Patients were charged 20 Limpera (Honduran currency) at check-in, which equates to less than US $1.00. One would think that this is peanuts compared to what we pay for healthcare in the US, but according to World Bank, approximately one out of five Hondurans in rural areas live in extreme poverty, or on less than US $1.90 per day. In my personal opinion, free care is usually not the solution. The clinic should charge some amount to cover their expenses. This clinic saw on average 40 patients a day, five days a week. and the others clinics produced similar results, adding up to 9,000 patients each year. They don’t have any technology on-site, so everything was recorded on paper and kept in the pharmacy area on a large rack. When the children were checked in, they were seen by the nurse and given vaccines. If they were experiencing more problems, the doctor would see them as well. They had three exam rooms but the doctor used his room primarily to see patients. The clinic was kept very clean and organized. The therapist room was where patients would be seen if the doctor referred them. We saw some durable medical equipments (DMEs) laying on top of shelves and other places. The amount of equipment they carried was insufficient to the number of patients seen each day. The clinic also has a dentist room, with a dentist chair and some appropriate equipment. Throughout we saw hand drawn and written diagrams and patient education material, which would not be acceptable in the US.
Our Daily Assignment
After spending an hour with Dr. German, we were accompanied by few folks from the ranch to take us to El Tablon community in Gualaco, where the rest of our team was heading. They waited for us right before the paved road turned into dirt road. We followed them to the community and were greeted by the villagers including kids. They sang a few songs for us and then their community leader introduced himself and a few others, and then we all introduced ourselves. After a few laughs, we were split into five groups, and we all went into different parts of the community to help with projects. Andrews and I were together here as well and we were assigned to build a water reservoir for the nearby church. We mixed the cement with refined sand to give it more volume and then delivered it to the site where the mason was already putting the structure together. We delivered all the bricks, and I must say that because of all the enthusiasm we were greeted with, we worked hard, and our project was completed faster than others. The supplies were delivered a week before by the HOI employees to get them ready for the projects. While working with the villagers, a man came on his mule and talked to us for few minutes and offered for us to sit on his mule. I thought this was such a challenge jumping on a mule but I somehow managed it and felt bad for the mule with my weight on it. Andrews did the same and we took few pictures that I am embarrassed to share. Another person came by and brought us water and a big bottle of Coca-Cola. We enjoyed drinking it while working because by then we were sweating and I couldn’t stand in the direct sunlight because I forgot my cap at home in Georgia. It was a perfect advertising scene for Coca-Cola. 🙂 At noon, our group leader gathered us at the school to get some lunch and rest a bit before we headed back to work. The school was two rooms and what we heard from the teachers was that they taught up to six grades in those two rooms. I don’t know how they would manage this but they did. There was another elementary school, which was one room for the kindergarten children.
After exchanging some experiences with my colleagues and eating lunch we headed back to our work-site and continued making more mixed cement and supplying it to the mason. After the project was complete, the group leader got us together at a house, where we ripped apart the old floor and helped them build a cemented floor. We completed 90% of that work and the rest was for the owners of that house to finish. Before we left, we were greeted again by the members of the community and they sang songs for us before we got into the ruggedy Toyota Land Cruisers to head back to the ranch. The ride to and from El Tablon was very bumpy due to the dirt road, making our experience a truly authentic one. 🙂
Back To The Ranch
At the ranch, I went straight to get a shower before going out for the dinner, which was served at 6:15 PM every night. After eating dinner, our team had a get together and were encouraged to share our experiences. It was good to hear from all the team members on how their day went. Although everyone worked so hard all day long, I felt like no one was tired. The happiness and joy we experienced created the adrenaline rush. I slept better every night, woke up early, and was ready to go with a smile on my face.
Bryan told the whole team that there is no need to bring your computers, we won’t have the bandwidth for working on anything. I made a special request that I had a couple of assignments to complete and this would be the best time to work on it. I did utilize the four hour flight from Atlanta to San Pedro Sula airport but after that I didn’t get a chance to open a book or laptop to study. The day was packed with back to back activities.
I woke up early around 5:30 AM, took a shower, went to eat breakfast and then after a few minutes at our building left with the team to get another round of clinics. This time the HOI director came out, and all three groups were given an introduction to the clinics. After the private clinic visit, all groups dispersed and left for the daily activities. Bryan requested the night before to our project lead that we need to see a public clinic as well, so that our team can see the difference. On the way to El Tablon, we stopped at a public clinic. The project lead and the only provider there gave us a walk through of all the rooms and pointed out many things that they lack, such as proper equipment and it happened to be that the electricity was out at that time as well. The public clinic doctor also pointed out the same issues that Dr. German did yesterday. He mentioned that he is looking forward to the decentralization of the government clinics. I would say that the public clinic was in a much worse condition than the private clinic at the ranch. It seemed like they had more patients waiting in the hallway. I cannot even begin to imagine the whole healthcare system in the country, maybe it is not as bad as what we experienced with the two clinics in the last two days.
At El Tablon
We were again greeted by the villagers like they are seeing us for the first time. We all dispersed again and this time Chris Xu and I were helping to build a floor at a house. I must say that our help expedited things and it was right before lunch that we finished the project. Again, we gathered at the school for lunch. The lunch was similar to yesterday, where everyone was supposed to make themselves a sandwich. On the first day, everyone did a crappy job with making the sandwich except our group leader, Carlos. On the second day, I watched how he made his sandwich, and then I followed the same steps. I must say it came out stupendously well and I got praises from a few folks that were looking at the piece of art sandwich. 🙂 This makes me smile, because we need to cherish the small things in life and not always the hard to achieve goals.
