Sunday, January 29, 2006

Reflections on my DRE MAMA Project Experience in Honduras

I was part of a team of ten – seven from my home church and three who were friends from other places. Our team included among others one doctor, two nurses, one other person who works in the health field, and two persons fluent in Spanish who served as interpreters in our work. Our team also had one early teenage girl on it.

We arrived on Saturday afternoon, January 14, 2006. Most of the afternoon was spent settling into our hotel rooms and chatting with one another. In the evening, we held a team meeting formally introducing ourselves to one another sharing things like what we do for work, our avocations or interests, and why we chose to come on this project trip.

Sunday morning, we attended church at Iglesia Mennonita. They were having a special children’s Bible School program which included an excellent puppet show and great singing by the children. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that program; the spirit of Christ permeated that place breaking through language barriers.

After church, we briefly toured to the San Pedro Sula Market Place, went to Power Chicken for lunch, and worked at the San Pedro MAMA Project Center sorting medicines and dividing them up into smaller quantities to use in our medical clinics for the next five days. In the evening, we went to the MAMA Center at San Francisco de Yojoa to prepare and learn more about our work for the week. While there, some of us also learned how to make tortillas. San Francisco was around an hour's drive out of the city into the country side.

We held clinics for five different villages in Honduras all within a two hours drive of San Pedro Sula with some being much closer. While each day had its own differences, the typical schedule for Monday through Friday was something like as follows: wake up time – 6:00 a.m.; breakfast – 7:00 a.m.; hotel departure time – 8:00 a.m.; set up and open clinic by 8:30 – 10:30 a.m. depending on travel time; lunch time sometime around noon or 1:00 p.m.; close clinic by 3:00 or 4:00 p.m.; and arrive back at our hotel between 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. In the evening after supper, our team would hold a devotions and team sharing time reflecting on the day’s events. And a number of us after that would play a card game called Phase 10 till ten or eleven o’clock. We got a bit silly during some of those times and some of us would almost always playfully use our “skips” on one of our team’s co-leaders in our card games. I also had an added duty of doing a daily blog entry at for the team.

As I mentioned earlier, my particular team had one doctor and two nurses. The main role of our medical team was for consultation, diagnosis, and prescribing medication for "simple" ailments including infected skin rashes. In one case, our doctor did diagnose a serious, life-threatening diabetic problem and we provided them with transportation to a hospital. They also sought to identify children with serious malnutrition problems. These children and their mothers are then recommended to take advantage of a month-long program provided by MAMA to bring their children back to nutritional health and to train the mothers how to keep their children in good health.

But the part of the work that I personally was involved with was in the giving out of de-worming medication and vitamins mostly to children but also to some adults. My role also shifted each day into building connections with the children spending time playing with them. Because of my role shift each day, I often got playfully teased that I was my own one person team.

Some of the games we played together included soccer, baseball, a couple versions of marbles, bubble-blowing, and with the younger children “Growl.” And if I took rest breaks from playing, the children frequently came asking me if I didn’t want to play some more even though I’m not much of an athlete. Some of the children also took me on tours of their village and in one village the children showed me their swimming hole. I also had the opportunity to show and read some Spanish children’s books to the kids. I think I butchered the Spanish; but that didn’t matter to the children. I had a lot of fun. I also spent time asking some of the children what things were called in Spanish and in turn they would ask me what they were called in English. A number of them thanked me for spending time with them and when it was time for us to leave, we often received many hugs from a number of the children.

There's a wide range of poverty and wealth in Honduras. And sometimes, the destitute are living in shacks on one side of the road while on the other side there is a walled-in community of well-kept mansions. In the worst case we saw, the village with the falling down shacks was common referred to as “The Dump.” It was sobering; there had been talk about going to the San Pedro Sula Marketplace later that afternoon to shop for souvenirs. We didn’t and to me it really would have felt wrong to go souvenir shopping that day.

But on the weekend, we did become tourists and drove over three hours to Copan. Saturday afternoon, we spent at the “Parque de Aves” viewing many colorful birds. We had a local ten year old girl as a guide and she knew her birds and her English quite well. There might have been a couple times she had to ask our Spanish-speaking team members how to say something in English; but not very often. In the evening we did some souvenir shopping and ate our dinner on the second floor level of an open air restaurant. The waitresses here carried many food items on the top of their heads including glass bottles of coke. The next day we went for a two hour horse ride to the top of a mountain where they tried to marry me to a native Honduran. They said she knew how to make tortillas. :) After that we toured some Mayan Ruins at Copan.

Monday morning, we did some more souvenir shopping at the San Pedro Sula Marketplace. I bought myself a beautiful, wood plaque picturing “The Lord’s Supper.” After that, we went back to the San Pedro Sula MAMA Center where we had a send-off prayer time with the Honduran MAMA staff. From there, they took us to the airport. We got back home around one in the morning on Tuesday. I wouldn’t trade this trip for anything. It was one of the best weeks of my life.


San Nakji said...

Wow, what a great trip. I am so glad you enjoyed it and it is great to be able to help others, always a bonus. The photos are great too!

Tim Rice said...

Thanks, san nakji. I'd recommend this kind of trip to just about anyone.

Crystal said...

Tim, you are a huge inspiration! Like many Latin American countries, Honduras has a big gap between the haves and the have-nots, and we can only hope that oneday it will narrow. I always find it terribly sad to know that children are dying becuase they don't have medicines that would only cost 50cents! Great write-up and I'm happy you took time to do some leisurely activities too, the Copan ruins are neat!

Tim Rice said...

Thanks, crystal. My Honduras volunteer vacation was a tremendous experience. I would encourage just about anyone in good health to go on such a vacation. I also think that while it isn't quantifiable the person to person contact between cultures is valuable to the people of both cultures - at least as long as we approach each other as people of equal worth.