More Beginnings

9/7/2010

 
So it appears that my journey in the world of public health in developing countries overseas is really only just beginning. I am going to be designing prosthetics for Vida Nueva for my senior project and it appears that another class i am taking is mostly a design project as well, for a small city in Guatemala. I also found out about a conference in Kentucky in the fall that gathers all the organizations interested in public health in the developing world, and they are all Christian organizations. I am hoping that I will be able to make it to that. If you would like to start praying for that opportunity that would be great. I am so excited to see what God is going to be doing with all these open doors in the coming year. It is a bit overwhelming to think about all the work to be done, but I really think that there is a lot of opportunity great things to happen.

Looking back on the trip I have now seen what would have been good projects to do during my time there, and it is easy to lament and wish that I had more time, but of course there is no use in doing that. I am hoping that my club this year can send some sort of support to the hospital and that I can maintain some contact with them.

I am also quite sad to see how quickly the Spanish slips away. I am hoping that I can find somewhere to maintain my Spanish this year.

Things that you can be praying for now is that I would really be able to make an impact with my senior project, i would be able to make it to the conference in the fall, and that God continues to direct me in where I can be taking this further.

Thanks so much for your faithful following of this blog. If you want to stay updated on what happens next feel free to shoot me an e-mail jenvandonk@gmail.com or find me on facebook Jen Van Donk

Your support and prayers have meant so much to me and I am so excited to see where God is taking me next!

Blessings!!
 
The last few days at the hospital were filled with a lot of sadness but also a lot of joy at seeing how we had actually left an impact on the hospital. The staff threw us a going away party the last day, with balloons and cake and everything. The cake said "Para Yeni y Ambar." My name while I was there became Yeni. They said that they had had a lot of other students but they would always remember us as the ones who had fixed the washing machine. They said they were thinking about putting up a plaque in our honor, and they also never wanted to have male students again, only female students. I took that as a huge compliment in such a macho society as that is. It was really clear how they began trusting us so much more over the course of the month.

They also bought some shirts for us that had the Olanchito iguana on it, possibly the ugliest shirt I have every owned, but one that I wear with great pride because it represents tons of incredible relationships that I formed.

That weekend we traveled to Nicaragua for the final conference. I did not want to leave Olanchito at all, but once I arrived in Nicaragua I was ready to just leave. I think I wanted to either be in Olanchito or be home. The conference was cool though. It was great to reconnect with all the EWH participants and hear all their stories of their summers. I think the best part though was that I got to speak to a woman who works in the Guatemalan government in the Department of Health. She was extremely informative about the issues they deal with in receiving equipment. She also challenged a few of my preconceived notions. And hopefully she can be an asset in my future interactions with Central American governments

I could tell that the team was eager to get back home. We were pretty bushed. The trip back was very uneventful, but when I got to the airport I met a woman from Honduras and got to talk to her a little about my time there. I was with my parents and they got to hear some of my newly acquired Spanish skills. They were impressed ;)

And suddenly I was home. It almost felt as if I had never left and I had simply dreamed it all. It was kind of sad how easily I readjusted to everything, though i suppose good that i didn't go through the supposed stage 6 of depression.

Anyway, more thoughts and reflections post trip next.

Saving Lives

9/7/2010

 
Alright so here is the long awaited concluding post. I apologize that it is so long in coming, but the past few weeks have been a slow flurry of events. Not that I was actually doing all that much besides hanging out with people, but you know how it goes when there are people around, you just don't feel social sitting down and writing a blog posting. ANYWAY I found this blog posting that i had not posted. I will write a conclusion in the next posting

Ok so I am sure that many of you who read this will be furious that I did what I did, but today I donated blood. I have been wanting to for a while but didn’t have an opportunity until today. I made sure to ask around and make sure that things were safe, and I was very aware of the procedures they used ( and when I wasn’t happy enough with their method of cleaning my arm I cleaned it more myself). Anyway, all is well so far. However the more important thing is that I actually found out right away who my blood was going to. Turns out that Jose Manuel Reyes needed A+ blood, and the hospital did not have any to give him. His mom was fervently praying that there would be some way for them to receive the blood, and I happened to decide to donate today. It was such a sweet moment of seeing God work in mysterious ways. I will not be able to donate for about a year after I get back which is why I was so eager to donate here, and it is so sweet to know that someone could use my blood right away.

