Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Last Brigada

          Last week, I had the privilege of spending time with the University of Rochester in the San Jose community about two hours away from Santa Lucia. It was great to be back after 6 months, seeing familiar faces, enjoying the cool nights, and the beautiful green mountain views. The University of Rochester’s approach is different from many of our other brigades. While they no doubt see patients in the clinic, they also are more focused on public health initiatives as a means to prevent the problems rather than just finding a temporary solution.  I got to hike out to the high school to meet with the scholarship students, act as the main character in our skit about microfinance and management about small businesses (needless to say I will not be pursuing acting as a career) and help with a community health worker meeting as well as with water filter “charlas” or educational chats. All of these, paired with some interesting cases in the clinic, made for a great week! 
At one of the microfinance meetings, educating about the difference between personal and business money
 One of my favorite parts was the microfinance project. In November, we gave out 10 loans and all of the recipients (mostly women) paid them back with 2% interest and want more money to expand their businesses! These loans are a minimal amount (about 1,000 lempiras which is $50 USD) but with this little amount of money, these people are able to start a business and begin to save and get their family out of poverty.  Some of them started a bread making business, another opened a pulpería (a small store) from his house in a tiny community, and a few bring fruit to sell at the market in La Esperanza (the biggest city in Intíbuca which is about an hour and a half away). It was truly inspirational to see them creating a business plan, picking fair prices, and knowing that they had been successful. I was so glad to be a part of it! Rochester also does other projects such as latrines, cook stoves, and water filters. Check out their website for more information: http://www.sanjosepartners.org/.

Teaching a local woman how to use a water filter
          While my time in this community with a great group of Americans (the two attending doctors are truly amazing people) and Hondurans was a great learning experience, I am also reminded of the reality of development work when there is not a constant overseer. Part of my job in helping with the scholarship program was visiting the students’ homes or places where they are staying. As most students live about a 3 hour walk from the high school, the scholarship program gives them extra money to pay for food and a room in the town of San Marcos where the high school is. Those students who live an hour and a half away receive less money as they can walk. We met with the students and asked where they lived and then went to visit the houses to make sure that they were living there and that everything was ok with the living conditions. However, of the 12 students who are studying at the high school, it turns out four of them were lying about where they were living or living with their families and not telling us so they could take the extra money. It is these moments, when I feel that it is much harder to make a difference as there are always unintended consequences but the more I think about it, the more I can’t blame them. I would probably do the same thing if I had the opportunity, even it meant walking 3 hours a day. Again, I am reminded that we are all human when it comes down to it! But despite this, these scholarship students are making it past sixth grade, something that only 7% of the people in their communities get the opportunity to do, so that is definitely something!
The scholarship students and parents (in front of Día de Las Madres poster, it is a HUGE deal here!)
 Sadly, this was my last brigade and as my time begins to wrap up here, I am extremely grateful for my experience. It has been a tremendous learning opportunity to be on the ground working for a non-profit and seeing the problems, the solutions, and all the little things that come up. It is amazing to think how far I have come from July in truly learning how things work, knowing Honduran culture, and in my Spanish abilities. I wouldn’t trade these past eleven months for anything! Hope all is well. Thanks for reading!

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