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Desperate for health care, Mennonites open their doors to strangers

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Mennonites in Yucatán are challenged with health issues. Photo: Lancaster Online

When some children of the Yucatán Peninsula’s Old Colony Mennonites became seriously ill, the tight-knit community did something that was almost unthinkable. They opened their doors to outsiders.

For generations, Mennonites here have driven buggies, dressed plainly, speaking a German dialect while farming their land here.

The group is historically European, traveling to Canada and then to Mexico to find farm land and escape worldly influences. Their community is also largely insular and private.

But they have let in a team from the Clinic for Special Children in Strasburg, Pa., which has treated more than 30 people in Campeche.

The clinic offers pediatric care for children with genetic or other complex diseases. About 90 percent of its patients are Amish and Mennonite in Lancaster County, Pa., with genetic links to the community in Mexico. The trip to Mexico was their first international medical consultation trip.

Related: Read about the Mennonites’ past conflicts with the law, and about their history in Mexico, from their own point of view

“We were seeing if we could improve the lives of these children,” said Mark Byler, assistant administrator of the aid group in Hopelchen, Campeche.

The group expected to evaluate seven or eight children during their trip in September., but ended up seeing 33 patients with ear infections, cognitive development issues, heart defects and more complex medical issues that are likely genetic.

The Mennonites technically have access to Mexico’s public hospital system, but there are long waits, and their tradition of traveling mainly by horse-drawn vehicles confines them.

Read more and see amazing photos of the Mennonite community and the aid workers at LancasterOnline.com.

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