Thursday, March 5, 2009

Spring Break!

So, even though I never caught up with the conclusion of my winter break, I thought that I might break the blog back out for next week. I'll be back in Honduras for spring break, working on a typical trip for a week. It's unlikely that anything terribly crazy is going to happen- I'm going to be on a trip, not out on my own, but maybe some interesting stories will come out of it anyway.

If you haven't seen this already, you should check it out.

I talked to Cosmo and asked her about the Ambassador. She said that he was really nice and seems to be super supportive of our work.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

More Adventures/Thank God for Spanish Speakers

To start with- I'm all better. I got over the death cold sometime last week and all of the staff has had a little bit of rest, therefore making the entire apartment a much more pleasant place to live.

So yesterday was my big trip to Ceiba- a town about three hours away by bus. It's best known as the crossing city to Roatan (the gorgeous islands that are the reason that people visit Honduras). However, outside of the city is a clinic known as Salud Totale (Total Health) that is a big deal because it is partially sustainable (i.e. paid for by the clients). The clinic is made up of dental, medical and opthamological practices mostly run by brigade. It has one full time doctor who sees about forty patients a day, a pharmacy, and counseling run by the church that it is a part of. It is pretty heavy on religion as it is based from the congregation of a local church and funded by US churches. More on that later, because the adventure getting there is a story on it's own.

I woke up early so that I could catch a bus to Ceiba and be back in El Progreso by nightfall. Josue, one of SHH's Honduran employees, went with me as a bodyguard/spanish speaker/company. We got on a really nice bus to Ceiba and I learned the usefulness of the past tense verb "fui" (it really is useful to add another tense to vocabulary). I also learned that "retournar" is to make a U-turn, and that "regresar" is to return. Not knowing Spanish is probably one of my top-three greatest frustrations ever, or actually, it was... until we actually got to Ceiba.

I had previously made contact with the clinic administrator, a very nice English speaking Honduran named Merphran. He had assured me that there would be a truck that would pick us up from the bus station and take us to the clinic because it is "a little ways away from the city." I started calling his cell number at 7:30am- a fairly normal time here, since the sun is up around 6:30am. I called just about every half hour until we arrived in Ceiba, at around 10:30am. As my luck would obviously have it, he didn't pick up. Having already wasted a week waiting for a response from a Honduran doctor, I was not in a very good mood, to say the least. There was no truck, I didn't know where we were in Ceiba (the bus stop turned out to be a random Shell station by a megaplex- not exactly the center of town), and, worst of all, I hadn't magically learned enough of the language to be capable in the situation. I called Alex, our Chief Operating Officer for other phone numbers to try, but none of them were answered. He made the wise suggestion of "lunch" (remember, it's 10:30am) so Josue and I ended up in KFC, eating terrible fried chicken at a very early hour. Short sidenote: KFC and Popeye's are super popular here because fried chicken is an extremely common Honduran meal. Also, rice and beans are served as a typical side. Back to the story: I was frustrated to an extreme- I had planned a foolproof excursion, it should have been easy, I had followed everything to the letter (as much as it could be in Honduras, where there are no regular bus schedules) and yet nothing had gone according to plan. We finished our fast food brunch without receiving a returned call from Merphran. Josue came up with some sort of plan- I'm still not exactly sure what it was, but we ended up in a taxi, headed towards the center of town. We got to the center, asked around for where Salud Totale was and no one knew. I was becoming more and more anxious and angry at myself as this occurred. Josue dragged me around, making sure that I didn't get hit by cars or get into any trouble. We got a lot of looks- there's not a lot of gringas walking around with Hondurans. We finally ended up in a pharmacy, where Josue got exact directions to what may or may not have actually been the clinic. We got in a taxi, I prepared to spend an insane amount of money, and we were on our way towards some clinic when, thankfully, Merphran finally called. We hauled out of the taxi about thirty seconds after getting into it (the poor taxi driver looked a bit confused) and ended up sitting in a park waiting for the promised truck. I noticed that the park was built by a Rotary Club and it didn't look very old- probably a remanent of work completed after Hurricane Mitch.

The truck showed up after about twenty minutes, and we actually had a twenty minute drive outside of Ceiba to get to the clinic. It's located in a residential area in the suburbs, high on a mountain, on land donated for tithe to a church. From the top, you can see the sea (it was pretty cloudy and grey when I was there, unfortunately). The complex is composed of the clinic (which eventually may be a hospital), a nutrition center (where sponsored children receive lunches and school help), offices and a massive church. The drive to the top of the mountain was fairly extreme and was a dead ringer for some of the roads in Rwanda (maybe a little nicer). Apparently, all of the land, when donated, was undeveloped. The church, in creating their complex, had to get electricity, access, water, everything fairly far up the mountain.

The clinic is a labor of love for the church. Hondurans started the clinic after Hurricane Mitch. It began as a stable location for occasional brigades to come in and do work. Now, with a full time doctor, nurse, and pharmacist, it provides continuous health care to a patient base that comes from hours away. Funding is provided through churches and private donors in the US. They have surgical brigades for complicated surgeries, an on-site x-ray machine and part time x-ray tech, a part time dentist, and optometrist brigades. When medical brigades arrive, the clinic can see up to 400 people in an extremely short time. When covered by regular staff, the daily patient load is approximately forty.

As seems to be the general consensus in Honduran health care, hypertension and diabetes are the major chronic issues that the clinic sees. In order to keep down repeat visitors, a visit to the clinic costs about thirty lempiras, or about a dollar and a half. This money barely covers the operating cost of electricity. The dental clinic, however, is completely sustainable and makes enough money to cover its own costs.

