Volunteer Name: Lizzie Bartlett
Project Location: La Ceiba, Honduras
Program Dates: June 14 – July 24
Volunteered at: Clinica / Hospital
1.-How was the local ABV Coordinator and the support provided in-country?
The support within the country was wonderful! Rafael and the other staff members make it clear how much they care about the volunteers and the program, and are always available to help when needed.
2- What was the most surprising thing you experienced?
At the program: I was very pleasantly surprised by how hands-on this program is. If you take initiative and show an eagerness to learn, you will have an incredible number of opportunities to help the patients directly. I learned how to make and remove sutures, clean wounds, take fetal heart rate measurements, put in catheters, cast broken bones and measure cervical dilation, just to name a few things! The doctors and medical students in the hospital are completely willing to teach you if you tell them that you want to learn.
At the accommodation: I feel like I should´ve been surprised by the difference in conditions here compared to the United States, but in all honesty, I´m more surprised by how easy it was to adjust.
About the country: I was fairly surprised here by just how little support the hospital and clinic here receive from the government. It is really difficult to watch patients come into the hospital with serious injuries and have to be turned away until they can walk to a local pharmacy and buy the necessary supplies, rather than paying after the fact, because the hospital just doesn´t have the resources to help as much as the staff would like to.
3- What was most difficult to experience?
At the program: The nature of what you´ll see in the hospital and clinic can be fairly difficult. I am interested in working in trauma in the US and am not normally fazed by blood or gnarly wounds, but some of the injuries I saw here were unbelievable.
Another difficult aspect for me was living on Honduran Time, or not always needing to be exactly on time or knowing exactly where you´ll be at a given moment. I´m the type of person who really likes planning ahead and knowing exactly how my day will look, but I had to learn to let go of that really quickly and go with the flow.
At the accommodation: When I first arrived at my homestay, I was pretty nervous because I was the only person who spoke English fluently. My mother knew enough to help me get by, but I was initially concerned that I wouldn´t get to know my host family as well as I´d like to because of the language barrier. However, being the only English speaker turned out to be a blessing, as my Spanish got SO much better over the course of my six weeks!
The country: There are certainly some aspects of the country that take some getting used to, but I wouldn´t say that anything is extremely difficult to handle. It´s hot here, that´s for sure. And the semi-regular power and water outages can be a little annoying. But nothing too serious.
4- Any tips for future volunteers…
Clothing: I cannot stress enough that it is HOT here. Bring shorts, dresses, t-shirts, breezy things, especially if you’re taking Spanish lessons. Also, I’d recommend bringing at least a week’s worth of scrubs. I only had three sets for my six weeks, which left me to re-use dirty scrubs a little too frequently and to need to do laundry more often than I would´ve liked. It’s important to note that you have to have a clean set of scrubs to work in Labor and Delivery or the OR, so having more sets definitely would´ve been nice!
Donations: The small stuff is really what matters here. Gauze, tape, gloves, masks, suture kits, etc. It’s also nice to donate your blood pressure cuff and stethoscope at the end of your stay, as many doctors don’t have their own. Be prepared to use your own gloves and masks and such, as the doctors often have to bring their own to stock the ER and clinic, so it´s more helpful to not use their already limited resources.
Weather: The days get really hot, but it really isn’t that unbearable. Nighttime can be really pleasant, and I definitely wore jeans a couple of times in the evening to avoid bugs without being miserable.
4.1-Other things volunteers should know:
a.- Practice your Spanish!! It´s really easy to just hang out with other volunteers and speak in English all day, but you´ll get so much more out of the program as your conversation skills improve. Some doctors speak a little bit of English, but you´ll be much more comfortable and will get more out of your time here the more Spanish you know.
b.- Taking initiative is really important! If you just stand on the sidelines, you won´t end up getting to do as much. Get up in the action and ask how you can help or what you can learn. Look for opportunities that aren´t obvious! I got to stay overnight at the hospital for a shift with a medical student because a few of us asked if we could, and I got to watch some incredibly cool surgeries when I asked if I could; look for opportunities like that!
5- Personal Paragraph (ABV Program Testimonial), don’t leave blank:
These past six weeks have been the best of my life! I was originally scheduled to stay here for four weeks, but couldn´t bear to leave. La Ceiba is wonderful, and the people here are fantastic! I know it’s a cliché, but this program really will change your life.
6- How would you describe your accommodation, meals and security:
I LOVED my host family. I had a room to myself for four weeks and a roommate for two, and spent mealtimes and downtime with my family. My host mother is a fantastic cook, so despite me being a picky eater, I loved the food! In terms of security, I never felt particularly unsafe. El Sauce, the neighborhood where we stay, is quite nice. Just don´t be stupid, walk in groups, especially at night, and don´t leave money unattended.
7- What was your favorite memory of this trip?
Program: I loved spending an overnight at the hospital with one of the medical students here. I got to watch a number of cool surgeries, including hernia removals and a laproscopic cholysystectomy. I also loved having an opportunity to work directly with patients.
Country: Everything!! I don´t want to leave!
8.- How was the ABV USA support prior traveling?
The ABV support was great, stateside! I always got very prompt responses to my questions, including when I emailed from Honduras.
9 – Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers?
Yes!! Please contact me if you have any second thoughts about coming on this trip!
10 – Can you tell us how did you find or know about A Broader View?
I did a Google search of programs like this, and found that ABV seemed to be the most hands-on and the least expensive program.