Honduras Mission Trip On Despite Political Unrest
A group of mostly local people from Martinsville, Virginia has received the go-ahead to leave on a medical mission trip Saturday to politically turbulent Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Six of the 14 team members are from First Baptist Church of Martinsville, said team leader Judith M. Szulecki, M.D., a Martinsville dermatologist also trained in internal medicine.
The trip is through the Friends of Barnabas Foundation (FOBF), an international Christian-based charity near Richmond that, among other work, sends medical mission teams to Honduras from January through November, Szulecki said.
The team she is heading plans to go to five remote mountain villages within a two-hour bus drive from Pena Blanca, where FOBF has the Barnabas House. That is a medical clinic and dormitory complex where Hondurans who need continuing medical care can receive treatment and stay for up to several weeks, Szulecki added. Each day, the team will travel by bus to a different village where a medical clinic for children and adults has been set up. Team members will make diagnoses, perform immediate treatment involving simple procedures and make referrals for continuing or specialized care before returning to Pena Blanca that night, Szulecki said.
Because of political unrest in Honduras, FOBF medical mission trips to Honduras were delayed in July and August, but there was a trip in September, with no problems, Szulecki said. Then ousted President Manuel Zelaya returned to the country, and it was uncertain whether Szulecki’s team would get to make its trip as planned, mainly because of uncertainty over whether airports would be open, she said. On Tuesday, the executive committee of FOBF gave clearance for the team to go. Despite the political unrest, Szulecki isn’t worried about the trip, she said. Where the team is going in the Honduran mountains “we feel very safe. We are not afraid. The only thing we were concerned about is if they close airports, and we will not be able to get back” to the United States, she said.
There are three airports in Honduras. The major airports are in Tegucigalpa, the capital, and San Pedro Sula, where Szulecki’s team is scheduled to fly, and both of those airports have been closed at times during the political unrest, Szulecki said. The third Honduran airport, in a tourist area on the island Roatan, never has been closed and the team could fly from there, Szulecki said she understands. If that airport were closed as well, the team would travel by bus eight hours to Guatemala and fly from there, she said.
Also, Szulecki said she believes the team will be safe because this is her fifth annual trip to Honduras and “I have never encountered any difficulties.” People in the region know the mission bus and “know we are there for the good of the people,” she said. Also, the remote villages the team will visit are considered safe by the U.S. government because they are not near large cities or places where large groups of people will gather, Szulecki said.
The team will have Honduran interpreters and will receive a permit from local police to travel even if a curfew is in effect, Szulecki said. The team members will not have weapons, she said, adding that they have “faith and trust in God.” “Every village we go to we begin with a prayer … and people from villages have an opportunity to pray with them (ministers on the team) as well, because we go in the name of Jesus Christ,” Szulecki said.
She explained that at each village, medical professionals on the team and from the Barnabas House expect to see 250 to 350 people a day for serious medical conditions, such as congenital heart defects and lung problems; intestinal parasitic infections, such as hookworm; and eye problems. Team members will distribute, in all, about a thousand pairs of eyeglasses that were donated from Lions Clubs in Virginia.
The medical professionals also will perform minor surgeries or procedures, such as opening and draining cysts and abscesses or removing in-grown toenails. The team will dispense a total of about 1,250 pounds of medicines, and it will give out toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, wash cloths, flip-flops and children’s clothes, as well as give lessons in hygiene.
The team probably will see 1,500 or so people during the trip, Szulecki said. “Some people walk six hours to get to us.” Many of the people live in desperate poverty in huts — some infected by termites — with dirt floors, Szulecki said. Many of the people are malnourished. About 35 percent of all Hondurans don’t have safe water to drink or sewer systems, she said. “If we can get children to 5 years or older, they will then make it to adulthood,” said Szulecki, adding that lack of prenatal care is a big problem in Honduras.
Members of the team raised and/or paid $2,000 each (a total of about $28,000) to go on the trip and $8,500 for medications, a total of about $36,500. The team will leave at 4 a.m. Saturday for the airport in Greensboro, fly to Atlanta, and then to San Pedro Sula, with a scheduled arrival at 2 p.m. Saturday. The team is scheduled to return Sunday, Oct. 11th.
Learn more about being a Volunteer in Honduras.