Volunteer Name: Caitlyn Ahlberg
Project Location: La Ceiba, Honduras
Program Dates: 09-01 to 23-01-2015
Volunteered at: Local Hospital
1.-How was the local ABV Coordinator and the support provided in-country?
The coordinator made this program run smoothly. He was also my host father, and therefore was always available if I had any questions or concerns. I was the only volunteer for one of the weeks, so I spent a lot of time with Rafael and his family. He goes out of his way not only to make sure that you are helping at the site as much as possible, but enjoying your time in Honduras. Without them at every step, including spending the entire first day with me at the clinic, my experience would not have been as incredible.
2- What was the most surprising thing you experienced?
At the program: The lack of supplies was astounding. I knew that there would be fewer supplies than in the US, as I was asked to bring materials and equipment. However, there are so little supplies that even at the new hospital patients need to bring their own supplies and medications. Gloves and equipment are only used if absolutely necessary, and even then they are conserved.
At the accommodation: I was surprised by how modern the houses were. The information given made it sound like the accommodation would be very different than the US, although I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It may be because I was staying with Rafael, but his house is nicer than anywhere I have ever lived.
About the country: The resilience and joy of the people here was uplifting. Most of the people here make little or no money. They have very little, and yet they stay positive and share their few resources to teach others. This was surprising because in the US we seem to think that more stuff means more happiness. Here the people are happy to use what they have to the fullest. I have never felt more welcomed and embraced than during my time here.
3- What was most difficult to experience?
At the program: The second week I would volunteer at the new hospital in the afternoon. Specially, I would be helping in the emergency room. There are very little supplies for public hospital. Because of that, the emergency doctors would send patients away with just a prescription and only very sick patients were seen. While this is logical based on the circumstances, someone with a more serious disease without many symptoms could get turned away.
At the accommodation: I feel silly saying that there was anything difficult because I was very comfortable the entire time. The only little thing was the lack of running hot water. It is warm here all of the time and there isn’t a need for hot water, but cold showers took some time to get used to.
The country: The language barrier was difficult at times. I have never studied Spanish, only French. When I had Spanish classes here for 3.5 hours in the afternoon my Spanish get much better very quickly. However, I could still not understand and that could sometimes impede the efficiency of the patient care. This also was hard when I would go out into town and interact with locals. I did a lot of hand motions to communicate and people were happy to help. You can always hire a translator as needed with the help of the coordinator,
4- Any tips for future volunteers…
Clothing: Make sure to bring enough for your time here or be prepared to do laundry. If you wear scrubs you don’t need a lab coat. Also make sure to bring clothes that breath and dry fast for after you are at the hospital. Good walking shoes and sandals you can get wet are also necessary.
Donations: Gloves are needed the most, and they cost about the same here as they do in the U.S. I brought a couple boxes with me and bought more here to donate. I recommend spending your money here as that does more for the local economy. You can also get other needed supplies, like alcohol swabs, to donate.
Weather: It will be hot no matter when you come, and you will want to plan accordingly with your clothing and toiletries. However, during some parts of the year it rains a lot. It will still be warm, but pack an extra towel and you will be glad you have it.
4.1-Other things volunteers should know:
a.- Bring more money than you think! Supermarkets will take credit or debit card, but make sure to have your ID. The activities are also worth it. Some homes have filtered water, so pack a reusable water bottle to fill.
b.- Do everything you can! Even if you don’t understand, people appreciate the effort.
5- Personal Paragraph (ABV Program Testimonial), don’t leave blank:
I can’t even begin to describe the experience I had in Honduras. It was terrifying, funny, exciting, and so much more. Before this trip I was questioning whether or not I wanted to be a doctor. After being at the clinic and experiencing this kind of work first hand, I know now more than ever that I need to give back to this community in the future as a physician. The people are as warm as the weather, the food is incredible, but most of all you actually get to help. There is no better reason to come and volunteer your time. If you are pre-medical and feel compelled to share your skills, I highly recommend that you do so here.
6- How would you describe your accommodation, meals and security:
All three were excellent. The food was delicious, the accommodation was exceptional, and I always felt secure. If I wanted to go somewhere someone would always go with me or even drive me, especially at night. I never felt that I was in a lot of danger.
7- What was your favorite memory of this trip?
Program: During my time at the clinic, there was a homeless woman who came in for a cut on her head. She had epilepsy, and was homeless because her family didn’t want her. We were able to get her treated and medicated for free and even find her some clean clothes. That was the most remanding experience.
Country: My favorite trip was to Sambo Creek. There I zip lined down the gorgeous mountains with a stunning view of the ocean. It also included a massage, mud bath, and soaking in the hot springs for as long as you want. The nature of Honduras is mind-blowing and needs to be experienced.
8.- How was the ABV USA support prior traveling?
Communication (Phone/emails/Online chat): My emails were always returned promptly, which I appreciated. It was because of the online chat that I chose Honduras, as I originally planning on going to Nepal. They also checked in and sent reminders before, during, and after the program. It was excellent.
Website Information: I found the testimonials most useful. They gave me the best idea of what to expect. Some of the information about what you will help with at the hospital isn’t exactly what you will do, but that can depend on your skill level.
9 – Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers?
Absolutely! This was an incredible experience and I am happy to share it.