Honduras Memories With Emma

Both myself and Emma Spong, Heart to Heart’s Ready Relief Box™ Specialist, traveled to Honduras to see first hand the Global Brigades operation there, and to hand deliver a Ready Relief Box™ full of medicine to add to the boxes the Medical Brigades already brought with them to operate their clinics.

Here now are some of Emma’s thoughts on the trip, and be sure to click the photos to see full-size:

I have been back in my office at Heart to Heart HQ for a few days now and am already missing the scenic beauty of the mountain communities of Honduras.  I came on staff as the Ready Relief Box Specialist in July of 2011 and I must say that so far, hand delivering a Ready Relief Box to Honduras has been my most meaningful experience with Heart to Heart!

My job with Heart to Heart is to run the logistics of our Ready Relief Box™ program.  I order medicines, coordinate with partner organizations and oversee the packing and shipping of the boxes with our staff at our Global Distribution Center.

My trip to visit Global Brigades in Honduras was my first opportunity to visit with a partner organization in-country, to see the medicines from the Box distributed to patients and to witness the impact of my job.  The first few days we were there, I learned quite a bit about Global Brigades and their operations beyond the medical side.  And that included taking up a shovel and a pick-axe to help a Water Brigade dig a trench for their clean water pipes.  We then spent three days with three separate Medical Brigades which Dan has already blogged about in Parts One, Two & Three.  On the third day we joined the University of California-Irvine in the farming community of Santa Rosa, located high up in the mountains. These dedicated student volunteers not only coordinate a three-day clinic but are responsible for what can be an arduous chore of collecting all the medications needed to stock a pharmacy.

Claudia Moya, the president of Global Brigades UCI Chapter, is just one of these dedicated students.  Before their trip I had worked with Claudia to provide her brigade with two Ready Relief Boxes.  So it was great to have the opportunity to chat face-to-face so far from home and in the midst of the commotion of the brigade.  She told me ordering the Ready Relief Boxes was simple and fast.  Simple!  That is exactly what the Ready Relief Box program should be. And it’s rewarding to know that my job enables our partners to focus on what is most important, treating people in need!



I spent much of my time with the brigades in the pharmacy observing and filling prescriptions.  Many of the patients seen during these clinics suffer from common and treatable illnesses such as colds, body pains and bacterial infections.  But even if an illness is common it can cause great discomfort.  The treatments distributed from the pharmacy were simple to us – a course of antibiotics or even just acetaminophen.  If I need these medicines I just stop by a pharmacy, which can be easily found.  But here? There aren’t stocked pharmacies in these remote communities of Honduras; instead people have to walk for hours to access medicines.  The Ready Relief Box brought these everyday medicines to the people of Honduras. The Ready Relief Box is simple but it brings so much comfort to people.

Now sitting at my desk at HQ working through a stack of Box orders,  I have a much better picture of the impact of my job and how the Ready Relief Box impacts the lives of thousands of people in need around the world.


We’ll have more from our trip to Honduras soon! Stick around…


With The Medical Brigades… (Part 3)

These thoughts and photos are from our recent trip to Honduras to spend time with our partners Global Brigades, and to see their operations first hand.  To read Part One of “With the Medical Brigades…”, click here. Part Two, here.  And remember to click the pics to see full-size.

Photo courtesy: An Ngo, UCI Medical Brigader

Day three of three with the Medical Brigades in Honduras had us following a Brigade made up mostly of students from the University of California – Irvine.  And like the previous two days, following breakfast the Brigaders loaded onto a bus, and Emma and I, along with medicines from the Ready Relief Box™ loaded into pick-up trucks and the caravan rolled out from Global Brigades’ main compound at the Rapaco Hacienda.

Our destination was Santa Rosa, another small community up in the mountains about two hours east of Tegucigalpa.  Along the way we made a prearranged stop at a family’s home to take a look at the conditions many Hondurans live in.  For someone not used to traveling overseas it can be an eye-opening experience.  Especially for an American college student.  The home was plain and simple.  Adobe-style mud bricks supported by lumber hewed from the nearby forest.  Inside was roomy but spartan, dark and cool.



