Young doctor charts a path of caring

Ela Castro, a 2019-20 YAMEN participant, works in January 2020 at Casa del Migrante in Guatemala City. — Samuel Gaitan/Casa del Migrante Ela Castro, a 2019-20 YAMEN participant, works in January 2020 at Casa del Migrante in Guatemala City. — Samuel Gaitan/Casa del Migrante

Ela Castro always knew she wanted to spend her life serving those in need. She studied for years to earn her medical degree. She worked at a clinic. She was helping people, but something was missing. The 30-year-old felt called to serve, not just to work for a paycheck.

But it wasn’t until she took a step of faith that she truly felt like she’d found her purpose.

Through a connection at her home church, Iglesia Menonita Central in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Castro heard about a one-year term of service with YAMEN, the Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network.

YAMEN offers young adults from outside Canada and the U.S. an opportunity to serve, grow and learn in an international placement. It is a joint program of Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite World Conference.

Castro’s education and experience made her a good fit for a placement providing medical care to migrants supported by an MCC partner in Guatemala City.

“YAMEN is a great place for people to confirm their gift and their call, and for me it was proof that I can do something different than other doctors are called to do,” she said.

Casa del Migrante (The Migrant House) provides shelter, food and medical care to thousands of migrants passing through Guatemala as well as deported Guatemalans.

“There was a 9-year-old girl who was a migrant, and she was vomiting. She was not doing well. We didn’t have all the medicine we needed at the shelter to treat her well,” Castro said.

She wanted to bring the girl to a hospital, but the girl’s parents pleaded not to because they’d been treated poorly by doctors in the past. After a few hours of Castro’s care, the girl recovered.

“They really thanked me more than I expected and needed, because it wasn’t me, it was God working,” Castro said. “That same day was a celebration at The Migrant House, and the girl was hanging around with me until she was ready to go to bed. I told her I was going to keep her in my prayers, and I’ve continued praying for her even after I left.”

Castro’s time with yamen prepared her for one the most challenging years she’d ever faced.

When she finished her term in June, she returned home to find her parents both sick with COVID-19. Her father died from the disease just weeks after her return.

While caring for her mother, Castro and her boyfriend and sister also contracted the virus. They all recovered — but only months later, hurricanes Iota and Eta struck Central America. Castro and her mother joined a group run by a local Mennonite church to offer medical care and relief.

Castro recently got married and is providing medical care through home visits or phone calls as she determines the next step for her path to helping people who need it most.

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