Volunteer review Joshua Manning in Honduras La Ceiba PreMed Program at local hospital
1.-How was the local ABV Coordinator and the support provided in-country?
Our ABV coordinator, was a trooper. He dealt with our constant nonsense, our heartless mangling of his language, and our odd hours with no complaints. Without him our efforts would have collapsed into a haphazard mess. John Nurse, our contact at the clinic and hospital, was a stronger character. The nurses and doctors almost universally enjoy helping us gringos, and the ABV office keeps a presence with occasional emails. I always felt as if there was a safety net.
2- What was the most surprising thing you experienced?
At the program: Don’t expect the same standard of sterility and urgency which is commonplace in the States. As frustrating as it will likely become, the laid back central american nature encapsulated by the word ‘siesta’ permeates into even the emergency rooms. At the same time, their ‘sterile field’ is usually nothing more than the paper they took their gloves out of.
At the accommodation: I did not stay with the coordinator, and I was surprised to find that my host family was changing their daily lives to accommodate our program schedule, to an extent. Señora Argentina was wonderful, and the food at the house was great. Bear in mind that if you live with a different family, they need to be kept in the loop. Don’t stroll up at 9pm for dinner when they eat at 5:30 unless you told them beforehand, follow the local time for meals.
About the country: La Ceiba doesn’t reflect the reputation Honduras has garnered in recent years. Expect relative poverty, expect a language barrier if your Spanish is no bueno, but don’t expect to fear for your life. Don’t be too stupid, don’t wander the streets at midnight, don’t challenge people on the streets, and you’ll be A-OK.
3- What was most difficult to experience?
At the program: Pain is a constant presence in Honduran medicine. I understand that it exists everywhere, and sometimes medicine requires it. However, I feel for our patients here. It broke my heart nearly every morning to see an old woman cry in the clinic while simply having an ulcer on her foot cleaned. It’s necessary here, but was almost alien to me.
At the accommodation: Our showers are cold, and my water shut off at 10. It’s a petty complaint, don’t let it deter you. The trip is well worth it.
The country: Honduras is beautiful, often in a mind-bending sort of way. The most difficult, and fun, experience here was navigating the city while still coming to terms with Spanish.
4- Any tips for future volunteers…
Clothing: Definitely a must. There are options for washing clothes, but they will cost you money, so prepare for a small expense, something in the realm of $5-10. Pack for a week, wash your clothes on the weekends. Also, watching surgeries requires changing into a clean pair of scrubs, so always have one with you. At least 10 or a week.
Donations: Everything on the emailed list is important. They need medicine like ibuprofen, desperately need antibiotic creams and medicines, and treat medical tools and supplies like gold. For things like sterile gloves, BP cuffs, Pulse Oxes, and tape, I would suggest keeping it in case you need it and donating it at the end. Also, anything you leave out or set on a table and lose sight of will likely become a donation as well.
Weather: It’s so hot here. The only time I don’t feel like I am or might start sweating is when I’m in the shower. Don’t worry about it though, it builds character.
4.1-Other things volunteers should know:
a.- If you speak high school Spanish, and you’re comfortable looking like a bit of an idiot sometimes, just go for it. If you don’t speak any, be clear on wanting the translator, else you’ll be relying on your new volunteer friends a lot if they know spanish.
b.- Decide beforehand what you’ll be comfortable doing. The possibilities are nearly limitless. You won’t be performing an appendectomy, but you’ll be able to learn procedures here that would be more off-limits back home. Also, definitely have sterile gloves, along with normal gloves, if you can find them.
c.- Figure out spending money beforehand as well. The exchange rate is L22 lempiras to a dollar, taxi rides to the volunteer sites are L25 limps, you’ll be taking between two and four on a normal day, if the coordinator can he will give transportation (its not included) so be flexible, and weekend excursions could be as little as US$50 or as much as US$250, depending on what you want to do and spend.
d.- Be vocal. Learn the word for ‘can’ (poder) and ‘try’ (tratar), and use them. ‘I want to learn’ (Quiero aprender) is a great sentence to have and use. If you ask, they’ll usually let you, and if you don’t know how, they almost invariably will show you.
5- Personal Paragraph (ABV Program Testimonial), don’t leave blank:
A Broader View offers an extremely fascinating and largely unique opportunity with this type of trip. I figured out early on that as a pre-med student, my donations were invaluable, and my help was tolerated, though tolerated happily as near as I could tell. In the clinic, we took blood pressure, cleaned wounds, and removed stitches. At the hospital, we were able to watch some surgeries and live births. In the emergency room, we set casts, helped with suturing, and witnessed real life for a group of impoverished people. Sometimes, tragically, people didn’t make it. This trip was real, and most certainly not a vacation. On top of everything else, one of the most valuable things I gained was perspective.
6- How would you describe your accommodation, meals and security:
The accommodations were better than I honestly expected, despite the lack of AC. My fan was usually perfectly fine. I never really felt unsafe, and didn’t take any undue risks. The meals were mostly tremendous, with a couple of exceptions involving white bread, beans and rice. I was never hungry, frequently tired, and always hot. I’m also strongly considering coming back.
7- What was your favorite memory of this trip?
Program: Picking out a single memory is difficult. My first really good memory with the program helping with casts in my first couple of days. I got along well with the doctor, I could understand a lot of what he told me, we got a good picture with the girl, and she asked us to sign her cast. The medical interns here are used to crazy volunteers making a near-spectacle in the ER, and it’s cool so long as there isn’t an emergency at the time.
Country: I only had one weekend excursion, and it was amazing. Utila is a beautiful island similar to Roatan, but infinitely cheaper. I went with some new friends I met here, we visited bars and the beach, went shopping, and played cards incessantly. I wish I could’ve had more weekends like it, but I’m thankful for the one I had.
8.- How was the ABV USA support prior traveling?
Communication (Phone/emails/Online chat): While I was setting up my trip here, I relied heavily on phone calls to the office with random questions. Their hours are somewhat short, and you may not always have someone pick up on the first ring, but they always get back. Email communication is more frequent and consistent. Read the emails thoroughly, there could always be important information in them. They also sent me a ‘Happy Birthday’ email, which was pretty nice.
Website Information: From what I recall, the website info is generally correct, but almost slightly misleading. A lot of things done here are free form. If you pay for classes, but would rather go to the hospital one afternoon, you certainly can. Just make sure your teacher finds out. If you don’t want to go to the clinic that morning, or you want to work a night shift in the ER, it can usually be worked out. Be ready and willing to change tracks quickly.
9 – Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers?
Sure, we can be pen pals. Emails would probably be your best bet. I’m more than happy to answer questions.
10 – Can you tell us how did you find or know about A Broader View?
A group of my friends found the trip, we planned it together, and then they decided to go later. As a result, I’m here by myself, and I couldn’t be happier with the way things worked out. However you found this trip, don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone.