch or dinner. Do not leave the hospital to walk around town if your fellow team members are still working and might need a break.   This can be a main source of discord within teams.

Health and Safety:

Crime in Guatemala is a problem, mostly along the borders and in certain areas of Guatemala City. It’s important to always be aware of your surroundings and belongings, as you would while traveling in any foreign country. Avoid areas known for crime.

Nuevo Progreso is a friendly peaceful community, the people there welcome our visits. The dormitory is locked at night for additional safety, mostly from stray cats and dogs, and wandering roosters. We do however recommend, if you leave the facility, don’t go alone, take a buddy. Let someone know where you plan to go and when you expect to be back. This is important in case you get lost or hurt while out and about.

Do not to approach or pet stray animals in the streets due to risk of fleas or bites and rabies.

The water at the hospital is filtered, and the food is safe to eat. Even so, bottled water is supplied. In spite of this, every once in a while a volunteer gets traveler’s diarrhea. We recommend you check with your physician regarding which medications to bring in case you become ill while traveling.

The elevation of Nuevo Progreso is listed as an area at risk for Zika virus, and they have seen a few cases. As a precaution, the premises are periodically fumigated, especially prior to team visits. Mosquito netting has been installed in the dormitories. It is recommended that you avoid stagnant water, use insect repellent during your stay, and use the nets while sleeping. If you may be pregnant or are planning to get pregnant you should consult with your physician. Nuevo Progreso, Antigua and Guatemala City are not in a Malaria zone. No special vaccinations are needed.


Thank you for volunteering.  We think you will be happy you did!

Hospital de la Familia Foundation is a non-profit U.S. based organization that provides medical care and education to Guatemalan communities living in poverty.  

Hospital de la Familia Foundation
P.O. Box 12981
Berkeley, California, 94712-3981
Phone: 510.883.9064

© 2018 Hospital de la Familia Foundation