After returning from a month-long medical service trip to Honduras, five St. Michael’s College Rescue members have sharpened skills, cultural knowledge and an overall new perspective.
Before they left in mid-May, the advanced emergency medical technicians — Hannah Mishriky, Shannon Roberto, Martin Maloney, Nick Ferrigno and Allison Avery — were accustomed to the well-staffed, supplied and sheltered University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.
The two hospitals where they volunteered in Honduras were incomparable: One was a hospital for working people with insurance and the other for the more impoverished population. A doctor’s appointment at the latter cost $0.25, a price many couldn’t afford.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Honduras is one of Latin America’s poorest countries, with more than half the population living in poverty. It also has the world’s highest murder rate.
“We knew we couldn’t just come with our donations, plop them down and fix every problem,” Maloney said. “We knew we had to spend some time observing and being flexible, and realizing this might not be the way we do things, but it’s the way they do things [there].”
The group kept busy working in a variety of hospital departments administering vaccinations, observing surgeries, doing rounds, assigning patients, taking vitals and more. A Broader View, the service program overseeing the trip, also provided Spanish lessons.
A week into the trip, the five St. Michael’s students said they felt better equipped to treat patients and speak in not-so-broken Spanish. Being present for a month, too, aided in their ability to learn efficiencies in treating patients.
Winooski, a town with a large refugee population, uses St. Michael’s as its primary rescue service. According to the students, their experience in Honduras will prove helpful in their interactions with residents who speak other languages, a common barrier in their work.
“It was beneficial to be on the other end of it when we were there,” Avery said. “To just recognize people’s patience and their willingness to speak in simple terms that you could understand was so helpful for us because it made us better able to integrate ourselves into the community.”
On future calls, Avery said she’ll not only assess the patient’s physical condition, but will do more to engage and ask questions.
One notable tactic Roberto said Honduran patients appreciated was asking them how they were doing. She linked this to the lack of psychological first aid in the underdeveloped country.
Ferrigno noted having more hands on deck allowed Honduran nurses to take a breather, leaving them better rested for the days and patients ahead. Their extra help was useful, Roberto said, but what the hospitals are really lacking are supplies.
Through AmeriCare, the students donated around $8,000 of supplies. Four hours after dropping them off the first day, the students saw their gauze being used, exemplifying the immediate and dire need in the country, Ferrigno said.
Avery recalled caring for wounds with a strip of gauze, some Dial soap and bottled water.
Treatment for children and mothers was emphasized greatly, Maloney added. Some patients coped with 16-year-old wounds and waited five hours a day to get daily dressings they could hardly afford.
A majority of the pregnant women they treated were under age 21 and HIV-positive, the students reflected. In dealing with cases that stretched from their typical duties, flexibility was key, Maloney said.
Leading by example was also at the forefront of their mission, he added. If they wore gloves while treating an HIV-positive patient, then hopefully the Hondurans would do the same.
The junior and senior students said they hoped they’d have an impact, but the outcome was unpredictable.
Their time there was valuable, as they increased the number of vaccinated people, simultaneously decreasing the number of projected sick people, Ferrigno said.
Still, Avery humbly expressed the group is “hesitant to say we had any really huge lasting impact.”
“You can’t just walk into another culture thinking that you have the answers and that you are going to provide something,” Roberto said. “We all walked into it with a really open mind.”
Donations from local businesses, rescue alumni and online support from the larger community were essential to the trip’s eventual success, the AEMTs said.
“It’s safe to say everybody walked away as a better provider and more knowledgeable,” Maloney said, adding younger squad members are interested in continuing the trip in future years.