Our journey began at 1 am on a cold February morning, heading by bus to the airport in Toronto. We arrived extra early to weigh are bags to ensure that we could take down the maximum amount of medical supplies, school supplies, children’s toys and clothing. We all wore lime green scrub tops and hats which clearly identified us as a medical brigade. I still remember when we arrived in Houston, Texas for a transfer, a larger gentleman with a cowboy hat stood baffled at the sight of 20 of us running through the airport with hockey bags full of supplies to make our connecting flight. We arrived around noon in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, landing uneventfully on one of the shorter international airport runways in the world. The first days were spent touring the project south of the capital, consisting of orphanages, schools, an aids hospice, medical clinic and the Flor Azul (Blue Flower) farm school for boys. We spent the entire day Sunday traveling to north to where we would be on brigade.
Medical brigades are essentially a traveling clinic with doctors, dentists, a pharmacy, de-worming station and an eye glasses station. Each day we would set up in a remote mountainous village in schools, churches or community halls. Our team consisted of 6 doctors and a dentist along with nurses, medical students and ancillary personnel. We would see hundreds of patients all day long with only a brief break for lunch and a quick game of soccer with the local children. Over the course of five days on brigade we saw up to 1,500 medical patients and 1,000 dental patients. I was lucky enough to get to work at each of the stations. Some personal highlights were when I got to assist the dentist, and shadow the family doctors, which further reinforced my desire to pursue a career in family medicine and strengthened my resolve.
What impacted me the most is hard to say for certain, so I will share a few things that have stuck with me. The first thing that impacted me was the amount of poverty, people lived in shacks, had few possessions, worked in low paying jobs, simply trying to subsist and survive. I was told Honduras is the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere after Haiti and that over 60 % of the population live on less than $2 a day.
This was my first time traveling to a developing nation, experiencing a world much different from my own. Despite the material poverty, the people I met were joyful and loving which should be a lesson to all of us who have so much to be thankful for. I also had the opportunity to meet Sr. Maria Rosa Leggol, known as the Mother Teresa of Central America, who founded Sociedad Amigos de Los Niños. For over 40 years she has helped rescue, care for and educate more than 35,000 children. An orphan herself, she was inspired to make a difference creating a safe and loving environment in which children could grow up to become productive members of society, breaking the cycle of poverty. Meeting her it was easy to see that she truly loved each and every one of those children, saying to us, “There is always room for one more…”
The final experience that had a deep and lasting impact was an encounter I had with a pregnant mother while on medical brigade. The mother was distraught because her 11 year old son had just died, and she was concerned for the health of her unborn child. We did our best to comfort her and reassure her that everything would be okay. I will always remember the look of joy on her face when the doctor let her listen to the sound of her child’s heart beat with the Doppler confirming that the baby was indeed healthy. After seeing the doctor the mother was given maternal vitamins, as well as some clothing and blankets for the child. I remember feeling deeply touched that we were able to make a difference and provide some comfort and support in her time of need, on both a human and medical level.”
Paul’s experience with Friends of Honduran Children has opened his eyes to the reality of life in developing countries and has transformed his outlook on life. “I feel that I got infinitely more from my experience than I could ever hope to contribute”.