This summer, as part of the Honduras Health Alliance (HHA) team from UNC, I had the privilege of visiting one of the most truly beautiful and remote locations of the southern province of Choluteca, Honduras. I spent three eventful weeks in the little town of El Corpus, our home base, from where we planned and carried out the task of setting up a makeshift clinic where we tended to over 500 women from nearby villages that are part of Las Comunidades Unidas. All the while, we were allowed to stay in their homes, eat the delicious meals they prepared for us, and become part of their families pretty much effortlessly.
HHA is a student run organization that provides cervical cancer screening and other women health services in the rural communities surrounding the town of El Corpus. The group has been doing this every summer for the past 8 years with the help of various driven medical students, doctors and residents from UNC as well as the financial support from the University and other private institutions. The beautiful thing about this organization is that the money we raise is used not only for the purposes of conducting the trip, setting up the clinic and providing various diagnostic procedures, but it also goes toward the care and treatment of any of our patients that is found with cervical cancer. Below are some of my experiences.
Everyday during the week of clinic, the women from Las Comunidades Unidas would make it to our clinic in the village of Madrigales after long and arduous walks down the mountains often involving river crossings. Almost everyone was there at 8:00 AM to get a place in line. Many of them have been HHA patients for years and the organization has become their only source of medical care.
The week before clinic, we visited their communities and gave “charlas” related to women health issues such as domestic violence, cervical cancer screening, STIs, family planning and nutrition. While in the communities, I stayed at Neri and Julio’s house in Los Espaveles. I loved Neri’s family, all the grandchildren, the delicious meals she would cook for us and the games and songs that they taught us each rainy afternoon. Things I didn’t enjoy so much: the outhouse at 3:00 AM in the morning!
For breakfast, lunch and dinner we were fed massive quantities of simple, earthy, home-cooked meals, always accompanied by fresh tortillas that Neri would make at 5:00 AM each morning. Most families in Los Espaveles grow their own food and trade with their neighbors for the items that they do not have. The closest town with a supermarket was 2:30 hours away by chicken bus, however, the prices were always not that accessible. Julio bought a piece of land with his sons where they grow corn and green beans, these are mostly their source of food during the rainy season. The corn is ground in a “molino” owned by the family and also used by most other families in the community for the low price of 3 Lempiras (1 US Dollar = 18.90 Honduran Lempiras).
Neri’s grandchildren attend public school during the day, although they seem to enjoy very frequent “teacher payday holidays”, which is when teachers travel to Choluteca for the day to pick up their paycheck (by that I mean cash). During those days, they stayed home and played games with us and showed us their favorite songs. The kids loved to have their picture taken and especially looking back at the LCD screen of the camera to see how their photo had turned out. We brought with us a lot of coloring supplies which they mostly had used up in the span of a week, because they love coloring.
This family just got electricity in their house two months ago, however they still do not have a fridge, a TV, an electric stove or any other electric appliance, but just the fact that they have a light bulb in their living room, has changed the family’s and our bedtime from 6:00 PM in the afternoon to 9:00 PM at night! Hooray!
All in all, and aside from missing my husband like a mad person, I truly enjoyed my trip to Honduras, not because I was particularly fond of the mosquito bites, sleeping in hammocks or suffering from constant diarrhea, but it was this sense of serving this mostly unserved population that made this entire adventure worthwhile!