The clinic is missing many components that I, and the others interested in this project, consider vital. It is missing the vital link of community health workers and educators. Though it does provide birth control, an awesome step for a Christian organization, the clinic does not do sex education in the schools or in special camps. Nutrition education is also a vital part of child-raising and is something that many mothers miss. Additionally, not really related to the clinic but still interesting, the church performs house-building services for families that need them most, and provide the houses to the family without sweat-equity labor or a small fee. This type of service has been generally ended in the US and through US based NGOs, but apparently still exists in Honduras.

There's a lot more information on the clinic that I can give, but I'm pretty sure that it's only interesting to me. The trip back was uneventful. We got back in time for dinner and I got to meet the VA Tech team and the rest of the WM team that arrived yesterday. The teams are great and it's going to be a fantastic week. I'm going out to the work site tomorrow morning and getting in contact with some of my leads in the afternoon. Hopefully the rest of the week will be highly productive and I can get some serious work done on my project- at least enough to make it really cohesive.

Three days left- it hardly seems real.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Meeting with Sra. Galo- highly productive with a number of leads, including an organization that works with domestic abuse cases.
Finished Mountains Beyond Mountains, a biography of Dr. Paul Farmer and the story of his work in Haiti.
Cleaned the refrigerator.

Pretty productive for it only being 2:30.

Good Outlook for the Week

Yesterday was a pretty relaxing day of just getting people off to the airport. There were a couple of late flights at seven, so we spent a lot of the day hanging out with the Boston College group that was leaving then. We went to the mall for lunch and there was a ridiculous Honduran Price-is-Right kind of show going on with lots of shouting and music and general insanity. The mall is a bizarre place- it's nicer than your average US mall, with a food court filled with Subway, Quizno's, Pizza Hut, Wendy's, etc. It's one of the few places that you can buy a salad here. I decided to get a Wendy's Mandarin Chicken salad, which totally turned out to be a honey mustard salad with bacon and fried chicken. There was absolutely nothing mandarin about the salad, at all. It was still a salad though, so that made me happy.
Today is a free day for almost everyone, but at about 10:30 I'm going to finally go meet Dr. Galo and his wife at her pharmacy in the Centro! Dr. Galo called last night and asked me to meet him there, so hopefully I can get some leads and a lot of my questions answered. I'm a little bit nervous because I've been waiting for a week for this so I need it to go really well. Tomorrow I'm going on a bus to Ceiba (a beach town about three hours from here) to a partially sustainable clinic set up by an American but run by Honduran doctors. In a really funny turn of events yesterday, I actually ran into the person that I had been emailing to set up this visit. I was wandering around the TuriPlaza in Progreso with the latest group that was leaving, and one of the volunteers came up to me and introduced me to Merphran, the man that I had been in contact with for the past couple of days. It was the last thing that I expected from the day, but he was driving through with a group going to Tegucigalpa. Apparently the TuriPlaza is the hot spot for the entire tourist nation. He was really nice and assured me that he could arrange for me to be picked up in Ceiba and driven to the clinic, have a translator on hand (his sister), and get a tour of the clinic and have my questions answered. He had apparently seen one of the volunteers wearing one of the SHH t-shirts and luckily asked one that knew my name. Quite the set of happy coincidences!
I'm off to pack up some boxes of donations- the office (and, in fact, much of the apartment) is a disaster.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Mild Frustration

So I've been waiting all week to speak with Dr. Galo. I called this morning to remind him again- at about 8am- and he told me that he was in surgery. He might call me later to set up an appointment, he might not. It's not really a big deal, I understand that he's busy, but it's still frustrating to be constantly waiting and feeling really useless. I can't really go out and do anything else, unfortunately, because if I were to go to the work site or the Nutrition Center I would probably be trapped there if he did call. Sad story.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Second Thursday

Time flies by down here- my three weeks are over half way finished.
Today (and yesterday) were highly unproductive. Yesterday I was too sick to move and therefore slept most of the day. Today I called Dr. Galo to apologize for not contacting him yesterday and he informed me that he would have been too busy to meet anyway, so good news there. We decided that he would call me this afternoon but his schedule was revolving around a possible surgery so there were no guarantees on his availability. We'll see what happens, there's still a few hours left.
Otherwise, I contacted a medical clinic in Ceiba, about three hours from here, to see if I could go up and take a tour of their facility. Their Honduran administrator got back to me in record time and I should be heading up there early next week. I'd like to turn it into a two day thing because we have Sunday off, so it would be nice to take someone up with me, hit the beach on Sunday, and do the tour on Monday (when the administrator is available). I don't know if that will happen or not, but it sure would be awesome.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

So Sick...

I have a record breaking cold. Today I don't even know if I'm going to move, I might just sleep and work on the computer. Clare, a god send, is going to go out and get soup and drugs for me so that I can hopefully start to improve. I've been hanging onto this death virus for about a week now and it's gone through its ups and downs. It started with a terrible feverish onslaught one night. It was actually kind of amusing. All of the staff was at Hotel Cascada with the volunteers, and I told Alex that I needed to get home immediately because I was on the verge of passing out. About a half hour later, after rounding everyone up, I was shaking in the back of the car on the way home, unable to open my eyes because of the pain. The car stopped in front of the apartment, and Cosmo said, "no one is getting out of this car until we make a decision on..." I don't even remember what we were making a decision on, but she certainly asked me to put in my two cents worth. We eventually made a decision and I crawled into bed, still wearing my clothes. From there, things generally started improving- I started coughing, was able to swallow, and managed to move around and perform daily activities. Last night it turned bad again, though and I woke up this morning with one eye completely sealed shut and what feels like an ear infection. Yay for Honduras and incredibly vulnerable immune systems.

As far as good news goes- someone called me and left a message on my phone that I have no idea how to access. I'm going to assume that it was Dr. Galo and call him in about a half hour.