Georgetown agency helps 200,000 Central Americans
Seven or eight times a year, teams of volunteer medical professionals and non-medical support volunteers head to remote villages in Honduras and Nicaragua. Team members hail from all over the United States, but the organization that makes it all happens is headquartered in Georgetown.
In the middle of a warehouse stocked with medical supplies, MEDICO co-founder and executive director Lynda Peters said the week-long trips can be grueling.
"We have been known to have to stop at a certain area and have to bring our supplies in by horse or mule to get it there, or 4-wheel-drive trucks," she said.
And when they do arrive, things often don't get much better.
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"You may be sleeping on the floor of the school or work in a place where there might not be plumbing, where there might not be electricity," said Peters. "If we have water, it's usually cold water. It may be in a little makeshift shower that they have constructed for us. Or it could just be a garden hose that's hung over a pipe with some tarp around it and that's our shower facility."
However uncomfortable things may be for the Americans, though, life is even tougher for the villagers.
"Some people will walk four, five hours just to come to the clinic to bring their children to receive vitamins or medicine for a fever or whatever, just to be able to see a doctor," said Peters. "They don't have access to doctors in many of these areas and they have no financial resources to go into the city to see a doctor, so this may be their only chance."
When the MEDICO volunteers do reach a village, they work with local groups like Lions' Clubs , for example, to set up and organize things.
"We want community input and we want community buy-in," Peters said. "If a community wants us to come and do all the work for them, we won't do that."
There is plenty of work to do. Patients line up by the hundreds for heavy duty dental work, thorough eye exams and new glasses, and all manner of medical care.
"We can handle small surgical procedures, lacerations, broken arms, skin issues; we do a lot of respiratory health issues and just the general aches and pains. There's a lot of malnutrition that we see, so we distribute maybe 20,000 vitamins on each one of our trips."
Still, the focus is on basic care.
"There is only so much we can do when we're on a field team because we don't have x-ray machines or other equipment that might be needed," Peters said.
So some cases can't be dealt with in a temporary clinic setting, but MEDICO also provides money to get such patients to hospitals in their own countries, or as in the 1997 case of conjoined twins, to bring them to the United States for surgery."
MEDICO's work, though, goes well beyond teeth, eyes and bodies. The organization also runs an "adopt-a-village" program.
"What we've done is supported a school with school supplies. We provide scholarships to children who want to go on and get something other than just a sixth grade education, because most of these remote villages do not have access to junior high and high school. We provide health education programs and a dental floride program."
MEDICO even tackles water supply issues, erecting clean storage systems in place of dilapidated collection tanks.
In the process, the volunteers bond with the villagers and with each other and despite the fact that each of them pay roughly $1,500 each for the privilege, many of them return year after year."
"It's hard to leave the people behind because you know there's so many more that need your help," said Peters. "When you do humanitarian service outside of your own country, something unique happens to you. You realize the abundance that you have when you place yourself in a culture that is unlike your own. You realize how fortunate you are and so you have this deep desire to go back and keep paying it forward.
"It's the hope you've provided. You showed compassion; you showed them that they are valued as a person and you showed love for them. So that's far more important than the medicines you left behind."
Saturday night, in Georgetown, MEDICO will gather its supporters together to remember all this and launch its next 20 years.
The office is located at 2955 Dawn Drive, Suite D .