What compels a person to travel to a third-world every year for two decades, to provide nursing care in less-than-ideal conditions?
Charlotte Clive, of Bethany United Methodist Church in Ellicott City, is that nurse. She will make her 22nd trip to Honduras in early November with a team from Honduras Humanitarian Missions.
Charlotte is a registered nurse who has worked in a wide array of medical situations to include obstetrics, hospital nursing, med-surge, ICU, orthopedics, and home care—a little bit of everything. She says her experiences make her a good candidate to go on a medical mission trip, because she’s seen a lot and can quickly assess problems and direct patients to specialists on the team.
Honduras Humanitarian Missions (HHM) is a local non-profit lead by Pastor Gustavo Elicigui and his wife Mildred, who is a physician. HHM puts together teams of local and foreign doctors and nurses to work in rural clinics throughout the country. Charlotte said that typically the team includes GPs, dentists, ophthalmologists, and nurses. Bilingual high school students from larger cities serve as translators for the foreign workers. Charlotte commented that they too experience life-changing moments as they see how the other half live in their own country.
First Trip – “Overwhelmed my Senses”
When Charlotte made her first trip in 1999, she was overwhelmed by the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch the previous year. She recalls swollen rivers, water stains on airport buildings 2-stories high, and terrible roads. Their 90-mile journey from the airport to their assigned village took 10 hours that year, because of the terrible state of the roads. Over 5,000 Honduran people died in 1998 because of the hurricane.
85% of Honduras is mountainous, so travel through the country always involved going up. People were very isolated in their villages. There was no electricity, no potable water, no doors on house, dirt floors in the rural areas. Some of her patients had never seen a white person before and wanted to touch her skin and see if it felt different. “It was very eye-opening, that first time. My senses were so overwhelmed I couldn’t sleep at night. I sleep well in Honduras now, because I’m so tired and I know what to expect.”
Despite their circumstances, Charlotte found that people seemed to accept their lives and carry on. “Anything they received, vitamins or toothbrushes, was ok. They felt blessed to get any help. They are very religious people and believed that God was taking care of them. “
Improvements in Health and Education
Over her 20 years, Charlotte has seen improvement in Honduras. “People have a better understanding of health care. They acknowledge that they need it. People want that for themselves, they want it for their children.” People are following simple guidance, like hand washing, using clean water. They realize that they didn’t have to suffer with intestinal problems (big issue) and have a better life if their health is good.
Education has improved as well. More people read. The government mandates that children go to school through the 8th grade, which means that most young people can read and write. Charlotte said that many adults were not literate and had their children read medical instructions and translate for them at the clinic. School beyond 8th grade is more difficult to attain in the rural areas; higher eduction is possible, but must be arranged privately.
Wages are low in Honduras. The average salary about $8 a day, less than $1 an hour. Being so close to the Equator, the sun rises and sets at 6:00, marking the typical work day—to include the hours of the clinics where Charlotte has worked.
“Health and education is much more important than years ago. People want more for their children,” said Charlotte.
This year Charlotte is waiting to see how things have changed since she was last in Honduras in 2019. She expects that COVID will impact conditions as well.
Support from her church
Bethany United Methodist Church has supported Charlotte in a number of ways, to include financial support and donations of over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, bandages, toothbrushes, and seeds. Charlotte has taken as many as 50,000 pills in her luggage. Over the years, she’s also used her network of medical contacts to purchase medicines and supplies. Charlotte said that people in Honduras were thrilled to get the seeds, and often tell her that they will share their packets with others.
Bethany UMC also has a team of seamstresses who’ve made hundreds of small cloth drawstring bags each year for Charlotte to pack her medicines and supplies. Children from the congregation also got involved by writing messages of friendship on some of the bags.
This year Charlotte is taking funds from the church to buy medical supplies and some chickens or other livestock for the village. One year the HHM team pooled their own money and bought an animal for the village.
When asked about her personal safety in Honduras, a country that is not recommended by travel by the State Department, Charlotte said that Rev. Elicigui is well-known in the region. He is in touch with local authorities and HHM announces that the team is coming to help and that they are only there to improve the health of the community.
Medical Needs at the Clinics
Addressing intestinal parasites is so important, said Charlotte. Some children get medicine for parasites in school, but if they are missing school the clinic provides treatment. Charlotte noted that American children also have gastrointestinal problems, but she observed that in the U.S. we have an expectation of clean water and good health. In Honduras they have no such expectation.
Eye examinations are huge—especially for women who often sew to make money. The dental staff are also in high demand to take care of cavities, tooth extractions, etc., as most villages have no regular dentists.
Asthma is a big concern for children who breathe in lots of smoke since most cooking is done over an open fire inside the house. The clinic teaches people to cook outdoors, but that may not be possible for some. Diabetes screening and education is also a big need. She has seen patients dramatically improve their sugar levels over the 2-week period that she is in the country
“Those small things add up to a lot. If I am able to help someone in a some small way it’s worth the trip. It’s so impactful that people here in the U.S. pray for people in Honduras and give them help. We do it in the name of Christianity. We do it because we’re supposed to. People are grateful because they know it is not just from people but from God.”
Making a difference in the life of a child
Charlotte tells a story about a little girl from a remote village who came to the clinic with a clubbed foot.
“She was 4-years old and her bilateral clubbed feet were so severe she literally crawled up the aisle to the exam. She couldn’t even stand. She could only sit with her mother. It was just heartbreaking. Charlotte had personally gone through a similar situation with her own daughter, who was diagnosed in infancy and was treated. Charlotte had lived with this.
Charlotte helped to connect the girl’s family with a pediatric orthopedist and the girl was moved to an urban hospital where she was in casts for 6 months and then had surgery. She was almost too old to attempt to change her feet, but they did it. Bethany UMC supported the family throughout the process with funding for her treatment and travel expense for her parents to get to the hospital.
The next year when Charlotte got off the bus to start her work, this same little girl ran to Charlotte to thank her. “She went from crawling to walking, to running, to going to school. It was so important. Disabled people are treated like pariahs. Children are kept out of society. This mother was persistent in getting help for her daughter. The 2-week clinic changed her whole life. “
So Why is she going again?
Charlotte concluded, “Every time I go to Honduras, there might be one person like that little girl. That’s why I’m going.
“It’s a profound feeling that is hard to describe without getting emotional. I would like to transport a person from the congregation to Honduras for one day to see what life is like there.
“It’s so important to connect with other people. one-on-one—especially after the last several years when we’ve been so isolated. The little moments, the individual care. It makes a big difference in the lives of the people. It’s made a big difference in my life too.”
Charlotte added that when she joined Bethany UMC some 30 years ago and learned about Methodist history, one of John Wesley’s quotes sticks with her: Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. “It’s a lot to live up to, but something to always strive for,” she said.