Club member Mike Harris participated in a humanitarian mission
to Honduras with a Dartmouth Medical Team. Together with the Norwich
non-profit group ACTS (Americans Caring Teaching Sharing), the
Dartmouth team helps run medical clinics and community development
activities in villages located in Yoro, one of eighteen "departments" into
which Honduras is divided. The town of Yoro itself has a
population of two thousand. It is a true wild-west re-embodiment,
including private armed security agents guarding the bank.

There is no visible governmental presence. Public education in
Honduras extends only through the sixth grade, and ACTS helps
support increased schooling in the remote mountains of
Yoro. Mike joined the mission as a Dartmouth College faculty
member concerned with educational issues.

For photographs from the Dartmouth mission to Honduras,
including a picture of Carlos' horse,  check the photo album
entitled "Dartmouth in Honduras" on the Lebanon-Riverside homepage.

The Dartmouth team first stayed in the city of San Pedro at a
residence called the Banana Inn, a former headquarters of the
old Chiquita Banana Company. The team shopped in San Pedro
for ten days worth of supplies before heading out into the
mountains to the remote village of El Rosario, a small community
with a population of eight hundred people, barely accessible by a
grueling three-hour drive over terrible roads and a final forty-five minute
trek off road. There are six other villages further on that
are even poorer than El Rosario. Last year when a Dartmouth
team visited the area, a storm during the monsoon season had
wiped out the road. Engineers without Boarders has provided
some of the population with electricity and water lines and has
built water tanks and latrines.


Three widespread conditions prevail: 1) the roads are terrible; 2)
litter is everywhere, particularly because of modern plastic
packaging that can't be burned; 3) pigs, goats, sheep, chicken,
cattle, etc., are also everywhere - with fences serving to keep
them out of local housing rather than in their own barnyards. In
what might have been a Freudian slip (or perhaps his Dartmouth
conditioning), Mike intended to allude to "Animal Farm" when he
referred to the prevailing atmosphere in El Rosario as similar to
"Animal House."


The clinic provided the team with cold showers and an outhouse.
Mike was recently surprised when he came across a picture of
"his" outhouse in a photographic display of the trip hung in a
Dartmouth academic building. Luckily, in comparison to past
years, all members of the team stayed healthy throughout the
trip. Doctors visit the clinic six times a year; a local woman
trained by the medical team runs the clinic the rest of the time.
This arrangement has had a powerful, beneficial impact on the
health of the community. The regard that the local population
has for the mission is illustrated by the determination shown by a
young woman named Yessina, a nurse in training who walked
and hitchhiked for twelve hours from her village in the mountains
in order to spend time with the doctors. One hundred people
from one of the villages (twenty families in all) hiked to the El
Rosario clinic all dressed up for the occasion!


El Rosario is well off compared to villages further back, where
the main means of support is the production of charcoal out of
corn husks. Despite the attempts of mission teams to introduce
"sustainable harvests" into the area via the cultivation of corn,
beans, and coffee, local tribal lords suppress any change in the
economic structure in order to hold onto their privileges. For this
reason, all the clinics have been set up to be run by citizen
committees, not the local lords.


The team used bed sheets to structure examination rooms. Mike
observed how heartbreaking some of the cases were. In one
instance, doctors examined a twelve-year-old girl and her
younger brother, both of whom appeared to be autistic and who
were being cared for by their ten-year-old sister. The doctors
diagnosed the two children as having a condition called fragile-X
syndrome. The mother of these children was still nursing a three-year-
old child who seemed very underdeveloped. One patient
named Carlos came from a remote village which has no roads. A
polio survivor with badly malformed legs, Carlos rides an ancient
horse everywhere and remains irrepressibly cheerful. He has
just recently begun to learn to read, a skill that he is very proud
of. He sustains himself by caring for a vegetable garden.


Mike intends to return to El Rosario in March with Dartmouth
students to work on solutions for the sanitation and trash
problems. One of the education projects sponsored by ACTS is
the establishment of a small library in El Rosario where patrons
will leave a tool of some sort as collateral for a borrowed book.
There is a need for books in Spanish for the library. The address
for the ACTS Website reporting on its projects is
www.ACTSHonduras.org.


Bill Sahlman noted that one of the problems facing
humanitarian efforts in countries like Honduras is a lack of
coordination among groups that are attempting to help the local
people. An NGO of some type is needed to connect the groups
and focus their efforts.