Group shifts focuses in hurricane-relief effort

A year after Hurricane Mitch, the days of acute emergency in Honduras are past. But the need for help with health care continues, and the Missoula volunteers with Missoula Medical Aid plan to keep traveling to San Lorenzo - with a new focus.

"The post-hurricane days of going down and treating people are changing," Missoula Medical Aid board member Patricia Llorens said in a recent interview. "Everything from now on is going to be done along with education."

The most recent MMA trip, Nov. 9 to Nov. 21, was more a fact-finding mission than anything else, said Llorens and board member Peggy Cain. The team

of five volunteers, who were the fifth team sent to Central America, spent most of their time in meetings at the hospital in San Lorenzo. The hospital, which is a public health hospital, was the site for coordination among the Missoula volunteers, their sponsor Save the Children Honduras and hospital staff. Operation USA of Los Angeles, which supplies education and equipment, is also part of the effort.

"We wanted to find out how all the systems work down there," said Llorens.

The results included a plan to help the hospital cope with hazardous medical waste. Disposal is now a problem for the hospital staff, who are piling it outside the hospital until it can be burned because the hospital incinerator is broken. With people walking on the grounds with bare feet and with dogs getting into the trash, the situation needs immediate attention.

The next team, which will leave Jan. 23 for about two weeks, will attempt to fix the incinerator and install some 55-gallon drums for burning waste as a back-up. The team will also work on cleaning the hospital with the staff. The staff is stretched thin, said Cain and Llorens, and the hospital has very few trained people.

In the spring, two medical teams will follow.

Hurricane Mitch set back Honduras at least 30 years in terms of its need to rebuild infrastructure, they said.

The country, occupied by colonial powers since the 1500s, has experienced democracy only for about 20 years and is the second-poorest country in this hemisphere.

Montana's connection with San Lorenzo is special, Cain and Llorens said - Montanans went to help when others did not, they said, and Missoula residents opened their pocketbooks to speed the effort. Missoula Medical Aid is a nonprofit organization with an all-volunteer board and no paid staff.

"We truly are a global village now," Cain said. "When you help someone in Honduras, you truly are helping yourself, too."

To help with its relief efforts in Honduras, Missoula Medical Aid could use tax-deductible gifts of money, a fax machine for the Save the Children office in Tegucigalpa and Polaroid camera and film for the hospital in San Lorenzo. Its board is also interested in volunteers for upcoming trips, including health care professionals, translators, builders and administrators, and in ideas for shipping equipment to San Lorenzo.

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