Tonight we went to Delia’s house again for dinner. We had so much fun with her and Paula. Delia has not been working during the days this week and so we were really concerned that we would not see her again before we left, and we were not getting a hold of her by calling her so we decided to just walk to her house. As fate/God would have it she drove by as we were walking and we got a ride. Paula was there too and we spent the evening dancing, learning new Spanish, teaching more English, making topoios, calling random men that they were trying to hook us up with, etc. Everyone here is absolutely obsessed with matchmaking, boyfriends, marriage, etc. It is pretty incredible.

Today was also an interesting day because Amber was gone to La Ceiba so I was in the hospital on my own. I was planning on helping Jairo with rewiring a room, however he had Cutin helping him and I was literally just sitting on my butt, so I decided that I could do better things with my time. So I left and tried to do some interviews. I had a fairly good interview with Tanya in Laboratorio (which is also why I decided to donate blood today, cause I was sitting in the donation room) and then I also conducted one with some of the nurses and doctors in Labor y Parto. It seems to be difficult to really find needs that it will be easy to focus down into one specific need, but hopefully there is some useful information that results. Sandra has been really helpful and she said that she was going to ask around and get more info. It never ceases to amaze me how welcoming people here are. For example, I had a lot of free time today, so I went and bought the women in laundry a pepsi and just sat and chatted with them for a while. Then I was really hot and the room for x-ray is airconditioned so I decided to just go sit in there for a while and I met Jackie and chatted with her for a while. It really doesn’t matter if I don’t know them at all, they are just so willing to welcome us into their rooms and chat for a bit. The other day there was another x-ray technician who also invited us in to the room to just relax for a bit and cool off. I have been really trying to take advantage of my free moments to build relationships, sit and listen and ask questions. I think it really has been such an encouraging experience for me to see how much just building relationships really can help. In the states I feel like there is less opportunity to just sit and drink a Pepsi together, but here that is what life really is about. And that is certainly something I will miss!

Anyway, it is late, and tomorrow is our last full day here so we have LOTS to do!! I wish I had just a few more days, but even then I am sure it would still not be enough.

 

Blessings!

 
Alright so we are here in our last week. I don't have much time, but just want to mention that I have finally come to discover that I LOVE it here and I will be sad to go. Its a bummer that it is my last week here and I now finally feel adjusted, but now it is time to leave.

I will write a few more long updates once I get back to the states!

Blessings to you all!

J
 
Amber and I have now completed our greatest accomplishments. Yesterday we fixed a washing machine that had been in service for four months, broke, and they then had out of service for 6 months. Their only working washing machine was a scarily old beast that spewed as much water and soap out the side as it retained in. A technician had previously been there to work on the machine but told them that the problem was an error with the program and they were about to throw out the machine. Fortunately we took a look at it and it turns out that the only issue was with a small switch that connected to the door to let the computer know that it was shut. So we fixed that by bending it a bit and that solved the problem. We were running through the diagnostic program and at part of it no water came in so we were about to start taking things apart, but then we realized that it was because there was no water line attached to that inlet. Thank goodness we didn’t start taking everything apart because we could have seriously screwed things up.  Anyway a lot of people were incredibly impressed, even the director stopped by to thank us. It was pretty great feeling to fix something that people were really dependant on. Today we had a similar experience fixing a sewing machine for some of the women. They were not able to get their machine to go zigzag, so we worked on it for a while and were able to get it to work. Again their incredible enthusiasm was astounding. Not to mention our feeling of success  from starting with a machine that we had little to no idea how it worked to stepping through each of the functions and finding out where the problem was and how to fix it. It is somewhat of a slow process for us because of our limited knowledge, but so rewarding when we do finally succeed. Furthermore, I feel like we made leaps and bounds of progress with building relationships and getting people to trust us. I don’t feel like we will really have a whole lot of time doing nothing now because people have seen what we can do. There is still always that fear that we will not be able to repair the machine though.. and I hate promising them anything that I cannot deliver on.

Last night Amber and I were invited to dinner at one of the nurse’s house.  We got to hang out with her daughter, who is our age, and teach her English while she helped us with our Spanish. I LOVED hanging out with her and chatting. She was really great to talk to because she understands the difficulty of learning a new language so she was really easy to understand. We talked about our prince charmings, or “Principe Azul” and she taught us a lot of the common phrases they use here in Olanchito. That was extremely helpful because those are the words that people use frequently here and we don’t understand.

