Mission to Honduras provides clean water, basic needs

In May, my wife Mari-Lou and I were virtually going out the door on our trip to Russia when we got an email message from United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) requesting volunteers with skills and experience in gardening, composting and water filtration for a mission to Honduras with a group from Alabama Honduras Medical Educational Network (AHMEN).

For those who know me, my past professional life involved water and wastewater treatment and I am a Brunswick County Master Gardener. Someone out there was calling for my help.

We immediately signed up to join the 10-day mission, June 18- 28. We would like to share our experiences and discoveries about the lives of our fellow men and women in Honduras who go through hardships on a daily basis simply to subsist.

We here in the United States are truly blessed.

The AHMEN team was comprised of 10 people from the USA: Dr. Tom Camp, retired family practice and team director from Quinton, Ala.; Michael Franklin, school teacher and program director from Quinton, Ala.; Dr. Ben Copland, retired pediatrician from Sunol, Calif.; Elaine Marshall, university professor school of nursing in Birmingham, Ala.; Lane Turveville, nurse from Birmingham, Ala.; Caden Camp, massage therapist from Jasper, Ala.; Nelly Fielding, high school teacher from Cordova, Ala.; my wife, a retired medical research associate from Supply; and me, a retired environmental engineer and master gardener from Supply.

Our on-site support consisted of six translators and our driver. We were joined by Dr. Byron Morales of the Southern Institute of Appropriate Technology (SIFAT). AHMEN projects are covered under the umbrellas of SIFERT and UMVIM.

This mission had several objectives, but the primary ones were to teach in the following areas: the effects and importance of clean water; training how to use the Sawyer water filters and establishing a baseline for the effects and impact of current drinking water practices; gardening for better nutrition, soil fertility and composting; the first two minutes of a baby’s life; and the fundamentals of “jewelry” pricing. These classes were presented to community representatives and they in turn were to return to their communities and teach their people what they had learned. With the 55 water filters distributed, they were to share the filtered water with at least two other families, a requirement monitored closely by AHMEN on-site coordinators.

The Mango team, as we were dubbed by Byron, visited several communities, with the primary ones being Jutiapa, Le Ceiba and Cusuna. At Jutiapa we instructed about 45 community representatives over a three-day period and distributed 42 water filters; the Holden Beach Chapel congregation donated 30 of these filters. During these days of instruction, we learned that the children were on parasite and diarrhea as a matter of course. At Le Ceiba, a community on the edge of the city dump, we instructed several entrepreneurial women on how to price the jewelry they made and we taught bible studies to the children.

The gem, but most difficult part of our trip, was at Cusuna, where we met the Garifuna people and Maryanna. The Garifuna are descendents of slaves from west and central Africa who escaped from two shipwrecks off the island of St. Vincent. The escaped slaves intermarried with the indigenous Caribs and Arawaks, resulting in a predominantly black breed of people. The Garifuna were never slaves and co-existed with the French, but when St. Vincent was ceded to Great Britain in 1763, they were expatriated to Central America. Today, they still live along the Caribbean Sea Coast of Honduras and Nicaragua where they subsist by hunting, fishing and planting, much as they did in the 1800s. Their houses are mud huts with thatched roofs and a move up would be a house of bare cinder blocks with a tin metal roof, no electricity and no running water.

SIFAT and AHMEN have been teaching these people for some time and our visit coincided with “graduation.” Before graduation, we taught our material on plants for better nutrition, soil fertility and composting, worms and germs and how to use the water filters. We distributed 13 filters.

On our way to Cusuna, we stopped at Plane de Fleurs where we met a most wonderful woman, Maryanna Moldonado. She was to be one of our graduates. As a child, Maryanna’s dad said it would be a waste for her to go to school; she would only get married and have kids. However, a family friend persuaded Maryanna’s father to allow her to go to school. She completed third grade, got married and had two kids. Josue is a deaf mute and Christian is affected with Down syndrome.

With no resources to turn to, to help Josue, Maryanna educated herself and learned sign language, so that she could educate Josue. Both Maryanna and Josue are attending a university where she is essentially teaching the class materials to Josue by sign language. Both Maryanna and Josue will graduate soon. Maryanna also runs a school for deaf mutes in the surrounding area. The name of the school is Todo es Possible (All is Possible). When we visited, she was home-schooling 16 kids with a wide range of ages, including a paraplegic; 10 of the kids live with her.

Maryanna has “promised” her kids that they will have an outing to Jutiapa, a visit to the city. To this end, the kids started a fundraiser. While we were there, they had raised about 200 limpiras (about $10), a huge sum, but not enough.

Mari-Lou and I will continue to support AHMEN and Maryanna. If you would like to help, we can be reached at 842-6566 or gmwc40@atmc.net.