Collection Magazine, Winter 2016

Page 12



Friends students serve at public health clinic in Honduras BY PETER KIRCHGRABER P’18


the gathering dark, miles from where we left the pavement, it was hard to tell where the stars left off and the lights of Atima began. Dust and the lingering smoke of wood fires drifted across the valley as our buses bumped and heaved down the last rutted slope into this small town in the coffeegrowing highlands of northwest Honduras. The buses screeched to a stop outside the elementary school, where our local team waited. We stepped out into a sea of hugs and handshakes and quickly got to work unloading equipment and supplies. The OCHO medical brigade was back! So began the annual marathon for OCHO — the Organization for Community Health Outreach, a Baltimore nonprofit — and its small army of volunteers who provide medical, social and public health services in remote communities of rural Honduras. For the next five days, OCHO’s medical staff would see more than 2,000 patients at free clinics in Atima and Choloma, an hour’s drive to the south, and would perform several cataract surgeries. A team of occupational therapists would fan out across the area, visiting disabled children in their homes, ildren await their Atima school ch physicians. with the OCHO


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and providing special equipment to increase their mobility and quality of life. Public health workers would continue OCHO’s outreach efforts on clean water and personal hygiene and would train 25 youth leaders as peer educators for a saferelationships program. In addition to the medical staff, this summer’s team included a host of interpreters, including Friends Upper School Spanish teacher Upper School Spanish teacher Dr. Cristina Saenz de Tejada Dr. Cristina Saenz de Tejada and translates for a local family at one of OCHO’s free clinics. three of her students — Bo Brand ’15, Julia MacGibeny ’16 and Aidan The effort started in the wake of Kirchgraber ’18. Hurricane Mitch, one of the worst Atlantic For the students, it’s a total immersion storms on record, that struck Central experience that puts their Spanish skills to America in October 1998. Hurricane the test. Every moment requires their full Mitch was a disaster of biblical proportions, participation — working side-by-side with pounding Honduras and its neighbors with health professionals, patients and the merciless intensity. Landslides and Honduran team — to ensure the success of widespread flooding left a devastated the mission. For Bo Brand, it meant traveling landscape of failed crops, shattered deep into the countryside to visit children with disabilities, bringing a new wheelchair to infrastructure and stagnant pools of contaminated water, breeding dysentery a boy named Henry and an iPad to help him and malaria. communicate. For Julia MacGibeny, it meant Just hours from Baltimore — closer than helping doctors to diagnose California — a massive public health crisis and treat patients and learning was unfolding, and many in the community to read the sonogram of a felt moved to do something about it. Among pregnant woman. For Aidan them were Drs. Bill McConnell and Ken Kirchgraber, it meant assisting Tellerman, two Friends School parents of in the pharmacy and alumni who organized the first medical upgrading the IT systems at missions from Baltimore to Atima and Atima’s school for specialbrought along their children — Will ’01, needs children. Together, they Thomas ’05 and Katy ’09 McConnell and joined a long line of Friends Shanna ’99 and Rachael ’09 Tellerman — School students who have to interpret for the medical team. served in Atima since this There was no doubt about the need: international public health Under the best circumstances, this mountain collaboration began village was loosely tethered to the outside 16 years ago. world, connected only by a network of dirt roads. Access to health care became nearly