I think we are finally starting to feel like we somewhat can fit here in this hospital, and now we have just over a week left here. It really flies by when you finally feel like you have adjusted to things. I wish it was easier to feel this comfortable earlier, however some of these things I think just take time to happen. I am just so glad that we have been able to build the relationships that we have, seen the incredible kindness of the people here, and been able to make a bit of a lasting impact.

Next week our professor is coming to town and will hopefully be able to help us with fixing an autoclave, so we are quite eager to see that happen because it is a brand new autoclave that they have had for quite a while but are unable to use because they don’t have the proper power input. I am quite hopeful that we will be able to do some good, so we shall see.

Also this weekend I am traveling to Chuluteca to visit an organization that works with prosthetic limbs as this is what I am doing my senior project on next year. I am pretty eager to take a visit to that organization and see how we will be able to be most helpful next year. Please pray for safe travels as I will be traveling by bus for almost 20 hours this weekend… so long…

Just one more week here, praying that I make the most of it and continue to do good work.

Blessings!

 

Copan Ruinas

8/5/2010

 
  Just got back from the Copan Ruins. It was a crazy whirlwind trip, but well worth it! To begin with, Friday we went to a festival with Dilma, one of the women from the hospital. Her daughter was participating in the “most beautiful Indian” competition that was put on during the festival. One girl from each grade (and a few of the boys) each had handmade costumes made with all sorts of natural materials including beans, corn, seeds, wood, etc. They were absolutely gorgeous and it was pretty incredible to see the detail put into each of the costumes. It was also really fun to be there and see all the little Honduran kids just hanging out and having fun. It is amazing how kids of every culture are exactly the same. You see the same cliques and the same stereo-types. They also had a lot of typical Honduran food that I was really hoping to try, but sadly we had to leave before we got to try any of the food.

So we headed off to San Pedro Sula where we were expecting to meet up with the rest of the group. It was quite a long bus ride, about 6 hours, which put us into SPS at around 6pm, right around the time it was getting dark. Just as we were pulling into town I gave the others a call to double check our hotel reservation, only to find out that they were all already in Copan Ruinas and we did not have a hotel reservation in SPS. Needless to say I was somewhat concerned because I have only heard terrible things about the safety of San Pedro. So we hopped off the bus with little to know idea of where we were going to stay, and I was praying hard that all would be well. This is a good segway into talking about one of the huge blessings I have seen here; I am daily thrown into extremely challenging situations where I am forced to come to my knees before God and beseech his protection and provision. I truly see him constantly providing these. Even things as small as the fact that I usually don’t know whether there will be a bus at the time that we need to take it, but it has always been provided at the right time. Anyway, so we hopped off and made our reservations for the bus for the next day and got a recommendation for a hotel. The taxi driver that we ended up with was great, however he had no idea where the hotel we suggested was. But he was dropping another couple off at a different hotel, so we decided to just check there to see if they had room. Turned out to be a great hotel with a wonderfully cute couple working there. I felt very secure with the hotel and the taxi driver (which has not always been my experience) and it was such a relief to feel well taken care of. The only bummer is that somewhere in the midst of the shuffling around I lost my sandle and umbrella. Fortunately fairly small things but still so frustrating nonetheless.

The next morning we got to the station an hour early for our bus, however we were not certain where we needed to board. So we waited inside the station for an hour, and when we finally got on the bus it was just about to leave and was entirely full. We were a bit baffled as to why no one told us the bus was here sooner so we could actually have a seat, however such is life. So we ended up standing for the first few hours. However I saw some amazing acts of generosity toward myself and Amber and it was just incredible to see how caring people are. One man offered to hold my bag on his lap because I was fighting with it a lot (ok sounds kind of sketchy but he was a very amiable older man who didn’t look like he could hurt a fly). Then a few others offered their arm rest for Amber and me to sit on. Later two guys offered to move over so Amber could sit in a seat with them. Turns out they were part of a church band and were on their way to do a concert. It was cool talking to them for a bit, though I had to chuckle when they began discussing how they thought it was possible that 9/11 as God’s judgment on the states for not teaching the bible in schools anymore. It was a tough conversation to have with the language barrier, let alone the fact that I couldn’t really hear what they were saying. I have not had much opportunity to really delve into religious conversations with people here as I would like to. It appears to me that the last thing Honduras needs is more missionaries, they appear to be overflowing with those. I think they need now is people who are working hard (in the name of Christ) to rebuild this society.

