Medical Brigades in Honduras
USD Medical Brigades lives up to the University of San Diego’s changemaker status by finding sustainable solutions to improve the world. Last semester, 30 USD students fundraised, gathered medication, and prepared for a week of service over intercession providing medical care to the rural Honduran community of El Suyatillo.
Medical Brigades, coordinated through Global Brigades, is designed to provide immediate care to people in need while laying the infrastructure to make the communities self-sustaining. Medical and dental support is the first step in creating a healthy community and are followed by engineering and water, public health, and business brigades.
Troy Sinha, Co-President of USD Medical Brigades, summarized the organization’s objective.
“Our goal as an organization is to succeed in certain places where their health systems have failed, but also to get these communities to the point where they are self-sustaining and no longer need our help,” Sinha said.
That ambitious goal required vast preparation and effort. Prior to departing for Tegucigalpa, each student raised approximately $1750 to go on the trip, and the group raised an additional $3200.
Students on the medications committee were responsible for collecting medicine and medical supply donations from local San Diego pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, and even family and friends to bring with them on the brigade. Others organized educational lectures about Honduras to explain the culture so brigaders could become acquainted with the developing country.
On Jan. 12, they took off for Honduras. From the airport, they traveled to a hilltop compound where students would sort medication, enter data, and relax after each day of work in the community.
Students worked alongside licensed Honduran doctors to provide general medical care, in addition to dental, vision, and reproductive health care. At the dental station, students gave numbing injections, pulled teeth, and filled cavities. In the United States, most students cannot perform these kinds of procedures until their second or third year of dental school.
The immersive learning that students experience on Medical Brigades was a unique part of the trip. Junior Brandon Welcome, a biochemistry major at USD, enjoyed the practical approach to learning about medicine.
“My favorite medical support teams were doctor consult and dentistry,” Welcome said. “I enjoyed helping the doctors diagnose medical conditions and assign appropriate medication to patients. I also greatly enjoyed performing lidocaine injections and tooth extractions on patients.”
At the vision station, students conducted eye-exams and helped patients pick out reading glasses that fit their needs. Senior Mariana Montes recalled helping a man in his 70s find the perfect reading glasses on a previous brigade.
“After we found the perfect pair, he looked at me with teary-eyes and with this appreciative look on his face, and then said, ‘Gracias, ahora podré leer mi biblia,’ ‘Thank you, now I will be able to read my Bible,’” Montes said. “Although I did not have a profound conversation with him, it definitely ‘opened my eyes’ to appreciate the small things in life that we often overlook.”
In a separate building, women were able to receive proper health care, ranging from gynecological exams to screen for cervical cancer to ultrasounds for pregnant women.
On the side of all the routine medical work was a station called “charla,” which educates children in the community about hygiene. Sinha has been on five brigades, but this trip to Honduras was his first time leading “charla” for the children.
“Children’s charla was a totally different animal. For the first half of the day, we educate the local kids on proper hygiene and sanitation, stuff like how to properly brush your teeth, which foods are good and bad for your teeth,” Sinha said. “The second half of the day was essentially a long recess where the kids get to show you how old you’re getting by playing games and running circles around you.”
At the end of four days’ work in El Suyatillo, USD Medical Brigades had provided medical care for hundreds of people. Co-President of Medical Brigades Praveen Wickremasinghe quantified their effort.
“While the quality of care is where the weight of impact lies, we were able to help approximately 700 people,” Wickremesinghe said.
On the last day, the brigaders traveled to a community further along in Global Brigades’ sustainable model. There they were able to see what years of brigades can bring to fruition.
In this healthier community, they helped to build six eco-stoves in local homes. These stoves are more efficient at burning wood, and help spare the homeowners lung infections from smoke inhalation.
“Getting involved in activities like USD Medical Brigades is not only a great way to meet new people, share life-changing experiences, and cultivate skills; ultimately, it is a way to improve the lives of people with few resources and opportunities,” Welcome said.
USD Medical Brigades has been sending students on brigades since 2012. While most students have a pre-medicine background, the organization is open to all USD students. Bryce Olbert is a French major, and Honduras was his second Medical Brigade.
“Even though I don’t fit the typical candidate for a program such as Medical Brigades, I have been welcomed into a community of people who wish to save humanity, no matter who you are affiliated with, and that, together as a collective spirit of hard workers, we can physically and mentally change the world in a healthy way,” Olbert said.
This changemaking sentiment is shared by everyone in USD Medical Brigades, and these students are making a real impact on the world.
Written by: Brooklyn Dippo, Editor in Chief