… Project HEAL and El Porvenir.
I’ve said a lot of goodbyes this year, and have had my fair share of “lasts” during senior year at Duke. Yet since I’m returning to Duke for medical school in a year, those “lasts” just applied to undergrad rather than implying a finite end to my Duke experience. I have the privilege to say “I’ll be back” to my mentors at Duke, albeit as a medical rather than undergraduate student, but I can at least prolong my last goodbye to Duke for another half decade.
For Honduras, however, and Project HEAL especially, this really is goodbye for me. It was so much tougher to tell some of my favorite people in El Porvenir, whom I’ve grown close to in my five visits there, that this time was truly my last. It broke my heart to have to disappoint those who eagerly asked me “Cuando vienes?” (When do you come (next)?) because surely they would expect no less than another visit from someone who has visited their town twice a year.
And yet, although having to say goodbye to El Porvenir has certainly been bittersweet, I have a certain sense of peace right now since I have faith that Project HEAL will be in good hands for future projects. This year has by far been our most ambitious project, with multiple levels of service and research, and I’m proud of all that we’ve been able to accomplish with the Davis Projects for Peace Grant and other sources of funding at Duke. It has made saying goodbye a bit easier to know that younger students are passionate about this type of work and hopefully will be able to continue on what I started with their own zeal, fresh energy, and creative ideas. Thanks to everyone, both the Honduras team and the students in Project HEAL, for making this project awesome during my last year as its leader.
Now, it would only be appropriate to say farewell to Honduras by sharing some of my favorite memories, from this year and past years, and to include some of our best project photos from this year.
1. All of the early morning charlas (health talks) at the local health clinic, especially the one where they used our cervical cancer poster.
For these charlas, we used rotofolios (laminated pictures & text) to communicate certain health topics to an audience of patients waiting for the doctor. This was a much better set-up than what our group had tried to do last year in 2010 because these charlas were commissioned by the Honduran Ministry of Health and we also worked side-by-side with one of the nurses to deliver the important health information. It was very exciting for me when I helped with a cervical cancer charla using the poster that I had created, since it was being used right away by the clinic for a health education purpose. One of the best things about these charlas was that they were daily, so that our group could be involved with health outreach even when the day had just begun. These charlas are also completely sustainable of their own accord, and a few times the nurses had already finished the charlas before we got there (ie if we’d had issues with our housing situation and were running late, occasionally the nurses had already finished). Thus, it was an added benefit to us to be able to help out as best we could, but the charlas would still be perfectly fine without us there – meaning that our donated materials would only augment what the clinic already had available for their charla resources – and that it’s a great project to be involved with since it’s not something temporary or unsustainable that we’ve introduced but can’t maintain. Overall, it was a very positive experience to help with these morning charlas.
2. The energy and enthusiasm of the kids at the Kinder in El Porvenir
Although at first it’s always a bit overwhelming to go back to the Kinder, where 5 year olds learn basic info (letters, colors, shapes, songs) before going to primary school, since they are extremely energetic and a bit restless. Yet the more I go back, and especially during our health education camp, I truly miss the kids and their energy. I love when they cry out “Otra vez!” (one more time!) after we’ve finished teaching them a health song, and I can’t help but smile when I hear them singing the song while they’re washing their hands or walking home, or when they look right at me when they’re brushing their teeth & tongue (to show they remembered our lesson). We didn’t spend quite as much time at the Kinder this year, but I still have some fond memories from this year and years past when we’ve spent more time with the kids. I also love that kids that I worked with there 2 years ago still remember my name and wave to me as I walk by them in their primary school uniforms in the street. It’s been great to see some of those kids progress to bigger and better things in the past 2 years.
3. Advertising for our afternoon charla with the colegio (high school) students
Epitomizing the friendly, good-natured spirit of Hondurans, the colegio students were nice enough to help us advertise for our afternoon charla while we were walking from house to house letting people know that they would receive pesticides to kill mosquitos on the following day. I hadn’t even asked the students to help us, but they were generous enough to jump right in and help us tell people about our women’s health charla that would take place the following week (it was scheduled to take place today & will hopefully go well!). The students were very friendly as well and included us in their efforts, and even tried to invite us to a soccer game (but then the soccer ball had a hole in it, so it didn’t work out, unfortunately). It’s good to know that the younger generation of Honduran students have carried on the same friendly, giving, and just plain nice qualities that many of their parents have shown us as well in all my volunteering in El Porvenir.
Which brings me to a more personal reflection, but a lovely memory nonetheless…
On my last day in El Porvenir, I arrived late on Thursday evening at our neighbor Marta’s house, having brought her my leftover bug spray and several pesticide bags for mosquitos. The previous two nights, she had invited me to play their keyboard and to sing some Christmas tunes in both Spanish and English. I had enjoyed my time with her, and was delighted that her whole family gathered around to hear my simple and limited repertoire of songs on the piano. She had quietly made some statements about mosquitos and told me that she didn’t have any “repelente” (bug repellent) so I offered to bring her mine on the next day. Since I arrived late on Thursday evening, Marta was already at church, so I took the repellent and pesticide over to her at the church and decided to stay through the service. It’s quite interesting – I’m not sure if this is true in every town in Honduras or just in El Porvenir – but the church services are every night. It’s quite fitting for a community that values family, religion, and community much more than individual gain or power. The church service itself was quite special ~ Marta announced to the congregation that I was leaving the next day, and the whole community gathered around me to give me a farewell blessing. I’ve never had quite an experience like that, and perhaps never will again, since it was quite moving. Each member shook hands with me and wished me the very best, first in broken English, and then when they realized I spoke Spanish, in full, emotional Spanish frases. Perhaps the most meaningful for me was walking Marta back to her house, during which she held onto my elbow, as if I were her own kin. This reminded me of fond memories of guiding my Grandma around supermarkets and other errands, for which she held onto my elbow in much the same way. Just as the world can be a small place sometimes, it’s possible to find kindred souls in every corner of the world, and to be reminded of times past.
For every ending, there is a beginning of something new, and although my time with Project HEAL and El Porvenir is now over, I’m proud of the sustainable projects I’ve been able to lead over the past 3 years, and I look forward to hearing about our club’s future work in Honduras. I’m sure eventually I’ll find a way (whether in med school or later in life) to make my way back to Honduras, perhaps even El Porvenir, to contribute in much more concrete ways to its health system. Until then, it’s off to England for me, then back to Duke to embark on my medical career.
Farewell, Honduras, y siempre recordaré de mi tiempo allí… (I’ll always remember my time there…)
3 Macaws on my arms at Macaw Mountain Bird Reserve in Copan, Honduras
Several kids at the Kinder in El Porvenir coloring the healthy foods on a nutrition coloring page
“Nutrient Superheroes” during our health camp at the Kinder in El Porvenir
Afternoon women’s health charla (health talk) with nurses in El Porvenir
Early morning charla (health talk) at the El Porvenir clinic – topic: Tuberculosis
Me standing at the municipal center with our Malaria & Dengue poster that is nailed to the building