Honduras: A land of contrast
special to the daily
Honduras, so named by Christopher Colombus in the late 16th Century for the deep and troublesome waters off its Caribbean coast, is a land of contrasts – geographic, political, economic. Summit in Honduras (SIH), a local nonprofit, has been sending medical and construction missions to this picturesque Central American country for the past four years, with a focus on 11 remote and isolated villages in the mountainous North Western region. With a team of eight from Summit County joined by another six from Honduras, we were two doctors, a medical student, a nurse, an allied health professional, an EMT, three interpreters, two planners and logistics specialists, and two local coordinators – all under the leadership of Maggie Ducayet, the executive director of SIH.
Beautiful flowers border the major paved roads along which men walk with their omnipresent machetes, or families ride sometimes three to a bicycle, zig-zagging to avoid the livestock grazing on the road shoulders. In the remote areas with one-lane muddy roads, a horse may be the most reliable means of transportation, but many old European cars somehow navigate terrain that our four-wheel drive vehicle drivers respected. Many local pickup trucks, crowded with livestock and hitchhikers, speed recklessly as they dodge pedestrians and farm animals. At times, well-used formerly American school buses careen around blind curves without guard rails, of course.
As we traveled from La Entrada, a small regional capital, into the cloud forests of the steep hills near the Guatemala border, coffee fields stretched into the dense growth, and corn, beans, sugar cane, banana and papaya tree plantings tumbled down steep slopes. Starving stray dogs, ubiquitous chickens and pigs, and even a few ducks roamed unrestrained in the roadside yards of mud and stick houses. Our river crossings were serene, but the slick red mud made steep hills a challenge.
After arriving and setting up the day’s clinic in the pueblo’s most substantial building, usually multi-used as church or elementary school, a steady stream of the sick and the curious visited us. To an American doctor inured to the ills of our “modern” cigarette smoking, over-eating, sedentary society, the Honduran campesinos were slender, athletic and substance free. They have little or no educational opportunities, limited transportation, no health care except for the occasional immunization campaign, no prenatal care or birth control, sparse electricity, often no clean water and rudimentary sanitation. Yet, they are remarkably healthy and happy. A few house calls to visit those too ill to come to the clinic – mostly octogenarians – gave insight into their homes with unventilated stoves, cleanly swept dirt floors, few furnishings and cooking pots. Such a home, with curtains separating living spaces, might accommodate extended families of 12 or more. The yard of every home sported a fence or line drying freshly washed clothes.
Though we were most limited in what we could provide to each individual, Summit in Honduras – working through the connection between St. John’s Episcopal Church in Breckenridge and the Episcopal diocese in Honduras, has been able to train a cadre of “health guardians” in each of these pueblos. This is a small but important contribution to sustainable health care. As Teddy Roosevelt once said: “You do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
Our last day was spent in Copan, near the Guatemala border. It was the epicenter of the Mayan civilization at least for over a millennium, with evidence for continuous habitation for thousands of years. Las Ruinas de Copan are the largest so far excavated with superb carvings, hieroglyphs, steles, plazas and temples within temples. Scarlet macaws, the state bird and an endangered species, compete with agoutis for food. Migratory song birds flock in every tree.
Honduras, a beautiful land with friendly people, ancient ruins, unimaginable poverty, illiteracy, profound health and public health needs, is emerging out of its Banana Republic days. Recent political unrest is settling for the time being.
There is much to do in Honduras and much passion in Summit County to contribute to its progress. Mother Theresa’s compassionate words characterize Summit in Honduras: “We can do no great things but we can do small things with great love.”
For more information on how you can help Summit in Honduras, please contact Maggie Ducayet at (970) 389-7544 or email@example.com. Summit in Honduras is a registered 501(c)3, and all contributions are tax deductible to the limits of the law.
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