From Rebecca Patten, (MS, class of 2016)
May 25, 2014 a group of Elizabethtown College students started their journey to Honduras for a week-long medical mission trip with C.A.R.E. (Central America Relief Efforts).The group was composed of occupational therapy majors and other allied health/pre-med students. OT students included Adrianna Bertilino, Shelby Brown, Erin Horting, Kelly Kleindienst, Leah Newman, Rebecca Patten and Briana Vesuvio. Allied health/pre-med students included Megan Fanelli, David Fanelli, Nate Williams, and Lindsey Zearfoss, Alexis Gerber and Taylor Santor. With the help of our friends, family, and local businesses, students filled their checked luggage with essential vitamins, ibuprofen, Advil, toothbrushes, toothpaste, general medical supplies, children’s toys and much more, to distribute on the trip. Our group flew from Miami to Honduras. Upon arriving in Tegucigalpa, Honduras 3 hours later, we proceeded through customs, gathered our luggage with some help from the friendly airport staff (who spoke minimal English), and then we met with Kristi Phillips, the director of C.A.R.E. In addition to our group and the C.A.R.E. staff, a team of 5 general doctors, 2 dentists, an eye doctor and 6 assistants joined us.
Throughout the course of our visit to Honduras, we had the opportunity to tour a local hospital, an orphanage, and set up and assist with the operation of three medical clinics across the countryside. During the hospital visit, weobserved a surgery and a baby being born! We were truly amazed to learn about the differences in health care in Honduras compared to the United States. For example, we were told that patients who came to the hospital for an x-ray were expected to provide the hospital with the necessary film. In addition to the lack of supplies, there was minimal radiation protection provided for the technician and patient.
After the hospital, we visited children in a local orphanage in Choluteca, Honduras where we distributed coloring books, jump ropes, bubbles, crayons, and other little toys. We were instantly welcomed with a smile and hug by each child. We managed to communicate through the use of charades and basic Spanish and English. Each one of us made unique bonds with a child, even though we only had a short time there. Our good-byes were by far the most difficult part of this trip, knowing that our paths would most likely never cross again, but we wished our new friends well and gave them big hugs. We hope that our visit made a difference in their lives and that our donations helped prepare them for the upcoming school year.
You can learn more about our trip on Youtube.
The following three days of our trip were spent opening up medical clinics in three different towns in Central and Southern Honduras. Each day started early in order to make the journey to the clinic site. Once we arrived, we unpacked and sorted the medicine and donations we had brought in order to set up a make-shift pharmacy. On a typical clinic day, we would set up for about an hour while over 500 people of nearby towns lined up to be treated. In order to start the clinic day, the Mayor of the town would introduce us to the people and thank our group for coming. Our team served over 1440 patients in 3 days!
All three clinic days we handed out toothbrushes and toothpaste to the children and educated them on how to brush their teeth. For many of them, this was their first toothbrush and they were excited to learn how to use it. After our workshop, the kids would store their toothbrushes in their cubbies at school and every morning they would be reminded to brush their teeth by their teacher. Programs like this have had success in reducing the amount of cavities by 75% in schoolchildren by instructing the children how to brush their teeth. Children were also instructed to inform and educate their parents to brush and floss their teeth as well.
The people we met during the clinics were so welcoming and thankful for our presence. They were warm, appreciative and sincere people who were willing to share what they had.
Reflecting back on this trip, each one of us came away with our own unique experiences and bonds, but it came to no surprise that we all were so glad that wehad this truly life-changing experience. Volunteering abroad truly opened our eyes to how good we have it in America. Seeing a third-world country definitely restored “purpose to our practice” and re-energized us to complete schooling in the health care and medical professions. Visiting Honduras opened our eyes to the great need in this world to help others and taught us that even though we come from a very small college in the middle of rural Pennsylvania, we have the power to make a difference!