Medical Brigade Volunteers in Honduras Dump Community

Two years ago, Sylvania, Ohio resident Richard Flasck was on a medical service trip to the Ocotillo dump community in Honduras. The scene was chaotic. He watched the medical brigade treating hundreds of desperately poor people in make-shift triage rooms in the International Samaritan schools. There were dozens of children with terrible foot sores and untreated asthma. A baby from the Ocotillo community had worms so bad; they were crawling out of his mouth and nose. The International Samaritan volunteers cared for the community as best they could, but Mr. Flasck realized that once they left, the dump dwellers would again be without medical care. The situation felt hopeless.

Back in the states, Flasck, a retired investment counselor for Merrill Lynch, decided to do something for the Ocotillo dump community and raised the money needed to build a permanent medical facility. Now the people of Ocotillo can receive medical treatment twice a week in the 1,200-square-foot building from a local doctor.

The Richard Flasck Medical Center is yet another vital step International Samaritan (I.S.) has taken to help alleviate poverty for the community, most of whom work at the Ocotillo dump scavenging for food and recyclables to sell. I.S. also built a K-sixth grade school in 2007 and a nursery for Ocotillo.

The Sept. Honduras medical team in front of the Richard Flasck Medical Facility.

In September, 2010, Flasck and nine other Americans went to Ocotillo to serve on another medical brigade. Their arrival is a big event for the dump community. The school children practice a traditional Honduran dance to welcome the visitors coming to help them. A community leader stands guard at the medical center, proudly brandishing his family’s ornate machete.

Parents and children line up to wait outside the new facility. As the visitors arrive, all eyes are on the eight Americans who volunteered. Walking into the facility for the first time, Flasck is overwhelmed.

“I’m amazed at what International Samaritan was able to accomplish in such a short period of time,” he said.

Within minutes of the team’s arrival, the medical center is a flurry of activity. Fourteen suitcases packed full of medications, much of it donated, are hauled in. Barb Tuohey, an experienced I.S. mission trip volunteer from Lathrup Village, MI, starts to organize the pharmacy. Julie Warner, of Columbus, Ohio, gets pills ready to be handed out, including hundreds of vitamins for the children. The two doctors on the mission, Dr. Phil Rodgers, of Ann Arbor, MI, and Dr. Elizabeth Hengstebeck, of Madison, FL, are shown to the examining rooms.

Fans swirl above their heads, but provide little relief from the 90-plus degree weather. In the school across the garbage-strewn dirt road, Macon, Georgia nurse Shelly Rowell and radiation specialist, Andrew Schneider, of Perrysburg, Ohio, set up an eyeglass clinic.

Dr. Phil Rodgers examines a child with breathing difficulties.

Then the treatment begins. Dr. Hengstebeck gathers essential information on each patient: does the child get bathed regularly, what types of food does she eat, how is the child developing? One mother tries to treat her stomachaches by not eating, she told Dr. Rodgers. She is in her early twenties and has bone pain, headaches, and dizziness. Her baby is having trouble breathing. Dr. Rodgers suspects he has parasites, as well. Much of the illness in the dump community is due to the dire living conditions: lung problems, malnutrition, infections, and parasites are common.

A seven-year-old boy is rushed down from the nursery. He has burns on his arm from a hot stove in his family’s primitive shack. “His grandmother was cooking and a part of the stove broke apart,” explained Nursery Director Luz Marina Ponce. “The children, they always play near the fire. The most common injuries of children [at the nursery] are burns and wounds on the feet because they walk without shoes.”

Later, a few of the children who work scavenging in the 40-acre dump for food and recyclables to sell are brought to the clinic. “I’ve never seen feet in the condition that these feet were in. They had no shoes and their feet had cuts and bruises, holes and gouges. It’s unbelievable,” said Rowell. “I know there are poor people back at home, but there are assistance programs to help people. That’s non-existent here. It’s literally fighting for survival every day.” Rowell and Catherine Kropp, of N. Lawrence, Ohio, wash the boys’ feet and legs in basins of water and apply antibiotic ointment to the open sores. Tuohey gives one of the boys her tennis shoes and he beams, even though they are three sizes too big. There are no shoes for the other boy, so they wrap his feet in gauze and plastic bags. Still, he seems overjoyed.

The people keep coming. An eight-year-old schoolgirl arrives with an abscess in her leg. A grandmother brings five of her grandsons; they are all sick. A bus drives in from downtown San Pedro Sula with a group of homeless boys. One of the teenagers, after witnessing a robbery, was attacked by the criminal with a machete. Kropp treats a deep gash on his arm.

In two and a half days, the volunteers provide medical care and eyeglasses to more than 600 people.

All too soon, it is time for the medical brigade to leave. Team members are hugged and thanked once again, as they have been dozens of times throughout the three days. Outside the medical center, a few families are still waiting to be seen.

“We always have a line at the end that’s still waiting,” said Andrew Pawuk, I.S. program director. “But now they can come back to see Dr. Lagos. Two years ago, they couldn’t do that.”

The Richard Flasck Medical Center has helped the people at Ocotillo turn another chapter, though there is still a long road ahead. Monetary donations for items such as shoes and medicines are greatly appreciated. If you would like to go on one of International Samaritan’s various mission trips in 2011, or would like to help with a donation, please contact Andrew Pawuk at the I.S. headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 734-222-0701, or visit the website at www.intsamaritan.org.

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