The following is a letter written by Caroline York, an Elon University student who recently participated in a Global Medical Brigade in Honduras. This was Caroline’s first international trip, and despite her reservations about traveling abroad, Caroline had an amazing time thanks to the support of GB staff members and the generosity and appreciation she received from the Honduran community members she worked with.
Thank you, Caroline, for sharing your experience!
To Whom It May Concern:
I recently returned from a Global Medical Brigade in Honduras. I traveled to Honduras with Elon University, a private school in North Carolina. This was my first trip out of the United States. It is my desire to write to you and share the experience I had.
As someone who has never traveled internationally, I was certainly nervous for the trip. I was uncertain of what to expect and unsure of what I would encounter. On the day of departure, I missed my flight out of the United States and could not board another plane until the following day. I contacted Michelle Menclewicz who assured me someone would be available to pick me up from the airport. I was incredibly tense to travel out of the United States and into Honduras without my team members.
At the airport, Miguel #2 assisted me with my luggage and explained he did not speak any English. No Hablo Espanol. I do not speak any Spanish and knew very few words upon my arrival. On the truck ride from Tegucigalpa to Rapaco, Miguel could tell I was anxious and played American pop music while teaching me the Spanish words for things we passed, like “burro”. Once in Rapaco, we had missed lunch with the rest of the group. As we sat down, one of the ladies from the kitchen delivered two plates of food to us. Plantain chips with salsa and fried fish. I certainly miss the food already.
I met up with the rest of my group at the compound to discover a beautiful landscape and area. Plenty of space, a soccer or “football” court, hammocks to lounge in, an amazing dining area, clean bunks, and hot water were just a few of the things I was shocked and pleased to find. With the help of the pharmacist we were able to sort and divide medications. As I looked at the numerous suitcases laid out before us, I realized the amount of assistance we would be able to bring to the people of Honduras over the next few days. I never expected our team to have collected so many medications.
On the day of the first brigade, I expected the children of Honduras to steal my heart. I thought for certain it would be the lives of the children that would touch my own. However, as I escorted an elderly woman from the intake station to triage, her feet began to slip as she climbed the hill. I quickly reached for her hands and helped her through the rest of the walk. She took my hands in hers and said something I didn’t understand. She then kissed my hands and it was her gratitude for my small gesture that stole my heart.
The Hondurans turned out to be some of the most grateful people I have ever met. The children excitedly let me place stickers on their faces and the adults expressed such appreciation for the medical care we were able to provide. Despite the lack of consistent medical care in some of the areas we visited, the people were not bitter or angry. They were simply glad we were there on that day to see them.
On the day of the second brigade, we drove to an area that had not seen a medical brigade in about 8 months. In order to reach the site, we travelled up windy, dirt roads in our bus for over two hours. About 10 minutes from our destination, we realized our bus would not be able to cross the river flowing over the road. This river, we feared, would prevent our brigade that day. Our team was incredibly upset and we immediately assumed the worst. Our in-country coordinator, Pichi, then got on the bus and assured us that our final destination was not far and we would be going to have a brigade. Our group split up and climbed into the backseats of the trucks carrying our medications to cross the river. It took several trips in the trucks to get all of our group members to the site, but the coordinating staff was patient and knew exactly how to handle the situation.
Throughout the week, our team experienced several of these “bumps” in the road: having our bus stuck in the mud, arriving at a brigade site to find the school locked up, and our translators struggling with the dialect of the particular region were a few of our team’s challenges. However, the knowledge, experience, compassion, and determination of our coordinating staff created a week long experience that ran smoothly and in my opinion, flawlessly. Pichi, Dennis, Omar, Miguel #2, Jose Louis, and our driver Marco were without doubt the largest reasons for the success of our brigade. They were even willing to help our team plan a special surprise birthday party, complete with decorations, traditional Honduran cake and a piñata for our president, Amanda. I am not certain I could ever articulate all of my gratitude and sincere appreciation for all of their work.
I have never been so impressed with the coordination, planning, and execution of a trip. Granted I am certainly not a world traveler, but I am a tough critic. With a team of 18 brigaders we were able to see 1,007 patients that week. I am so impressed with Global Medical Brigades as a whole. Our group never had a need that was not met during our stay. I know that our chapter of GMB at Elon University intends to return to Honduras for our 3rd medical brigade next year. I hope that I will be able to once again attend the trip. I know that our team will reflect positively on our experience many times in the future and I am certain that our team would jump at the opportunity to work with the same in-country staff again. After all, they did create the perfect first international experience for me.
Class of 2012