The two or three rooms inside are for living, sleeping and such.  The other spaces i.e. the bathroom and the kitchen, were outside.As the members of the Medical Brigade were given the tour, a young woman worked in the minimalist kitchen, preparing the family’s food.  Under a tarp to shield from the bright sun and over a narrow workbench she kneaded corn flour, turning the dough into hand-pressed tortillas which then went onto a wood-fire stove.  The stove was adobe brick itself and attached to the outside of the home.  A pot of beans bubbled next to the two ‘burners’ occupied by the tortillas.



This was an opportunity to showcase another area Global Brigades works in – Public Health.  GB’s Public Health Brigades help to raise the living standards in numerous Honduran homes by building showers and latrines, and installing eco-stoves to redirect the constant cooking smoke away from the home and the lungs of the occupants.  They’re working on those projects with the family we visited.  From there, it was back in the caravan, and off to Santa Rosa.  This was the smallest, or at least most spread out, community we visited during the week with the Medical Brigades.  Again we were at a high-elevation, but this town was nestled in a broad valley, more of a rural farming village.


The Brigade from UC Irvine was set up in the village’s old three room schoolhouse and in a new school under construction from the Architecture Brigades.  This day was actually rather quiet.  Not that many people showed to attend the clinic.  As we learned, in the weeks prior to a Medical Brigade clinic, GB staff visit several communities surrounding the clinic location and coordinate which day the community will attend the clinic.  Town A on Day 1, Town B on Day 2 and so forth.  And this day just so happened to be slower than the others. Several dozen patients.  But we learned afterwards, the UCI Medical Brigade treated more than 800 patients during their three-day clinic.

Once again, like with the other Medical Brigades, this one ran smoothly and efficiently.  Check-in, triage, doctor’s “office”, pharmacy and the dental section for adults and children.  And I must say, it was rather amazing to see how patient the children were, as students and GB staffers filled their mouths with trays of fluoride goo, and not see one complain or even pitch a fit.

It was yet another fantastic day in Honduras.



Next, we’ll hear from my traveling partner Emma to get her thoughts on the Honduras trip, working with Global Brigades and how the Ready Relief Box™ was put to use.



With The Medical Brigades… (Part 2)

These thoughts and photos are from our recent trip to Honduras to spend time with our partners Global Brigades, and to see their operations first hand.  To read Part One, click here. Be sure to click on the photos below to see them full-size, and check out the gallery at the bottom for even more pics.

Day two of three with the Medical Brigades in Honduras found us with a group out of California, made up mostly of students from Cal State University-Bakersfield. And they, in turn, had found themselves working in one of the most picturesque locations in Honduras – the town of San Antonio De Oriente.

The village is perched on the side of a mountain, about an hour’s drive east from Tegucigalpa.  The houses are mostly uniform, squat single-story homes with terracotta tiled roofs. The roads are more like paths, paved with stones worn smooth over the many years by weather, human and animal foot traffic and the occasional auto.  Now, while each rock was smooth, they were by no means even with each other.  As a visitor, every step was a guess. They were quite steep too.



The most prominent feature in the village is a white-washed church, which stood out brilliantly under the high-elevation sunshine, against the green of the pine and banana trees, and set against the dun color of the dry-season mountainside.





As we saw the day before in Matasanos with the WVU Medical Brigade, the people were waiting.  Again using every bit of shade.  And again they waited patiently.  The clinic was held inside the town’s Centro De Salud, or Health Center.  While there is a building, healthcare for this and surrounding communities is intermittent and nowhere on the size and scope of what the Medical Brigades bring.



This time, due to the space and the layout of the town, the pharmacy was located in another building, behind and well above the clinic.  That’s where the Ready Relief Box was put to use.  It also afforded a gorgeous view of the town and surrounding landscape.




This clinic was run exactly as we saw the day before.  Efficiently.  Every person that came for care, got it. Pretty awesome to see.