It appears like this country has had periodic spurts of development, but everything that appears like it was at one point nice is neglected and run down. It feels like there is very little hope of things getting better soon. It’s so hard for me to figure out why these countries have such an impossible time developing.

Anyway, so we made it to the ruins and met up with the rest of the team to take a tour. They are incredible ancient Mayan ruins and it was just gorgeous and awe inspiring to be there. The rest of the team had taken a horseback riding trip prior to arriving at the ruins and were rather worn out, so I felt like I had the better end of the deal because I was fresh and very much enjoyed the ruins.  Later we took the most sketchy/amazing ride in the back of a truck to some hot springs. We piled in like cattle and were all quite eager for the ride holding on to the sketchily affixed railings of this truck. It wasn’t until about 10 minutes into the ride that we would be standing there for an HOUR before we arrived at the springs… I was really quite convinced that either we were all going to die or the truck would just stall out and die. We had 16 people piled into this tiny truck. The bed had holes developing where we were standing, and every time the driver turned the corner and we were thrown against the railing the whole sides of the truck began to sway as if they would fall off. When we arrived at the springs the truck was smoking. The hot springs were… nice? About half of us decided we didn’t want to pay for the expensive springs so we stayed in the janky pools down below. But we still had plenty of fun. And just when we thought the ride there was bad, the way back was even more ridiculous! It was dark and had begun to rain. Then the fog came… We were all in the back soaking wet, muddy, and the ground was even wetter. Also the way back was considerably more uphill than the route there and halfway up every hill the truck sounded as though it was about to die. Somehow, still not sure how, we made it back alive and nearly all of us considered kissing the ground when we returned. It was the greatest roller coaster I have ever been on, the suspense and adrenaline lasted for an entire hour!

When we all returned we were starving, but pretty much everything was closed. There were some street vendors selling food, and I wasn’t convinced at how safe it was, but since it was the only thing available I decided to take a chance, and it was actually fairly tasty considering what it could have been. The stray dogs there, however, are a force to be reckoned with.  I realize now how incredible it is to have animal services to pick up all the stray dogs. They really can take over!

Sunday morning we had breakfast at an amazing little café. We had nutella and banana crepes and fresh fruit. The city is actually quite incredibly beautiful. The roads are still cobble stone and the roofs are tile. It is a beautiful place surrounded with green hills. Though I was only there for less than 24 hours I enjoyed every minute of it! The ride back was fairly uneventful, but LONG 10 hours of bus travel in one day can certainly drain you. Fortunately I have a wonderfully active mind and can keep myself entertained with just thoughts for a few hours ;) All in all, a great weekend!

Blessings!

 

 
This past weekend we went to Roatan Island.  It was certainly one of the most gorgeous places I have been! It is an extremely expensive (ok expensive relative to the rest of Honduras) tourist island, however it was so beautiful that it was worth it. Interestingly enough, the tourist areas were nearly empty. Apparently during the week all the big cruise ships come but on the weekends there is virtually no one. I was quite glad that it was so empty, more room for us to enjoy.

Without a doubt the best parts of my trip were the two times that I got to go diving. I just got my scuba license in the fall and I was able to put it to great use diving in some of the most beautiful places ever. I am sure that I didn’t even get to see the coolest parts of the island, but it was still so incredible! I saw pipe fish, clown fish, zebra fish, sting rays, lobsters, huge schools of every kind of fish possible, eels, and to cap it all off I saw a sea turtle! They happen to be my favorite animal ever and it was amazing to see on right there so close. I really wanted to race after it and touch it, but I decided that might be a bad idea. It is so magical swimming around and being so close to all these amazing types of animals. It really feels like a city just like they portray it in the movies.  I realized that I have a long way to go in becoming a professional diver, but I had a ton of fun. Definitely inspires me to go diving more! And it was really nice to be able to see more than 3 feet in front of me! Haha I am sure that the conditions here were not even the best they can be, but compared to California diving it was incredible! I decided I may have to forgo one of the later weekend trips to dive twice, but for me it was well worth it.

