Sunday, September 27, 2015

Reflections on the USD Medical Brigade to Honduras

By: Stephen Ferraro

            “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world.  In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  As I returned from USD Medical Brigades recent trip to Honduras, this quote by Margaret Mead really resonated with me.  While the work accomplished over the past 10 days by these 26 students, 4 doctors, and numerous in-country staff was admittedly short of “changing the world”, I couldn’t help but feel that we had made a significant difference in the lives of a few people in the small rural communities of Santa Cruz and Granadilla.  In addition to the positive impact this brigade had on the lives the community members we worked along side, I believe this trip profoundly impacted the lives of the USD students as well.  Many of us have returned to San Diego determined to continue catalyzing this positive change for the rest of our time at USD, and throughout our lives. 

For those who are not familiar, USD Medical Brigades (USDMB) is a student run club on campus that functions under the non-profit umbrella organization Global Brigades.  Our mission is to create sustainable community-based change in underserved populations, with an emphasis on collaborating with and empowering communities to help themselves.  USDMB has been a club at USD for 7 years and typically participates in 2 international service trips per year, during intersession and summer breaks.  As implied in the name Medical Brigades, a large portion of our brigade and preparation during the semester is centered around fundraising for medications and recruiting physicians, which allows us set up a free healthcare clinic in communities that would otherwise have no access to one.  However, an equally important aspect to providing sustainable change is our holistic approach.  The second half of our brigade is spent engaging in a project that addresses a socio-economic or environmental challenge that is affecting the community.  This holistic approach is of paramount importance because while providing healthcare to a community is greatly needed, if the entire community is sick because their water supply is contaminated, supplying medications is merely treating the symptoms of the problem, and is therefore an unsustainable solution. 

With this in mind, our past brigade to Honduras was a medical/water hybrid.  During the 3-day healthcare clinic, we were able to provide medical, dental, OBGYN, and optometric consultations and treatments to over 1,300 patients.  The fact that we were able to provide access to healthcare for the entire community of Santa Cruz in only 3 days it is a sheer testament to the dedication of the students, doctors, and in-country staff.  Each morning we would wake up with the sunrise to eat a quick breakfast, load up the trucks, and then drive 2 hours to Santa Cruz.  Members of the community would already be waiting for us at the local school where we would quickly set up the healthcare clinic.  While the physicians and healthcare professionals are the essential aspects of providing healthcare, the students organize and facilitate most of the clinic.  Aside from assisting and shadowing the doctors, students independently conduct the triage station (record family history, chief complaint, blood pressure and heart rate) and charla station (youth and adult education on health topics and sanitation practices).  After every patient has received the consultation, treatment, and medications they need, the students reload the trucks and drive 2 hours back to the housing facility, exhausted but satisfied. 

The second half of our trip was spent constructing a water system to provide the community of Granadilla with a sanitary water storage cistern, pump and piping to deliver chlorinated water directly to each house.  This water project was especially meaningful because it allowed us to interact directly with the community members and get to know them on a more intimate level.  One community leader explained to us how they had wanted running water for the past 26 years, and now would no longer have to walk miles to and from the water source each day.  Being able to work side by side with the community and performing manual labor under the scorching Honduran sun was both rewarding and humbling.  There are few things more sobering than putting down your shovel after 2 hours of digging to take a water break, only to see an elderly woman and 7 year old boy still digging, with a hole twice the size of yours.   

There are a many things I took away from our time working with the people of Granadilla, one of which was a profound respect for their culture and way of life.  It is easy to come back from an immersive experience such as this with a greater appreciation for all of the things we have in the US that many other countries lack; however, it is much more meaningful to come back with an appreciation for all the things that communities like Granadilla have, that we lack in the US.  I couldn’t help but notice that the harsh conditions and difficulties they experience collectively only brought them closer together and engendered a cohesive sense of community that I have never experienced before.  I also came back with a heightened sense of awareness and responsibility toward the service that can be done in our own local community, specifically with the homeless, refugee, and native populations.  I realized that out of all the “things” we have here in the US that other countries lack, the most important are all the resources readily available that can be used to help those in need. 

As an organization, USDMB has provided students the unique opportunity of participating in community service projects in rural regions of Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Ghana.  
Through these experiences the club itself and its mission have had the opportunity to grow and evolve as well.  With the University of San Diego being designated an AshokaU Changemaking Campus, it is important for us to be constantly discussing and redefining what it means to be a “changemaker” and how to accomplish this in a responsible and sustainable fashion.  Initially, USDMB had focused on providing healthcare to rural communities on an international level; however, a deepened understanding of the fundamental principles of changemaking has inspired us to evolve our organization to better embody these principles.  We are constantly striving to become a more comprehensive force of change on the international, local, and personal levels.  For this reason we have begun to incorporate a curriculum of cultural and personal education throughout the semester, along with increased engagement of service within the local San Diego community.  If you are someone who is passionate about catalyzing the change you wish to see in the world, we encourage you to come join the USD Medical Brigade service projects in rural regions of Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Ghana.

Below is a video from our past brigade to Honduras, which provides insight into the USDMB experience.  

If you are interested in joining USD Medical Brigades please contact

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