During August 2015, four people from New York State traveled to Honduras on a NY/HELP mission trip. Arriving in Honduras on August 6th, were experienced NY/HELPers Judy Toner (retired social studies teacher from Salamanca and Bridgeport) and Dr Gordon Comstock (family doctor from Arcade), who were joined by four-timer Daniel Beyer (a talented multi-linguist, now studying Chinese at UB) and Judy’s brother, first-time traveler Jim Carter (naturalist and retired biology teacher from Warsaw). We were met at the airport by Mario and his “busito”, and after a side trip into San Pedro Sula to pick up more medicines, we took a 3-hour ride to Yoro. We stopped at La Habana to pick up Jorge Ramirez (known as “Joel”), our new local coordinator, who has been helping set up this trip. (Things have been in a bit of disarray since the sudden departure in February of our previous coordinator, Yovany Munguía.)
Friday August 7, we shopped for food for ourselves and school supplies and diapers for our projects. Then piling everything into Osmún’s heavily loaded pickup truck, we headed off for the mountains. We stopped at a wood-worker’s shop in Punta de Ocorte, where we put a $150 down payment for tables and chairs for the new kindergarten in El Chorro. Then up the rutted logging road to La Laguna.
Over the weekend, the unpainted portion of the clinic kitchen received a first coat of white paint, brightening up the room dramatically. Sunday morning, we all went to the Catholic church for a service led by community members. While all in Spanish, it was still a moving experience.
Monday brought a visit to the La Laguna school by Jim, Judy, Dan and our coordinator Joel. Naturalist Jim had captured some of the fascinating local insects, and gave a talk to the kids about them. The students and NY/HELPers began planting the school garden (which is on a hillside and is laid out along contour planting lines!)
Teachers or members of parent committees of six schools came to the clinic to pick up some of the school supplies we had for their schools. The rest of the supplies are in four bags -- still packed from last year's cancelled trip and ready to go on the next trip in winter 2016.
Tuesday and Wednesday, Jim, Dan, and Joel went down to the communities in the lower valley (about two thousand feet lower altitude!), to investigate the status of the projects we were sponsoring there. Joel walked both ways, but our cabarellos Jim and Dan rode horses. They spent the night in El Chorro, sleeping on the floor at the school. They found that the El Chorro kinder looks wonderfu1 and is fully completed. It is a permanent cement block building and screens are even on all the windows. The kindergarten in El Carrizal is completed except for a cement floor and door and windows. The two are currently being used--even without furniture. The one in Las Brisas had only a partial start and still needs finishing.
They also discovered another problem for the tribe: in La Kiloma, another NGO (non-governmental organization, apparently from Canada) had promised to build a new school and kindergarten, but after the project ran into difficulties, they switched to another community. However, all materials to build the school are on site and the village members plan to start building this month. The classes have been meeting outside since the old school was torn down. [This illustrates a general problem with mission work in developing countries: every group wants to help, but we don’t always communicate well with each other.]
Gordon stayed in the clinic, with great translating help from Dan when he was available, and assistance from our nurse Mirtila Garcia, who knows how to talk to this gringo – and also knows about the medical and social history of our patients. Judy stayed in the clinic and helped Mirtila in the pharmacy while Jim and Dan were away. We saw a moderate number of acute and infectious diseases, but like other developing countries around the world, chronic diseases such as hypertension, osteoarthritis, and even diabetes are becoming more common. We also provided financial support so that a 2-year-old lad who had had a colostomy for bowel intussusception as a baby, could have this reversed in November. We saw Josuë, now 6 years old, who had complications with portal vein thrombosis after his premature birth. Last April, he had an operation to improve the side effects of varicosities and bleeding, He is doing much better and is going to 1st grade now.
Thursday was devoted to meetings: first with the Tribal Council (Consuela Directiva del Tribu), where we learned about the problems with our scholarship program for the middle and high schools. The Centro Básico school is free, but you need uniforms, school supplies and sometimes room and board; the “Maestro en Casa” radio correspondence program also needs tuition. Since we lost our old coordinator, we had not been able to send the second installment for the scholarships, and some students had suffered because of that. The Council decided to set up a special bank account for the scholarship money, with 2 signatures; we will be sending money to that account. We also learned that there are 36 students total in the Centro Básico middle school in Mataderos. 13 get scholarships there, and another 6 get scholarships for the Maistro en Casa program. (These scholarship recipients were selected by the Tribal Council from applicants from the 12 primary schools in the tribal area.)
Meetings with the La Laguna community centered on concerns about a better water system, and about improvements to the primary school.
Judy bought a number of cute dolls on horseback, and pine needle baskets, from the “Academy” of women who do sewing. (These will be available at church meetings and bazaars this year.)
Our thanks to the men of the community who stayed with us at night as watchmen: Juan, Marín, and Onán. Joel’s 13-year-old son, also named Joel, stayed with us at the clinic during the week while going to 7th grade in nearby Mataderos. “Little Joel” learned some words of English and how to play Uno during his stay!
Friday, August 14, we left the clinic in a much-less-loaded pickup, and went back to Punta de Ocorte to exchange paint and drinking water bottles, then caught the “directo” bus to San Pedro Sula. There Judy and Jim caught another bus to Copán, to see the famous Mayan ruins (and had quite a good experience there, though the bus ride was slow and bumpy). Gordon and Dan stayed in San Pedro Sula (a city of about 1 million people) and had a chance to meet with Jimmy Alverado, our original translator and coordinator. He invited us to visit his new English language school to speak with his students on Saturday. We took Jimmy up on this offer, and stopped by for a couple of hours and had a great time speaking English with a small group of eager learners!
We finished the trip with a breakfast of baleadas (a Honduran tortilla specialty) and a final meeting with Joel. Joel has been doing a lot of work in helping the communities, and we recommend to the NY/HELP steering committee that he be given a raise. We also established a small expense account for him as well. Joel would like to learn English – and computers – and hopes to take a university program in Yoro to get a degree in community development.
Finally, a smooth flight to Atlanta and then on to New York state. Home again by midnight!
Medical Adviser, NY/HELP HONDURAS
17 August 2015