Monday, September 26, 2011

Reality Check

“If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
Mother Theresa

 I live like a king here. I have filtered water, three meals a day, tile floor in my room, and my laptop. Even though I may have to take a military shower or maybe the Internet won’t work for a couple of days or maybe I will have to deal with ants crawling in my bed at night, I have absolutely nothing to complain about.  I love the carefree life here, the way I feel riding in the back of a pickup truck or on top of a bus with the green mountains stretching for miles and miles. But the truth is, the reality of life here is not always carefree and easy like I have portrayed it to be. The truth is that in Santa Lucia alone, 71% of the population doesn’t have a filtration system for the water they drink, that only 7% of the total population has gone to school past their primary education, and that 50% of the houses have a dirt floor (a true indicator of poverty: the richest in the area have tile, then cement, and then dirt). Sometimes it’s easy to forget these things with the people I interact with everyday when I am not seeing their homes and their lives firsthand.
Students playing a ball game "Quemado" in front of the clinic for Independence Day
 It is easy to block out the realities of life here in town where the poorest of the poor don’t live. When I work with the kids I can focus on their spirits and their zest for life, on the way they bring treats for me everyday even when I know they don’t have the extra money for it and in the way they smile and laugh despite what their situation is at home. But I’m reminded in the little things too. For example, I am reminded when one of the students Fernanda, who stays after to help me clean, tells me that her mom and sister are both deaf and that her dad left them so they have no means to make money. All of her older sisters and brothers have dropped out of school after 6th grade because it is too expensive for them to pay for the uniforms and the school supplies and they need to help at home. I know Fernanda is bright as she reads very well but as I look at her torn shirt, her shoes that are too small, and her eager eyes, I can’t help but be sad for what her future holds.
Students outside of the library at the Dia de la Independencia celebration
 I am reminded in the harshness of life here as I talk to the translators for the brigades who have traveled and lived in the United States. One translator in particular, Alex, put everything on the line in his 20 day journey crossing through Guatemala and Mexico. He had friends that didn’t make it and were killed and others who got sent home and had to try three or four times to get across the border. Once they get to the United States, they are forgotten. People don’t even look at them or see them as people. Instead he worked for $4.50 an hour, sixty hours a week and lived in a cramped apartment with eight other people. He sent money back to his family when he couldn’t even afford to pay his own rent. The immigrants are not there by choice but rather by necessity because they have no opportunity here and all they want is to support their families. Most all of them are illegal “aliens”, no one in America cares about them yet they sacrifice everything just for the one chance at improving their lives and the lives of their family. The richest people in this community are those who have family in the States or those who have gone to the States and returned home to live. If this is what everyone is seeing, why wouldn’t they try for a chance to get this too?
View from riding on top of the bus (my new favorite activity in Honduras)
 Things have to get better here and it has to be from within. The problem is that when these living conditions and corrupt government systems have been in place for so long, it is going to be very difficult to change anything. But instead of getting frustrated, I have to focus on the small changes I can make. I may not be able to give more jobs to the people in this community but I can help a deserving student get a scholarship to attend high school through the education program. I may not be able to prevent someone from getting a parasite or diarrhea through the unfiltered water they drink, but I can help plan a medical brigade that will treat them. It is a complicated life here full of hardship and I know that no matter how helpless the reality may seem at times, I must focus on the little things and on the relationships I am making and through this, I can still have hope that things here can and will get better.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Life on the Frontera

By request I am finally posting pictures of where I live and random details about my life here the past few weeks! I am living in an apartment behind the Shoulder to Shoulder clinic with six other people. I share a room with another volunteer Amy who I could not be more thankful for. She is my workout buddy, my dancing partner, and  my sidekick. She is so positive and wonderful to be around! We also live with two other Americans, a Honduran nurse, and a Honduran family (the husband is the accountant for Shoulder to Shoulder and his wife is the dentist).  We have an office and living type space and a kitchen upstairs. There is also an identical apartment right next to ours where the other Honduran nurses and doctors live.

My bed (complete with my unused mosquito net)

Our apartment  (the roof of the clinic is in front and my room is the middle one on the left)   

 Right now, we have a dental brigade from Ohio State here so it has been nice to have some fresh faces around the clinic. Today we went to a school with them and they handed out toothbrushes, did a demonstration on how to brush teeth properly, and gave fluoride treatments to each student. Shoulder to Shoulder is working on getting fluoride treatments twice a year to all the schools in the area, as a means of prevention rather than reactive dentistry where the dentists just pull teeth. While teeth pulling no doubt still happens a lot (about 1 in every 3 patients), teaching the kids proper dental care is much more sustainable.

It’s official. I survived my first sickness and never have I been so thankful to live at a clinic. We’re talking issues with both ends…. not fun. However, in the morning is all I had to do was walk down the stairs and 5 minutes later I had an I.V. in and medicine in hand. I was only in bed for one day. Thank goodness. However, the same thing came back again so now they are treating me for parasites. Hopefully this will be the last time! It’s times like these when I still want my mom and my nice, warm bed at home but I could not be more thankful for the doctors and my roommates here who took good care of me!

On Saturday was Dia de los Niños. Yep Honduras has a whole day for celebrating kids, they have the right idea if you ask me. This day is even bigger than Christmas for the kids because they get gifts and candy. The Friday before the big day, we walked down to the school where they had games like pin the tail on the donkey, potato sack races, a soccer tournament, and handed out cake. We have been trying to have a celebration at the clinic for the past two days for the kids in the community but there has not been power. At the clinic, we have a generator so we are not hit as hard but because there is still no power in the community, the baker in the town couldn’t make the cakes for the kids. Hopefully we will have it tomorrow (which is also Honduras Independence Day)!

A potato sack race at the elementary school for Dia de los Niños

  One of my favorite things about brigades is meeting the translators. They are usually Honduran males about my age from the coast who have either attended bilingual school or lived in the States. It’s fun to talk in Spanglish with them and while we usually talk in Spanish, it’s nice to have someone who knows English to correct and help me when I need it. They teach me the street lingo and I have to say I am pretty jealous of their bilingual capabilities, I am amazed at how much they know!

Josh (one of the translators) and me (yes that is a PIKE shirt he has on, apparently I'm still in college)
The high school in Santa Lucia also has not had school for the past two weeks but various classes finally started up this week. A lot of the teachers have not been paid for months and are now refusing to go to class as a result (can’t blame them). The problem is that if the teachers do not show up to class, then they also jeopardize the students in losing their year of school. Since the school year is from the end of January to November here, if the students don’t finish their last three months of school, they will have to repeat.  Now, only a few of the teachers are attending class (the ones who have been paid) but it is better than nothing and hopefully the government will come around soon as I have been told that is something that happens every year. 
The girls in the Yo Puedo program (I swear they are usually happy) with their crocheted napkins that they sell for 100 lempiras (5 dollars) as a part of a microfinance project to support their school
 Life here continues to be slow and calm yet new and unexpected everyday. September and October are the “coolest” months of the year (which still means high 80s with lots of humidity) so I have been enjoying the fog and the rain everyday and am trying to soak it up before the dry season comes in November! I am keeping busy with the education program (we are planning expansion into two other communities) so this means a lot of collaboration between the States and Honduras and I'm also keeping busy with brigade planning and other random tasks as well (my next brigade comes in November). I hope this finds you all well and enjoying the start of fall!