Missoula Medical Aid is celebrating its return to operations in Latin America with its 24th Annual Legendary Salsa Ball at the Zootown Arts and Community Center Saturday.
The long-running nonprofit was forced to suspend operations for the past three years due to the global pandemic, but David Cates and his crew returned to Honduras in October to assist with medical aid there once again.
“It was great to see how successful it was,” the organization’s Honduran Operations Director, Doris Martinez, said of the most recent aid mission. Volunteers with Missoula Medical Aid vaccinated numerous rural Honduran villagers against COVID-19, reaching a population that previously hadn’t received the immunization.
While international visits were suspended over the past three years, Missoula Medical Aid continued fundraising for programs like small business loans and nutrition initiatives.
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“Our donor base was hugely supportive of that,” said Cates.
He touted the nonprofit’s effective use of fundraising. A $50 donation, he said, feeds a Honduran family of four for a month.
“That’s just really good efficiency,” he said.
Missoula Medical Aid has developed into such a lean organization by utilizing partnerships with local entities on the ground in Honduras, a web of relationships that has taken more than two decades to develop.
Missoula Medical Aid sent its first brigade to Honduras in 1998 in the wake of Hurricane Mitch.
“We were amateurs,” Cates recalled.
But his inexperienced team of volunteers formed partnerships and built trust with local organizations in Honduras, and they’ve continued to enhance those connections in the years that have followed.
Adding Martinez, a Honduran local, to the organization in 2016 proved a crucial move for Missoula Medical Aid.
“By having a local being part of the staff, I think that helped the organization,” Martinez observed.
Avoiding corruption, she pointed out, is an important priority for Missoula Medical Aid, and they strive to find trusted partners who support their mission of bettering livelihoods to improve health.
Over 24 years in action, Cates and Martinez said the impact of their work is self-evident.
“When we started, kids didn’t brush their teeth,” Cates remembered. “Now everybody brushes."
“You could see it,” Martinez added. “They’re wider, brighter smiles.”
The Salsa Ball held annually plays a pivotal role in supporting those outcomes.
Salsa Loca plays and trip volunteers get a chance to catch up with their fellow participants, but the focus of the night is fundraising. Missoula Medical Aid holds a silent auction to support nursing scholarships, small business programs, food security efforts and other nonprofit projects.
“People come because they want to give,” said Cates.
“They’re very impactful,” Martinez said of the silent auction programs.
Recruitment is also an important part of Missoula Medical Aid’s success.
Cates emphasized Missoula Medical Aid is unlike some other international nonprofits because the the focus is on providing health services to local communities.
“This is not a family vacation,” he stressed.
Still, Cates said, volunteering with Missoula Medical Aid is a fulfilling experience that hinges on the generosity of its participants traveling to Honduras three times each year.
“It’s a beautiful experience,” he said.