In Part Three of With The Medical Brigades…, we’ll head into the Honduras countryside… for now, enjoy the gallery of photos below.




With The Medical Brigades… (Part 1)

One of the things we may take for granted in this country is high-speed internet access nearly everywhere we go. Not the case in the rural areas of Honduras.  Now that we’re back, we can highlight the rest of our trip to Honduras with Global Medical Brigades. We hope you enjoy. (Be sure to click the photos to see them full-size…)

Before we set out on more adventures into the mountains of Honduras, we set about doing a somewhat tedious, but necessary task: Separating the medicines brought in the Ready Relief Boxes into individual doses.  






Not all groups who use the RRB do this, however this works well for the Global Medical Brigades in their clinic system.  They treat hundreds of patients, sometimes daily, during their clinics and it’s much easier to dispense medication if it’s prepared beforehand.

The first clinic we attended was run by a Medical Brigade from West Virginia University.  The location was a small, dusty town named Matasanos, a few miles from the border of Nicaragua, about an hour and a half drive east from GB’s base camp at Rapaco.




We arrived in a cloud of dust and saw well more than a hundred people had already arrived.  Women, men and children stood, shielding themselves from the bright sunshine under umbrellas, waiting patiently for the clinic to open.  The temporary clinic was set up in the town’s school, which not only offered a shady courtyard, but allowed the clinic’s operation to run efficiently from open-air room to open-air room.








Each clinic run by a Medical Brigade is set up the same way for uniformity, as patients move from check-in to triage, then to the doctor’s “office” and/or dental room.  From there there’s the children’s area for teeth-brushing and fluoride treatments and a separate woman’s health room.





Finally, there’s the pharmacy which is staffed by student Brigaders, and overseen by professional Honduran pharmacists employed by Global Brigades.  This room is always a flurry of activity, especially once prescriptions are filled and are handed out to patients. And of course right there in the middle of it all, is the Ready Relief Box.

As it was explained to us, not everyone that attends these Medical Brigade Clinics is ill.  However, these folks live in very rural areas, sometimes barely accessible, and can be cut off during the rainy season.  And so this is the opportunity for folks to get a check-up, to see a doctor, have a new baby examined.





It was a long hot day.  But that was tempered by the cool shade of the school courtyard and by the knowledge that this was needed work.  And of course the laughter from the children and their faces showed it was all worth it.



Next in Part Two of With The Medical Brigades… we’re heading up into the mountains to a Postcard Pueblo.


Into The Honduras High Country…

…or, How To Survive The Rough Roads Of Honduras.

I think we’re still vibrating from the bone-rattling trip Saturday up into the mountains of this part of southeast Honduras.  We were in a 4×4, but that doesn’t make the jostling any less, it just means you’ll make it to the top. You hope.  We’re just lucky it’s the dry season here.

We woke Saturday morning with the plan to head out and up into some communities that are very difficult to access, either by vehicle, burro or on foot.

After a hearty breakfast, we loaded into a Toyota Hilux pick-up truck, 4-wheel drive of course, and left the Rapaco compound, bound for an area that Global Brigades has implemented what they call their holistic model.  This is where they put into practice all of the separate Brigade they run: Medical, Dental, Architecture, Water, MicroFinance and more.  Go here to learn more about GB’s overall mission.

And so we started up.  And up.  And up.  Though Honduras has a long Caribbean coastline, the interior is mostly highlands: wide valleys and mountains reaching in excess of 6,000 feet in elevation.  And these mountains are steep, jagged and rugged.   Driving up the rocky roads you may feel as if you’re in the Rockies of the Southwestern US for all the pine trees and blue skies and chest heaving elevation.

The first community we stopped in, after crossing two rivers (again thankfully it’s the dry season), was Zurzular.  Here, Global Brigades operates a clinic and is just finishing construction on a pretty cool looking school designed by their Architecture Brigades.


From there we went even higher up to the village of Palo Verde.  This is where we met up with a Water Brigade, college students from Northwestern University, busy digging a trench through a coffee plant plot perched on a steep mountainside.