The rest of the weekend was just fun hanging out with the others from the team. 16 of us all made it over to the island so it was pretty sweet just seeing everyone and comparing experiences. It seems like everyone has some things better and some things worse. I realized though that I am quite happy here in Olanchito. I really enjoy our host family and I think that I like the aspect of our hospital that we have to forge our own way. It can be really frustrating at times, but I feel like I am accomplishing more personally. I suppose we could be more helpful for the hospital if we were not faced with so much resistance, but as far as personal growth it is so much better.

Unfortunately one bad incident happened. One of our teammates had a lot of his stuff stolen. It was really sad because he had so much with him. Theft is certainly a prevalent threat here. I have tried to be so careful and praise God I have not had anything taken yet, but even a momentary lapse of attention can result in a lot of problems. Such a bummer!

I think being away for the weekend and speaking so much English almost made it harder to come back and be here. Monday Amber and I were both exhausted which I believe is a big reason why it was so much harder to be back. I enjoy the weekend trips, but I am sure it would almost be easier to just remain here and not become unaccustomed to this lifestyle.  Or maybe I just need to not be such a weirdo and enjoy my weekends away and come back and enjoy my time here as well.  I feel like my emotions are sometimes out of control here. I suppose when you are thrust into something as strange and challenging as this that is bound to happen, but still I wish I had more control over these sudden swings of emotion.

Speaking of emotion, this week is the one year “anniversary” of the death of our host mom’s son. It is terribly sad and she is quite emotional. It’s challenging to know what to do in a situation like this, I suppose just give a big hug and let her know that it’s ok to cry, but still a tough time for her I am sure. And not only that, her grandson is currently in the hospital with Dengue Fever. It’s a bit of a rough time, but she is a strong woman and I certainly admire her.  It’s great because she often sits at the table with us at meal times and chats with us. She has been a wonderful host mom.

Thanks for your prayers. If you can be praying now that my patience continues/increases as I feel like I have been a little snappier lately, and also that we continue to make headway here in the hospital and be as helpful as possible.  I would also love to hear a quick message of how you are doing!

Blessings!

Jen

 

 
So the running joke here is the 4 stages of culture shock. We are frequently evaluating ourselves to see which stage we fall into. Even the slightest signs of unhappiness are sure indications of stage 2 (the stage of depression, homesickness, and overall hating your life). While I am not sure I would consider myself in stage 2, I have certainly been experiencing the struggles of life here, and do at times long to be back in the states. I think the worst is when I am so frustrated with the technicians and lack of resources here at the hospital. For example, the other day we wanted to work on cleaning some aspirators, but it was so hard to find a spot to clean them (let alone rags and alcohol) that I nearly wanted to give up. Not to mention that my frustration had already risen after spending considerable time on an intercom system that would not work. It is just so tiring always trying to fight with crappy tools, the inability to access any of the materials for ourselves, and technicians who are less than helpful.  Needless to say I am sure I was probably not the best partner to work with yesterday. I suppose I am just used to being able to access things much more quickly.

HOWEVER, today was infinitely much better. We have befriended Dilia in Labor y Parto, and she was incredibly helpful today. We got our own spot in one of their rooms, they gave us access to all of the resources, and it was just wonderful to have a little bit of space and assistance. We were able to repair several machines, including a few aspirators, a few infusion pumps, and a pulse oximeter. And by repair I mean we cleaned them up a bit and figured out how to use them. It is quite amazing how often they throw out a machine simply because they don’t understand how to use it. They do not receive the manuals they need in Spanish and many of the nurses I am sure do not have the highest levels of education.

