Destination: Rancho Santa Fe (Honduras)
Back in December 2011, I joined a group of other Notre Dame students on a medical mission trip to Honduras. Joining a group of medical professionals (doctors, nurses, etc.) from Minnesota, we flew down to Tegucigalpa for, well, we weren't exactly sure. We knew we would be assisting with a high volume of surgeries in the so-called "hospital" on the ranch, but we didn't really know what this would involve either.
The flight in was harrowing, to say the least. Honduras is a beautiful mountainous region, but the main airport in Tegucigalpa (the capital) is squeezed in this narrow little valley. Sweeping in, the plane barely cleared the initial peaks, and then touched down. And the brakes, my goodness. It felt like you were on a roller coaster where you get thrust back into your seat. Only after returning from the trip did I notice that the airport was ranked as the second most dangerous airport in the world. Anyways, we all made it, and that's what really counts.
After everyone's flight arrived, we took a van to Rancho Santa Fe, which was an hour or so outside of the capital. Really lovely countryside, but the view was spoiled (at times) by the armed military patrolling the highway. Honduras is a notoriously violent country, usually ranking as having the highest per capita murder rate in the world. This isn't as big of a problem for tourists as you might imagine; the violence is predominantly gang-related and driven by the drug trade, and thus targeted at rival gangs (as opposed to innocent strangers). Still, not really a family-friendly destination.
The ranch is home to NPH-Honduras. Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, or NPH, is a series of large orphanages spread throughout Central America where children come from unstable homes to live and attend school. NPH Honduras was opened in 1985 and currently has almost 500 young boys and girls living on the ranch. When we weren't in the surgery center, we were helping out with daily chores, playing fútbol with the kids, or attending dance parties at night (they had two full-blown fiestas for us during our stay, which was so fun).
The group of people that volunteered their time to perform free surgeries for the local residents was incredibly inspiring. We did 60+ critical surgeries that dramatically increased the well-being of ill or injured Hondurans. My main job was cleaning the rooms in between operations, as well as assisting with various other tasks around the center.
We did have some fun, like finding this little water hold at the end of a hike. We all went swimming, and most of us (but not me..) leaped from the cliffs in the background. I did eat some questionable produce for breakfast, so I do have an excuse. But not really.
Overall, I truly treasured my 10 days in Honduras. Performing some type of medical mission is very important to me. Truthfully, I would like to spend an extended amount of time in an underserved area, as opposed to having this short excursions. While our trip was very successful, it was only a band-aid on the health care shortcomings in that country. An extended stay could have the potential to really enact lasting change.