Greenville residents provide help for Hondurans

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Republic of Honduras is a study in contrasts. The Central American country is one where great natural beauty and great poverty co-exist. Its beautiful children often don't make it to adulthood, due to disease and illness.

In a land with a long history of bloody military coups and political upheavals, visitors find a people who are gentle, polite and generally peace loving.

Two Greenvillians, Rachel Taylor and Kay Scruggs, came to know Honduras and its people this summer as part of a medical missions team based out of Montgomery.

During a two week period, a total of 33 group members held a Vacation

Bible School, worked on school and church construction projects and conducted medical and dental clinics for hundreds of Honduran villagers.

A new experience

As part of the 11-member dental/medical team, Scruggs and Taylor braved blistering heat, heavy rains and primitive work conditions, laced with hair-raising bus trips up steep mountains and hordes of "humongous" mosquitoes.

There were compensations, however – swaying palm trees, mountains, sugar white beaches and "the most beautiful sunsets," not to mention the easy-going, appreciative Hondurans they encountered.

"And those children were so precious – and so good," Scruggs recalls with a fond smile.

Taylor, a dental assistant, and Scruggs, a dental hygienist in Dr. Bob Crosby's office, had never before been involved in such a project.

"Even though Dr. Bob wasn't able to go on the trip, Rachel and I were really interested in being a part of this and decided to get on board," Scruggs says.

"Everyone else on the team were members of St. John Episcopalian Church or other Episcopalian churches in the Montgomery area. We were the only non-Episcopalians involved, but we felt very welcome," Taylor says with a grin.

The two women's own church, First United Methodist of Greenville, gave them "fantastic support."

"The church was great. They held a spaghetti supper and raised about $1,000 to help pay our expenses," Taylor says.

Crayons and Spanish lessons

The two women were also asked to gather as many boxes of crayons as they could to give to the children in the Honduran villages they would be visiting.

"We were told the children would cherish even one or two crayons to draw with. We had church members bringing us boxes and boxes of crayons to take along with us," Scruggs explains.

The two women had to undergo shots for typhus, tetanus, malaria and other diseases before embarking on their journey.

Scruggs and Taylor also spent several weeks traveling to Montgomery to study Spanish with one of the team members, an AUM professor.

"We weren't exactly fluent, but it did help in communicating with the patients. Thank goodness we had translators, though," Scruggs says.

Equipped with military duffle bags filled with crayons and stacks of coloring sheets, plus thousands of toothbrushes, tubes of toothpaste, little soaps and hand lotions, they flew into San

Pedro Sula, Honduras on July 23.

Primitive conditions, patient people

The team also brought plenty of medications for the Honduran patients they would see at clinics in Espiritu Santos, Paujilles and the Garifuna village.

"Pharmacies", often consisting of plastic bowls in bright colors filled with different drugs, were set up at the clinics they visited.

"We found out the people didn't even have things like Tylenol or ibuprofen. We had to take everything down there, even the most basic things," Taylor explains.

From their home base, a village-type complex that once housed fruit company executives from America, the team members would have a "wild" 30-minute bus ride up the mountain.

Once they arrived at their destination, team members found droves of locals waiting in lines that sometimes wrapped around the buildings.

Often, entire families came to watch as their loved ones got their blood pressure checked or their teeth examined.

"People didn't seem scared. They were just very curious," Scruggs says.

A bag of donated eyeglasses quickly emptied the first day. "They didn't care what the frames looked like on them, they were just so happy to be able to see better," Taylor recalls.

Some children were brought to the clinics by their older siblings, who walked long distances with little brothers and sisters in need of medical care.

"The people never pushed or shoved or complained. And the children were so well behaved. Imagine how many Americans could send their kids out like that and not have to worry about them," Taylor says.

Dental "offices," headed up by team member Dr. Bubba Waters, a native of Ft. Deposit, were either tents draped in mosquito netting or claustrophobia-inducing closets.

The dental team's expertise proved to be much needed.

"We pulled multiple teeth on so many patients, probably an average of three to six extractions per patient - and these were surgical extractions," Scruggs explains.

With no surgical drills, no X-rays, using flashlights to see what they were doing, team members saw 75 or more dental patients a day. The heat and humidity were intense and very few places were air-conditioned.

"We were just drenched in sweat most of the time," Taylor says.

"Still, Bubba never seemed to lose his cool. He was amazing," Scruggs says.

Prayers and serenades

The two women say they returned from their Honduran odyssey a few pounds lighter.

"It was just so hot, and you had these kids you knew were hungry. So we gave our lunches away," Scruggs explains.

One dental patient was so grateful for the dental team's assistance, he brought his guitar the next day and proceeded to serenade the dental team.

"Apparently the songs he played were every popular in Honduras, because everyone seemed to be singing along." Scruggs laughs.

Another grateful patient brought the doctor a bag of limes.

"Bubba knew we couldn't bring them back with us on the plane, so he gave them to one of the locals he knew could use them. You know, the people there didn't have a lot, but they still seemed happy. And they were grateful for our help," Taylor explains.

Every evening, the team members met for a prayer service. "We prayed over teeth. We really did. The services also gave us a time of reflection each evening, which helped us a lot," Scruggs says.

Talking about the Honduran children really lights up the faces of the two women.

"We were told not to touch the children because of so many cases of scabies and other infectious diseases, but I didn't care. I touched them anyway, they were such dears," Scruggs says.

"We had a break between patients on the last day there, and one little girl got to sit on my lap and look at the pictures our photographer had shot and stored on her laptop. She was so tickled. She laughed, and pointed at the screen and chattered away like crazy in Spanish," Taylor recalls.

Taylor and Scruggs also praised the young Honduran teenagers who served as translators for the mission teams.

"These kids were so bright and mature. They had been hand picked by their teachers and were such a help to us," Scruggs says.

Peace and tranquility

Though they worked "like crazy" during their days in Honduras, Scruggs and Taylor say the atmosphere was oddly peaceful.

"The people there are so calm and laid-back, we didn't really find ourselves stressing out," Taylor says.

Would they do it again?

"Oh, yes, we are already making plans to go back. I'd go back this year if I could. I know exactly where my Honduras clothes are and I can pack quickly," Taylor says with a twinkle in her dark eyes.

Lots of makeup and hair rollers won't be on their packing list, however.

"You don't really worry about your makeup or how your hair looks; that's not what's important. Anyway, it would all melt off," Scruggs, whose blonde locks fascinated the Hondurans, laughs.

They do want to pack more crayons ("the kids were so happy with those, even if they only got a couple") and plan to campaign for used eyeglasses the next time around.

"We didn't know about the glasses, but we saw how much they were needed. We hope to get some local donations together for next year," Taylor says.

The two women say they stay in touch with their missions group, meeting regularly for retreats and dinners.

Scruggs was delighted to receive a letter just last week from Genessis, the young Honduran translator they befriended.

"I'm going to work on my Spanish. We are going to really be ready for next year," she says with a big smile.