by Kimberly Allen R.N.
For as long as I can remember I’ve seen the commercials on TV showing the plight of the very poor around the world. I would always watch and hope I would someday get the opportunity to participate in a medical mission. In 2010 the chance I had been waiting for came as my church teamed up with a church mission group to go on a work and medical mission to Honduras. I don’t know why but I had always thought that if I ever had the chance to go on a mission to would be to someplace like Africa or India as these are the places most commonly seen on TV. In preparation for my journey I did a little checking into Central America. I found that there are as many people per capita living in absolute poverty as any of the places seen on TV and their needs are just as great.
After arriving in Honduras around noon we set out on our trip to the mountains. It was the most grueling ride I had ever been on. We finally reached our hotel, it looked like it came straight out of a western movie, around 6:30 p.m. We were all tired and hungry but excited, then we found out we were barely half way there and that the journey would be tougher tomorrow. They weren’t exaggerating either. Throughout the day we traveled roads that weren’t really roads, crossed rivers with no bridges and rivers that had bridges that weren’t really bridges. We finally arrived at our destination around 4:30 p.m. When I saw the sea of people that had come down the mountain standing around the small cement structure waiting for us I felt overwhelmed. It was mostly women and children. The women had all brought handmade baskets and necklaces to sell to us. They were all beautiful and well made. Though the cost was minimal our leaders informed us that the money that they would make selling these to us would feed their families for six months to a year. While the women were busy ‘doing business’ the men were unloading the truck loads of supplies that we had brought in our convoy.
The next day started before sunrise as we all awoke to see faces starring in at us through the windows in the dark. We were staying in the same room that would be the ‘clinic’ over the next three days, so we had to hurry put all our things away, get the ‘pharmacy’ area ready and set up our intake stations and we got it ready by 7AM. There were no Doctors, we had 4 nurses with translators. We opened our doors and the flood began. There were so many waiting and hoping to be seen that a local woman that was cooking for us had to step in and stop them around 10 a.m. so she could give us breakfast. As soon as they saw we were finished eating they continued to come in for whatever medications were available. Women had walked for many hours carrying small children to get worm pills, Tylenol and ibuprofen, children and prenatal vitamins. Other medications were dispensed according to need and availability. In one month we saw over 400 people. Then on our last day an older man came in and asked if we had any eyeglasses. As it happened I had an extra pair of ‘readers’ with me so I gave them to him. I couldn’t believe how happy that small gesture made him. Then with in 15 min. we were flooded with others asking if we had more. Unfortunately we didn’t, but I didn’t forget the need and the next time I came down I brought over a dozen pair and sent them up the mountain with another mission group. The deterioration of sight in these people isn’t just an inconvenience it seriously inhibits their ability to provide for their families.
The gratitude in their eyes that someone shared enough to help them was unforgettable. Most of the children had been sick with intestinal parasite worms for a long time. This is a common problem as the water is unsafe to drink without filtration system or sanitizing agent. None of the people we saw on our journey have access or means for either so worms are a problem that contributes to the malnutrition seen.
The very poor everywhere are desperate for just basic medical care. During that first trip we were able to not only give out medications but also to teach them how to improve and prevent health issues, even teaching proper body mechanics to prevent back and muscle injury as most of the adults had complaints of back, shoulder, or leg pain. Providing health education is just as important as handing out medicines.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.