The most frightening thing that occurred today, though, was that as soon as we fixed one of the infusion pumps we asked if we could have an iv and some fluid so we could test it. So the nurse promptly took us over to an IV and told us to connect it. The only problem is that the IV was CONNECTED TO A PATIENT. I was like, what the crap I have no idea what I am doing. I really had never even attempted to use the thing and I had NO idea how it worked. Thank God it was a fairly straightforward machine and we were able to get it figured out fairly easily. And it was just saline solution so not quite so dangerous. Still, I think I probably should have been a little more firm in asking for a separate bag to test on so that I was not affecting the patient. These were women in labor about to give birth and we were in there screwing around with an infusion pump. I felt terrible. I also almost fainted. Haha. I am normally quite fine with needles and medicine and what not, but for some reason this got to me today. Perhaps it was the moaning women who were clearly in lots of pain, or I don’t know what the issue was, but it was a very new experience for me. I really wanted to watch one of the birthings, but that did not happen today. Maybe another day. It is so different because the family/husband does not come in, there are just two big rooms with a few beds each where the women lie as they are dialating, and then there is a room where they give birth, and then they are whisked out. Women here typically have at least 4 to 5 children, and sometimes as many as 11 -13. Our friend Jorge said that it is because they don’t have electricity so as soon as it gets dark they just have to go to bed…  ;) I think it is still a joyous time, but certainly not as big a deal as it is in the United States.

Anyway, we were also attempting to fix a broken fetal monitor. That was the most frustrating because they are pretty clearly in need of these monitors, however we spent the entire day attempting to repair them and were extremely unsuccessful. These machines were incredibly old, and we are not very knowledgeable about how they work, so alas we were not able to accomplish anything. However, once again they had us test the probes on the patients as they lay there. So I got to test the heart beat of a very pregnant woman, sadly we could not get it to work :( I feel so strange because I am clearly not a doctor and there is much that I don’t know about dosing and all this medical stuff, but I am learning quickly. For instance, there is 20 drops per one mL of fluid. And a drop in Spanish is a gota. We had no idea what that was today. Haha oh the adventures we have!

So all this to say that we are encouraged by our progress in the hospital (today at least). Oh and our friend Jorge said that tomorrow he would get us a gallon of alcohol and some towels. I am quite pleased that we asked him about it and I think it will be really useful. Oh and lately we have started sitting with him at lunch. He might move to the states soon and so every day he wants to practice his English. We talk in Spanish while he speaks in English. It’s a great way to practice for all of us. I would love to continue that tradition because it gives us more access to the hospital as well.

There are still many areas of the hospital that we have yet to explore, so we are eager to get into all those different areas, but for now we are trying to finish up in Labor y Parto since we appear to have a pretty good thing going there.

Hopefully things continue to look up from here!

Blessings!

 
So I was not really sure what to expect in working at this hospital, but whatever my expectations were they were probably wrong. I know that they mentioned many times that we are going to have to build relationships, and that the locals are going to be skeptical at first, but it is even more true than I imagined. Also I have been suffering a very mild case of traveler´s illness and, especially in the mornings when I feel the most ill, the thought of a whole day of heat and attempting to figure out what we are doing and how we can be helpful does not really seem all that appealing. But I am still eager to push through. And Amber has been great at maintaining a positive attitude and she is very driven. 


Right now we are eager to get into the hospital and start meeting more of the staff and start an inventory of all the equipement they have. Our Jefe (boss) doesn´t seem to trust us too much yet to be able to actually repair any equipment, so I know we will have to forge our own way a bit more. Today we couldn´t work at all because they were fumigating the hospital. Yesterday too we helped repair a couple sphygmomanometers and spent the rest of the day just sitting around. It is disparaging now to think that that might be each day, however reading some blogs from past participants indicates that they each felt similarly in their first few days, but after some time of meeting people and making friends they were able to have some sort of impact. I am seriously praying the same. 


Anyway your prayers are appreciated. Missing you all and the States right now, but hoping for much more here too!


Blessings!

Honduras

7/19/2010

 
Hey so I made it to Olanchito. So far so good. Things are really hot, and my stomach is revolting against me a bit, but nothing too serious. I am living in luxury here with Maritza Quezada. We had our first day at the hospital today. We were shown around the hospital, managed to repair one sphygmomanometer, and spent the rest of the day sitting around and attempting to talk to all the other staff. It is extremely difficult to understand the Spanish here so far, they have a very different accent than costa rica, but we are managing. I feel kind of stupid at time, but hopefully we pick it up quickly. Fortunately there are several people who are willing to be patient and sit and talk to us. I think Amber and I are going to have to be pretty proactive in getting work to do as they don't seem extremely eager to give us work, but I think that we will just have to build some more relationships and hopefully get to do some good work. I think it will be a challenging month for sure, but I am praying for lots of strength and well being. Please keep praying that my stomach holds up, that my patience holds up, and that we are able to be productive here in the hospital.

Blessings,
Jen