TACOMA, Wash. – Barely had they finished their final exams than 18 students from University of Puget Sound took a late-night flight to Honduras on May 17. The next morning they were on the road, preparing to undertake some of the most demanding work many of them had ever faced. The volunteer students, a Puget Sound staff member, and two doctors (the parents of students) were bused from the capital of Tegucigulpa to a compound where they would live in large tents and drive each day to a remote village, offering medical care to people who may have never seen a toothbrush and who live on as little as $1 a day.
This is more than just volunteer work. To spend this week among some of the continent’s poorest families, each student raised $1,570 by appealing to friends, family, and other potential “sponsor champions” for their travel funds, in addition to organizing fundraising events to pull together another $2,500 for medication to use on the brigade.
As members of the Puget Sound branch of the Global Medical Brigades, the students help set up small mobile clinics where hundreds of Honduran patients can be diagnosed and treated at no cost. Guided by trained practitioners, the students take in patients, record their vital signs, fill prescriptions that are checked by a pharmacist, and distribute medications to those in need.
Kelsey Baran ’11 started the Puget Sound branch with help from Student Activities Director Marta Palmquist Cady last year and was a member of the first Honduras brigade last spring. She said, although it was the “trip of a lifetime,” the language barrier, the glaring health issues and poor living conditions that she encountered, and the relentless work proved far larger challenges than she had imagined while standing on U.S. soil.
“From the moment we landed in Tegucigulpa, I noticed the standard of living was below anything I’d ever read about in my pre-trip research,” she said. “I saw kids my age on the streets instead of in school, areas of extreme poverty, and a general lack of hygiene, including a poor diet.
“Although there were times when it seemed like our impact was smaller than the tiny pills we were handing out, we reminded each other that the little things we accomplished did a lot to contribute to improved health care in the villages we visited.”
Greg Kirkpatrick ’11, another 2010 volunteer, said his doubts about what they might accomplish evaporated in no time. He was impressed by his fellow volunteers and spoke reverently of the Honduran pharmacist, Mirelle Fontecha, who everyone described as a female Indiana Jones—a woman with only a goal in sight and no regard for obstacles.
“I quickly found our group to be a talented, team-oriented, and motivated bunch of students,” Kirkpatrick said. “Everyone mastered new tasks and made the brigade as efficient as possible.
“The large rocks on the wall lining the road up to camp are painted with schools that have gone on brigades, and most are large universities. We were proud to paint Puget Sound on one of the rocks next to names like UCLA and Boston University.”
This year the students are working again with pharmacist Mirelle Fontecha and are accompanied by Sarah Comstock, assistant director of student activities for Wheelock Student Center.
Global Medical Brigades is a program of Global Brigades Inc., the world’s largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization. The group ensures that each community in need receives a brigade offering care and health education every three to four months. Represented at more than 100 universities and colleges in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Ireland, the organization sends about 3,000 students and health professionals each year to communities in Panama, Honduras, and Ghana.
For more information and volunteers’ stories visit: http://www.pugetsound.edu/student-life/spirituality-service/social-justice/social-justice-and-activism-st/global-medical-brigades/
For more on Global Medical Brigades visit: http://globalbrigades.org/?page_id=925
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