There are many acres of coffee plants in the higher elevations of these mountains.  And most of the people living in these remote villages are way out here to cultivate and harvest the coffee bean.  And due mostly to the remoteness, these villages don’t have, or haven’t had until GB’s efforts, access to clean water or adequate medical care.



The Water Brigade we fell in with was busy laying 6 kilometers (3.6 miles) of PVC pipe from a natural spring and stream higher up in the mountains.  We hiked into the dense forest, down a steep slope, slick with mud, to see the source and how the water is collected and sent down the pipes to houses miles away.




We made the thigh-burning climb to get back to our truck and then drove to the village of Bella Vista. Here, houses are already connected to the system, and clean treated water now flows through their pipes.  It’s not about convenience or luxury, but rather that first line of health defense.

To cap off the day, we drove back down to Palo Verde and assisted the Water Brigade dig a 100 foot-long trench down to knee depth.  Good hard work, which the children and the chickens enjoyed watching.

It was quite the day.

Now, our attention turns to the Medical Brigades that have begun to arrive from stateside, and the deployment of the Ready Relief Boxes.

DW HHI — Posted From Rapaco Hacienda, Honduras

Arriving In Honduras

We have arrived! By we, I mean myself and Emma Spong, Heart to Heart’s very own Ready Relief Box Specialist.

We’ve already been on the ground two days and have done quite a bit with our hosts Global Brigades, but let’s take it back to Friday’s journey to get here…

We arrived in Tegucigalpa, Honduras around one o’clock local time, following a seven hour journey beginning very early in Kansas City.  Now, if you haven’t heard, the Tegucigalpa airport is considered the second most dangerous airport on this globe.  Reason being, planes must closely navigate the mountains surrounding the city and thread-the-needle to make a landing at Toncontin International Airport on the short runway in the middle of a busy city.  There’s no room for error.  Looking out the window with the ground just feet away, people and buildings and traffic all very close… quite the experience.  Just look how close those children are in the photo.

All went very well and representatives of Global Brigades took us to the group’s headquarters where we met the group’s Executive Director Quique Rodriguez, toured their facility, and learned a bit more about their operations here in Honduras.


After an excellent lunch we loaded a pickup truck with our gear and the Ready Relief Box and were on our way to GB’s main compound. It’s supposed to take an hour, but thanks to the hustle and bustle and jam packed streets of Tegucigalpa, it took quite a bit longer.

The place we were heading is a compound called Rapaco.  It was worth the traffic hassles. It’s an old ranch, or hacienda, out in the country about a hour’s drive east of the city.  There we tucked into some amazing food and then tucked in for the night.  We needed the good night’s rest, for the next day was another adventure.

We’re awaiting the arrival of GB’s Medical Brigades.  A handful will arrive this week and they’ll be using the Ready Relief Boxes.  So we took a tour Saturday and visited some communities to check out Global Brigade’s other field operations. We took in clinics, met with community health providers, hiked up and down a mountain, and got our hands dirty digging a water pipe trench.

And the airplane ride into the country… that was nothing compared with the high mountain roads we traveled to reach these places. That is for the next blog post…


Heart to Heart Heads To Honduras

In a few short hours, Heart to Heart is off to Honduras! The adventure begins! 
We are not mobilizing for a disaster thankfully, rather we’re joining with one of our great partners that is doing great work in the Central American country.  We’re also delivering one of our Ready Relief Boxes.  More on that in a moment…

Global Brigades is the world’s largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization. They are involved in projects around the globe, using their talents, energy, can-do attitude and volunteer spirit to work toward improving the quality of life in under-resourced communities.

We’ll be joining several of GB’s Medical Brigades for a week’s time as they work in several clinics in Honduras. We’ll see the students in action and watch how they put HHI’s Ready Relief Boxes to good use.

So follow our in-country adventures here on this blog, on our Facebook Page and on our Twitter feed.  We expect to have some great stories to tell and some great photos to share.  That is, if we have a good internet connection!