On Saturday 10th August, we ran a medical brigade in the mountain community of Belén. The mountain communities that we are working with are extremely isolated, and most of the community members do not have access to medical assistance; they simply don’t have the money or the transport. To alert the nearby communities that a doctor and three dentists were coming to them thanks to Progressio’s partner organisation JLC, Bélen sent runners – quite literally young men who run across the mountains – to spread the word.
The community was well prepared, and welcomed us through their gates decorated in flowers and ferns at 8am with lines of children in their school uniforms. Arriving shortly after us were the doctors and dentists that JLC had brought from the capital, and the special guest appearance for the day Victor Hugo Morales, the Mexican Ambassador for Honduras (pictured below with ICS volunteers Lucy and Sinead).
The Mexican Ambassador travelled from the capital, Tegucigalpa, to spend the whole day in Bélen with us. We really appreciated his support. His presence lent an added excitement to the day, and his speech to the community at the beginning set the tone.
The facilities and resources were fairly basic, but incredibly organised by the community’s school teacher. The doctor’s surgery was one of the classrooms, the dentists’ clinic for 3 dentists was in the larger classroom, and everything was sign-posted. They had breakfast and lunch prepared for the volunteers, doctors and dentists all made from their local produce, and frequent coffee was brought to us as we worked without breaks to see as many people as possible.
The ICS volunteers split up into roles for the day. Char and Richard were assisting the dentists by cleaning their tools and, by the afternoon, did some tooth extractions themselves. Frightening? Yes indeed. The ‘dentists chairs’ were children’s school chairs, the ‘head rests’ were the wall or the blackboard, and the light was whatever could make it through the windows. Luckily it was a sunny day!
It may sound rudimentary, and I guess it was, but speed was the aim of the game to see as many patients as possible in one day, and they saw over 50 with multiple extractions for some.
Rosie and Mary did an exhausting eight hours entertaining the dozens of children who were there - local children who had heard about the day (which felt like a fete with all the crowds), or children of the community members waiting in line to be seen. We took a couple of piñatas which went down a storm!
Andy was on media watch, filming and photography the day as it unfolded. Sinead and I as the Spanish speakers were pulled in at the last minute, from taking registers and organising the queues, to directly assisting the doctor all day since she was the only one – another two were unable to attend at the last minute, but adapting plans on the fly is a skill that everyone learns in Honduras.
We saw 244 patients in one day with just the one doctor and us as her two assistants.
Sinead wrote prescriptions and referrals to a hospital in the capital for serious cases, and I organised the line and kept them coming in and out at a fast pace, and acted as pharmacist by counting out and dispensing pills as directed by the doctor. This is more than a hundred more patients than JLC has had at previous medical brigades, as a direct result of the ICS volunteers helping out. British queuing tactics are inbuilt it seems, and we managed to see everyone who had registered that morning by 4pm.
We put all the medicine out on the tables, and threw out any expired ones since they’re all donated so you must check them. They covered every surface available but by the end we’d given out almost everything. There’s Sinead in our doctor’s surgery/classroom in the photo above! Ready to assist the doctor from Tegucigalpa to see the hundreds of people queuing up outside, many would have walked for an hour or more.
We saw so many come in with babies and young children needing medicine, but unfortunately could do nothing for them other than a hospital referral if serious because there were no medicines for young ones. We gave out a lot of medicine for gastroenteritis, UTIs, ear and mouth problems, foot problems, and coughs. It was mostly women who came, usually with two or three children in tow.
One woman had been suffering from a leg injury for over 8 years – in all that time, she had never been able to see a doctor. Hearing her say that made me realise how badly they needed this help, and what a difference one day could make.
It was so interesting to sit in with the doctor and get an insight into the lives of hundreds of community members; we are working closely with only about 14 of them in our youth leader project.
The total lack of resources was sometimes hard to deal with, particularly when there was little left to give out, but people were still waiting anxiously in line. I was so impressed by Belén’s organisation, they had speeches and gifts prepared for us in the morning before the hard work started. We were introduced as ‘the British volunteers’ and for the first time it felt like I was representing my country, and the help we could give would have a direct impact on their wellbeing and quality of life.
All in all, it was a great day and I have a lot of respect for the doctor and dentists who travelled for hours to give their help, advice and medicines to such a wonderful but disadvantaged community.
Blog by Lucy Usher, Progressio ICS volunteer in La Esperanza