On the 10th of July 2016, I embarked on a 13-hour journey to Honduras filled with excitement and expectations about the road that lies ahead. I was involved in a medical brigade in Vietnam three years ago and the experience was invaluable. I made a mental note to take up any similar opportunity when it arises again in the future. Moreover, it was my last summer holiday as a student before I graduate in 2017 and I wanted to make it count by doing something meaningful in community work. There were 9 of us from Edinburgh and 13 other volunteers from University of Michigan.
Soon after, I realized that there were many things to prepare for the trip such as applying for a US visa, keeping my vaccinations up-to-date and being aware of local endemic infectious diseases. Having said that, we were all surprised and horrified at the variety of insects there were. Grasshoppers, beetles, flies, mosquitoes, spiders – they were everywhere!
The most worrying issue was our personal safety. Honduras has quite a reputation of having the second highest homicidal rate in the world. Thankfully we did not encounter any threats during our trip as we were working at the mountain municipality of El Paraiso located 200 miles away from the city centre Tegucigalpa.
Traveling along the mountain area in trucks was not the most pleasant experience either. Roads were bumpy and winding without any barricades along the sides of the mountain terrain. We were surely terrified of colliding into the tank trucks cruising in front of us.
I developed a deeper sense of appreciation for readily accessible healthcare and education. People take hours to travel to a clinic only to be turned away due to insufficient medication or doctors. Children stop attending high school because of unreasonably high school fees. I feel extremely privileged to have been part of the 3-day mobile medical brigade providing an accessible mode of healthcare through ‘charla’ health education, consultation stations and pharmacy to the community in Los Torrenos, El Paraiso. The next 3 days of public health construction work was indeed an eye-opener for me. We worked in groups to build sanitary stations and concrete floors for 3 families in the village of La Concepcion. Despite the sweat, dirt, aches and pains, it was all worth it in the end when we were moved to see the smiles etched on the families’ faces knowing that they will live a more comfortable life. Besides, I know now the secret formula to build a house.
The saddest part of the trip was during the very last day when we parted ways with each other – the brigaders from the United States and UK and local Honduras staff members. We hugged and cried. It was cruel indeed to put us together for 10 days and separate us eventually.
Nevertheless I am immensely grateful to have this international experience. Not only have I made new friendships and be of service to others, I have stepped beyond my comfort zone in Edinburgh and ventured into a foreign land embracing their rich culture and history. I have even picked up a few Spanish phrases and boy, I will certainly miss those plantain, tortilla and beans we had every day….
Mobile Clinic Team including doctors, pharmacists, dentists and local community workers
The Edinburgh team
‘Charla’ for children on dental hygiene
Public health construction day – hard at work making cement !