Written by Sandra Hughes, MD
After several long clinic days I feel truly exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Physically, it is hot in this country. Couple this with tiny buildings, many people, and tin roofs, and you have a pretty steamy place. Despite this being my third trip, I continue to feel emotional while in the communities. The poverty continues to astound me. The everyday needs surprise me. Plenty of people will say there are poor people living in the US and I agree. The difference is that there simply is hardly any safety net here. For those living at or below poverty, there are limited governmental supports to help. Many people depend on neighbors and volunteer organizations like this one to supply the aid they need.
These days the people of Pancho Mateo happily open their community to us. They greet us with their smiles the moment they see our truck. This community is by far one of the poorest I’ve served in. The children are always smiling, but some walk around barefoot with minimal clothing. Many appear to wander without adult supervision. In communities like this, everyone raises the children, not just the biological parents. What a difference this must make. Our family is all the neighbors. Can you imagine this sense of community? Today we met an 11 year old who said that she was caring for her 4 younger siblings while her Mom was away in Haiti. This is definitely not your typical childhood. Apparently her neighbors look in on her. I still can’t imagine how this happens. But the siblings were all happy and playful, the youngest about 2.
HHI meets medical needs with a force here in their communities at all times, training local Community Health Workers to care for the patients when we volunteer Physicians from the U.S. are not here. I feel it is a privilege to be part of Health Horizons. I truly believe that we, myself included, are making a difference here. The rewards are personal, I feel better about me because of what I can offer here.
No trip to Pancho Mateo is complete without a walk to the river. If it weren’t for the garbage dumping, the area would be beautiful. The river that runs is relatively small. There were several kids playing and bathing in there. There was lots of laughing and horse play. But as I look on, I think in horror of all the pollutants that are there. The garbage on the small walk to the river is everywhere. If it weren’t for the sound of the river, you would think you were walking into a dump. For the people of Pancho Mateo, the river serves many purposes, bathing, washing clothes, dishes and, for some, drinking. For the poorest, this is the most affordable water source. Drinking water in this country comes in bottles, not fancy little bottles for toting around to the gym, but bottles for clean water to drink.
Enough for now, need my sleep and energy for another trip to Pancho in the morning.