WEEKI WACHEE — David Roebuck went to Guatemala two years ago in search of meaning.
Traveling in rural areas of the Central America country, Roebuck, then 19 years old, saw people living on the edge. Health care was suddenly no longer an abstraction as he witnessed lives cut short by violence, sickness or lack of medical technology.
He returned with a desire to help, promptly switching his studies at the University of Florida from nuclear engineering to pre-med biology and anthropology.
"When I saw how people were living, I was blown away," Roebuck said. "It exposed me to a bigger responsibility."
A few months later, he brought longtime friend Ryan Kania on a second visit to the Guatemalan countryside. The two college sophomores, both from Weeki Wachee, traveled through villages and spent time at a local hospital.
Kania watched an injured man die of a gunshot wound after a gang dispute. A few days later, they visited an elderly man near death, wasting away in a hut made of twigs. When asked if he needed anything, he said no. His time was nearing an end.
Roebuck and Kania, who graduated from Springstead and Central high schools, respectively, spent hours discussing what they had seen and how they might help. They couldn't provide Guatemala with more medical personnel, but perhaps they could still do something.
"We watched this guy die in front of us, and there was nothing we could do," Kania said. "They didn't have the equipment or the supplies to deal with the situation."
"They only had about a day and a half of supplies to operate the (emergency room)," Roebuck said.
They considered a variety of options. Kania, a finance and economics major, even reviewed the hospital's books to see if there might be other ways to purchase additional supplies.
After much research and soul-searching, the friends decided to create a nonprofit organization with the initial goal of sending medical equipment and supplies to Guatemala. Last year, their organization, Advocates for World Health, was born.
The belief that health care is a basic human right and should be available to all people, wherever they live, serves as the cornerstone for their mission.
Already they have sent several medical shipments to Guatemala and Haiti, with support from many, including the American Red Cross, Oak Hill Hospital, the Christian Contractors Association, and David's father, Dr. Brian Roebuck, who practices family medicine in Brooksville.
"They were very persistent," said Mickey Smith, Oak Hill Hospital CEO. "They didn't take no for an answer. We scoured the hospital for things that were about to be outdated."
The Christian Contractors Association provides storage space for donations at no charge. When Advocates for World Health has enough supplies and materials for a shipment, the receiving organization helps pick up the shipping costs.
Currently the nonprofit charity is seeking supplies and ultrasound equipment for the organization Aprofam, which runs 29 clinics throughout Guatemala.
"We've done the research and determined that's the organization we want to partner with," Kania said.
Future goals include developing a physician education program and the creation of clinics and hospitals. But first, the 21-year-old founders must continue their education.
Roebuck plans to attend medical school; Kania will pursue an advanced degree in economics or law.
Both say they have found their mission: to make a difference in the lives of Guatemalans through health care support, without interfering with a culture they have grown to love.
That challenge isn't so different from one faced by another idealistic son of Hernando County, Paul Farmer, who began helping Haitian doctors before he had finished his own medical studies. Now he's a world-renowned infectious disease expert and a professor at Harvard Medical School.
"This guy came from Weeki Wachee," Roebuck said. "If someone else from my town can make such a difference, why can't I?"
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.