Madeline Brown, a Salem native, takes a break outside a building in Guatemala during a medical mission trip through VIDA Volunteer in January 2018 (Contributed/The Report).

Area woman joins volunteers in Guatemala

By Jason Arndt

Access to basic human rights, such as public health and the means to receive medical services are just two areas people in the United States often take for granted, said Madeline Brown.

Brown, a Salem native and 2015 Westosha Central High School graduate, fully recognized these two aspects, among other areas, during a medical mission trip to Guatemala in January 2018.

The medical mission trip is through a partnership between University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where she is a senior studying pre-medicine, and nonprofit organization VIDA Volunteer.

“What VIDA does is they provide a shadowing experience with local physicians and healthcare providers in rural Guatemala,” Brown said.

Although she and her classmates did not provide direct care, noting the medical mission trip is a learning experience, the trip exposed Brown to the every day struggles people in rural Guatemala face.

Struggles include lack of public health infrastructure, transportation to medical facilities, basic plumbing and clean water.

“Before I experienced it myself, my eyes really were never opened to the struggles and the difficulties that people face in other areas of the world, whether it be in Wisconsin, whether it be in Guatemala,” said Brown.

“One of the biggest takeaways that I had was really how lucky we have it here, clean water, hot water, plumbing, a working toilet and access to healthcare, whether it is to a clinic or hospital.”

Brown, an aspiring physician, said the experience made her a stronger advocate for basic human rights, including affordable healthcare.

Brown’s friend, Kitt Drewiske, was in Guatemala at the same time building smoke-free kitchen stoves for families and schools through “Club Rotario Guatemala del Este”, or the Rotary, and the La Chapina Project.

Drewiske later approached Brown about helping her plan for another mission involving construction and installation of smoke-free stoves.

Brown selflessly jumped at the opportunity even though the trip is during her school’s spring break from March 16-23.

“Honestly, I am really excited to start doing something that is actually going to have an impact on other people’s lives,” said Brown, noting her previous spring breaks have been with friends and family.

Madeline Brown meets with two children during a Guatemala medical mission trip through VIDA Volunteer and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse last January.

Healthy homes and schools
The U.S. Agency for International Development and RTI International have recommended smoke-free stoves as a healthy alternative compared to current conditions for both families and schools in Guatemala.

Otherwise, without smoke-free stoves, National Geographic reported prolonged exposure brings harmful health effects.

Globally, National Geographic indicated about three billion people cook their food and heat their homes with open or barely contained fires, and while the smoke dissipates quickly, the costs are steep.

“The typical cooking fire produces about 400 cigarettes’ worth of smoke an hour, and prolonged exposure is associated with respiratory infections, eye damage, heart and lung disease and lung cancer. In the developing world, health problems from smoking inhalation are a significant cause of death in both children under five and women,” National Geographic states.

However, the smoke-free stoves through La Chapina Bonita have been able to improve the quality of life for residents and schools. The smoke-free stoves reduced smoke/carbon monoxide emissions by 98 percent, use half as much firewood and cut cooking time by 25 minutes.

Carlos Galvez, Brown said, founded the La Chapina Bonita project.
Chimneys are installed to the smoke-free stoves to eliminate harmful vapors from inside the home or school.

“They have chimneys to remove smoke to make sure that these people are not inhaling smoke on a day in and day out basis,” said Brown.

Brown, Drewiske along with 13 other students and faculty from UW-La Crosse will build and install each stove.

Fundraising required
Construction and installation of each stove comes at a cost of about $70 for families and $86 for schools using locally sourced materials.

While each family contributes 50 percent of the cost, the rest is supported through donations, which are overseen by the Rotary Club’s Chapina Bonita smoke-free stove project.

Smoke-free stoves for schools are donated entirely.

Students attending the Chapina Bonita mission trip must raise funds to offset the cost of at least one stove.

Brown’s family, including parents Jay and Kelly, have contributed the cause and donated several smoke-free stoves.

She also has a brother Max.

Brown, however, has lofty goals and wants to make the most of the opportunity to help.

“My goal is to raise money for as many stoves as I possibly can,” said Brown, adding even a $1 contribution can help.


To contribute to Brown’s cause, visit and click on the ‘Donate Now’ button.

In the “Write a Note” section, leave a citation stating “Brown-UWL”.

Leading the way
Brown, meanwhile, has taken a lead role in her school’s second medical mission trip through VIDA Volunteer as a campus coordinator in January.

Matt Waldrop serves as the other campus coordinator.

She will help about 95 other classmates during the second trip.

She said the medical mission trip serves as a reminder of worldwide health disparities and wants to be part of the solution.

“I really wanted to have my eyes open to some of the health disparities that many areas of the world face and to make a difference in helping to relieve the these disparities.”

Brown, who looks to graduate in December 2019, plans to enter medical school and become a physician.

Although she won’t decide on a medical specialty until then, primary care and family care are two areas is most interested in, since both areas help people of all ages.

The two trips, she said, would not have been possible without the help of Drewiske for the stove project and Waldrop.

“Both of these people have pushed me to be a better person, and I hope I did the same for them,” she said. “I know that we will be lifelong friends because of these experiences we’ve shared together.”


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