SF Fire Dept. EMT leads volunteers to help thousands of patients in El Salvador

ByAnser Hassan KGO logo
Sunday, February 19, 2023
SFFD EMT leads volunteers to help thousands of patients in El Salvador
A San Francisco Fire Department EMT leads volunteers to help thousands of patients in El Salvador.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Carlos Martinez and his 12-year-old son are checking in at San Francisco International Airport for their Saturday flight bound for El Salvador.

"We are going to a place called Tacachico and another place called San Julian. They are very rural areas, people with little to no access to medications or any medical help. Some people have never seen a doctor in their life there," says Martinez.

Martinez is an emergency medical technician with the San Francisco Fire Department. He's leading 70 volunteers with the Castaneda Kids Foundation. They will be providing free medical treatment in rural parts of El Salvador. Five other volunteers are also from the San Francisco Fire Department.

"We provide general medicine. We don't do any kind of surgeries. We do have a dentist. We have women's health. We have an ENT -- ear, nose, throat doctor. And then any minor wounds that come through," Martinez said.

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Lasagna Love started in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. A mom wanted to help moms in her community, so she and her toddler started making meals and delivering to families in her neighborhood who were struggling emotionally, financially or just feeling overwhelmed.

Over the coming week, they will serve 3,000 patients. Martinez says diabetes, hypertension and hygiene are three of the biggest problems they'll tackle -- adding that poor sanitation is big reason for the poor hygiene.

"It is very humid and there a lot mosquitos and other vector-borne illnesses that spread around, and water is definitely an issue. Because of that, we see a lot of people with intestinal parasites," he said.

Martinez says the goal is to treat people, but also to educate, so people can take better care of their own health.

This is their first medical trip in three years due to the pandemic. So they know the need for care will be great once they hit the ground.

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"We have what people call 'first-world problems' here, where the iPhone charger doesn't go far enough or the password is not working. Over there, it's 'Hey, I don't have food for the week.' Or, 'I don't have any water.' Or 'The roof fell off, and we have no way to fix it,'" he said.

It's been hundreds of hours of planning and coordinating to make the program work. They will also give out scholarships so students can go to school and hand out food for those in need.

Martinez says it can be just as impactful experience for the volunteers.

"If you've never left the country. If you have never seen poverty, it is absolutely life-changing," Martinez said.

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