Refuge International

Improving lives through healthcare, nutrition, clean water, and education.


About Us

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Most rural communities in Guatemala lack life’s basic necessities, such as clean, running water and access to healthcare and education. For children growing up in these areas, the future is often bleak but it doesn’t have to be. Refuge International is fighting to change this reality and invites you to be a part of our mission.

Our Vision

We believe all of humanity is of equal worth and should have their essential needs met without regard to culture, ideology or religion. When people reach out to meet a need, those who choose to help benefit, as do those who are in need. Working within these basic tenets, we hope to improve the lives of all.

Mission Statement

Refuge International is a compassionate 501(c)(3) volunteer organization dedicated to the goal of improving the lives of families and individuals through the collaborative development of sustainable programs in areas where healthcare, adequate nutrition, clean water and education are lacking or non-existent. Refuge International also provides opportunities for mentoring of students who wish to become involved in humanitarian efforts.

Refuge International Strives To: Deliver Clean Water • Improve Health Care • Increase Literacy


Refuge does not take a “one size fits all” approach. We work with individual communities to understand their way of life, identify local resources and find realistic solutions.

In the last year alone, Refuge International volunteers and donors:

  • Provided care for over 10,000 patients (including dental and vision services)
  • Performed over 350 vital surgeries
  • Treated all patients (and their families) for parasites
  • Operated a full-time hospital in Sarstun, one of the most remote areas of Guatemala
  • Procured, packed, shipped and distributed medical/educational supplies and equipment for 9 facilities
  • Funded 3 full-time school teachers
  • Continued work on our water projects, providing safe water for remote villages
  • Provided health care for homeless patients in Longview, Texas

Bringing Refuge To Guatemala

“When he cried there were no tears. His mouth was parched and he lay in his mother’s arms, limp. When he cried, it was a quiet weak cry, not what you would expect from a nine-month-old baby boy. When he cried, his mother would put him to her breast to feed him, but he would soon lose interest and whimper softly, seeming to be in pain. When he cried, his eyes would roll back in his head. His head would drop back as if he didn’t have the strength to hold it up any longer.”

—Deborah Bell

Deborah BellFor Deborah Bell, Founder of Refuge International, the way she viewed the world changed dramatically during her first medical mission trip to Guatemala in 2000. As a nurse practitioner student, Deborah and her instructor Dr. Debbie Mahoney were asked to provide care for a little boy with diarrhea and fever.

The boy was brought to the clinic by his mother and grandmother, both barefoot, dressed in the huipiles and cortes typical of the indigenous Mayans living north of Sacatepequez. Neither woman spoke much Spanish; rather, they spoke Kaqchikel, one of the 26 recognized Mayan languages spoken throughout Guatemala. They had walked over four hours to get to the clinic, to seek care for the infant boy, who had been sick for two days. More than 1 million people living in rural Guatemala lack access to clean water and as a result suffer on-going illness and even death.

The condition of this child haunted Deborah long after she returned home and thus Refuge International was born. Established to help improve the lives of those living in remote areas of Guatemala, Refuge International continues to improve access to healthcare, education and clean water. With money raised from the organization’s first fundraiser, a water drill was purchased. Deborah even went to drilling camp to personally learn how to drill for water. The need in Guatemala is great and it takes a multi-faceted approach to improve life in the remote regions. Clean water was a start. Access to healthcare came next followed by education in order to give future generations a more hopeful outlook.

Refuge International: A Mission To Cure

Faces of Guatemala: Abraham Williams