The Letter G
After lunch, Haley, Chris and I volunteered to help the kindergarten school. Who knew that it would turn out to be the best part of our day? We were supposed to paint one side of the wall for the children. The wall was made of large bricks and not a smooth surface, so we decided to put alphabets on each block and a reference to an animal, food or a thing. So we started and all of a sudden when I got to the letter “C” to draw the cat next to it, we realized that we are referencing to English but these words are for kids learning to speak Spanish. Cat in Spanish is Gato and so we put it next to “G.” As other team members finished with their projects, they joined us at the kindergarten school and started helping us. Chris who did a fabulous job of putting all the alphabets on the bricks got stuck with the letter “G.” It took him over 40 minutes to paint it, start over, added shade, removed it, give it a different angle shadow and then he ended up putting a shadow all around it. We were all cracking jokes about Chris on his “G.” The group leader and the villagers all laughed and made fun of the letter “G” and Chris’s obsession of getting it right. At the end of the day, we put a smile on their faces. Jokes apart, this moment was worth the whole effort which was truly unexpected.
Departing El Tablon
We were all told to gather at the school before departing. The people of El Tablon sang for us and came forward one by one and gave special gifts to all of us. These gifts were artifacts that they made themselves, some were given hand carved wooden knives, a hangman, lockets and among all, I the only Muslim in the group was given a cross. The thought counts; it doesn’t matter if they were giving us rocks or gold. I think everyone was overwhelmed with the love we received right before leaving. The people of El Tablon taught us so much in the two days we spent there. I don’t want to get philosophical, but I think one can assume what was going through our minds. I will leave it at that.
When we got back in our cars to head back, there was this silence for few minutes. After awhile, when the emotions were under control, Edgar our translator gave us some more history of Honduras and talked about some politics in the region. I could relate so much to Edgar, because I come from a similar background. We are now friends on Facebook and hope to stay connected. People like Edgar, who have the best interest at heart for Honduras should be ambassadors for their country.
After we got back to the ranch, instead of going straight for a shower, some of us got together at the shop that were selling local stuff. Everyone bought multiple bags of coffee and other souvenirs. I also bought couple of coffee bags, a slingshot and handmade maracas for my son, and a couple of local shirts for my wife. On the way back from the shop, we all appreciated how great the Honduran coffee is. We asked Bryan if we could have some coffee now. Bryan talked to the kitchen folks and arranged some coffee in the afternoon. Bryan, Andrews, Andrew, Chris Crowell, Chris Xu, Haley and I all got together at the kitchen and enjoyed coffee and talked. It was again an unexpected great conversation over the best coffee in the world.
Right after the coffee, some of us made plans to play soccer. When we started playing, I soon realized that I am out of breath and volunteered to be a goalie. 🙂 It was a great game, and I turned out to be not a bad goalie when I saved a couple of goals and allowed others. The game ended when the bell rang and we were back at the kitchen for dinner. After the dinner, we all hung out on the front porch of our building. The power was out and the electricity was produced from the generator which was to be turned off at 10:00 PM. We all took showers before heading to bed, because no one knew if we were going to have electricity in the morning.
Departing The Ranch On Day 5
I think I got up around 4:30 AM, and to our surprise the electricity was back. Taking a shower at the ranch was very refreshing, so I took another one in the morning before heading for the early breakfast and I knew the weather would get warmer with the altitude drop heading to the city, so why not start fresh? We said our farewell to Edgar and Carlos, as they were not coming to drop us off at the airport. The plan was to drive all the way to San Pedro Sula and stay the night there. Our flight was around noon the next day.
On the way back, I was sitting mid-way back on the bus and was reflecting back on my experience over the last few days. I thought about many things, including family, Pakistan where I was born and raised and the help people need there, stepping out of your circle, living a more meaningful life, etc. Also, Bryan asked me to prepare and to speak about Jesus from a perspective of Islam. I don’t consider myself a deeply religious person but follow the core beliefs. On the way back, I did a lot of reading and took some notes to talk later in the evening to the whole group about how Jesus is perceived in Islam.
After a long five plus hours of driving, when I picked my head up from the readings, I realized that we were in a narrow, vibrant street full of people with loud music and traffic all around us. Very rarely would you see a new model car but nevertheless they were there. You could also see the ocean at the end of the street. To our surprise, our stop for lunch was at a restaurant at the beach. This was like a cherry on the cake. Everyone was mesmerized by the views and enjoyed the lunch. We were back on the road after an hour stop and had a three and a half hours of drive left. The drive from here was easy. I finally fell asleep and woke myself with my own snore after two hours 🙂 We got to the hotel on time and were assigned the same roommates. Dinner was served later in the evening at a restaurant which was just too loud for my ears. I was glad when the dinner was over so that we could step out of that place.
After the dinner, we all gathered around the pool area and Bryan asked us why do you think we were here? Everyone looked at each other, and I think Bryan’s intentions were not to make us say that we are here to build a stronger team or that this was a religious or charity time that we will do each year. Instead he told us that you don’t have to answer it now, just think about it, and you will have your answers. After that session, I spoke about Jesus from an Islam’s point of view. I must give credit to everyone there that they were respectful enough to listen to what I had to say and appreciated my effort in going over it.
Later that night at the hotel, Andrews and I had a detailed conversation about civilizations and particularly why is the US is so successful than other nations and why are the people of the western world better organized than other parts of the world. It would take me too long to write about this but it was a great conversation. I think everyone needs to have this discussion and be reminded to not take their country for granted.
Departing Honduras On Day 6
I was still in my spiritual mindset while the day went by. We flew out of Honduras, arrived back on the US soil and went through the security. I got to my car in the parking garage and drove back home to my lovely wife and son. This was an eye opening opportunity, and I will always ask myself and remind others around me, “why are we here?” Will you come and depart like everyone else does, or will you make your stay meaningful while you are here?