Pat's Blog Honduras & Guatemala June 2013
Sun 16th June Early start with the alarm wakening me just before 4.30am, and at Manchester airport for 6.15 for the first of my three flights to San Pedro Sula. The first leg of the flight was simple to New York but after that a series of changing terminals collecting and depositing luggage and making friends with the sniffer dog in NY airport that was taken by the smell of bananas in my bag - in fact he performed a few tricks for me. After three flights with United Airlines Ryanair suddenly becomes very appealing! Arrived in San Pedro Sula at 9pm - a long day as they are seven hours behind us. A great welcome at the airport and back to Cath O'Leary's house for a chill out before bed. Reality kicking in as the roads from the airport become dirt tracks very quickly as we approach the area that the Hospice and Cath's home is in.
Mon 17th June Awake by 2.45 but managed to get another few hours to get my body clock adjusted to Honduran time. The rain started during the night and boy is it raining. At least its keeping the temperature a little cooler maybe only 82 degrees. The hospice have six Students on work placement this week. Cath has had a busy morning inducting them. The students are from a local school and will be having varying duties during the week from window cleaning to visiting patients Helping tidy the container after yesterdays sale, and one to one activities with patients such as playing board games with those who are well enough. The hospice was a hive of activity for the whole afternoon and the young students were busy mopping the floors, dealing with patients and anything that was asked of them. A very hard working bunch of youngsters. The rain continued most of the day, and after a quick visit to the supermarket we arrived home to find the water supply had been cut off. This happens often during storms and heavy rain and can last for up to two days. I think by evening time my body was needing a little more sleep but I knew I was nearly on Honduran time.
Tues 18th June Well still no running water so the joy of getting showered in a bucket of rain water (after it had been checked for bugs) At least there is plenty of bottled water to drink and for coffee. Even cleaning your teeth and washing your hands is a job and a half without running water. This morning we have two schools on the agenda to visit. the first is a small private school that is supportive of the hospice. some great kids, and very attentive. Cath spoke to them about the work of Jospice and then I spoke tp them about the work of Jospice in Liverpool, our connections and had a lively question time with the youngsters. Questions varied from football to policing and security in Liverpool. It was obvious that children are very aware of the dangers of the area, and were amazed that police to not carry guns in Liverpool. A group of very bright children and at the end of the session there were a good number of bags of goods for the next sale at the hospice. We then went on to visit a state school - a lot more run down, and then drove onto the hospice.
The biggest change from my last visit is the area of ground that has what I would call a massive car port. This houses the hospice mini bus, van and also the two containers. After a quick walk around the hospice I joined the students who were leading midday reflections with the patients.
The afternoon was a pretty full on time as we had to sort numerous bags of clothing that had not been sold at the sale last Sunday, and store for the next sale. Yes, I was resorting clothing and other goods that we had shipped out six months ago on the container. Quite back breaking in searing temperatures but we had the students and some other volunteers helping. The re sorted bags then we to be stored in one of the containers. A ramp has been made for one of them, and steps for the other. When I eventually climbed in I realise that the two containers have now been joined and sliding doors made between them. There are three windows on either side and this give the hospice a massive storage area for donated goods, food supplies and so many other things. It was great to see that not only have we made a difference with the donated items on the container but we have also added much needed working and storage space.
Cath had asked the staff to come in for a meet and greet session at 6pm, and this was really lively session. Cath of course having to act as translator with the help of Leonella. Lots more questions about Liverpool, and we finished the evening with a large cake, celebrating a member of staffs birthday and what also would have been Father O'Leary's 82nd birthday. The session finished abruptly as there was much anticipated football on TV and we joined some of Cath's friends in the house opposite for a drink and the first half. This couple spend part of the year in their home in San Pedro Sula but most of the year in Bermuda where Ian is from, and are employed as caretaker and cook to Michael Douglas & Catherine Zeta Jones with photos in the house to prove it. Home for the second half of the match and some food - a pretty full on day.
Wed 19th June Up again with the lark, or maybe I should say the hens why are they so noisy before 6am. This morning was another visit to a school that makes a monthly donation to the hospice. Some while ago Jopsice cared for a member of staff and this is there way of saying thank you. Then we went to visit a project for young HIV children, this is run by the Domenican sisters. The children can been seen by Doctors, nurses, have time out and also they have counselling areas. A very bright sunny place with plenty of toys and you could see that the project has been well thought out.
Back to the hospice in time for 10.30am Mass. This was attended by many staff, patients the local people, students and a class from the local school. It reminded me very much of Masses at Jospice years ago, when the dog or dogs had to be removed from the chapel before Mass could begin. Lots of singing and movement, and Father Romero the chaplain to all the San Vincente projects is well known by everyone.
After a very quick lunch it was time for the self help group. About thirty attended this group made up of patients, and former patients. Most are happy to share their experiences of the care of Jospice and I heard some horrific tales of the treatment of some of these patients in hospital .Most of these people have AIDS and had been treated like animals in hospital being told there were going to die, so therefore it was a waste of time trying to treat them of even care for them. The Jospice slogan of "Care for the individual" very much came to mind. This was a very moving session and I could visibly see how much help the group were to each other by sharing their thoughts and concerns. Then it was my turn and after greetings from Liverpool lots of questions ranging from football to English food, to do we have beaches. More cake followed this session, and I found Darcy one of the hospice dogs enjoyed being spoon fed!
We then had about 15 minutes to chill before the rains started again - how long for this time.
This evening we chilled at a local cafe for dinner and a little bit of R&R. As we were getting ready to go to bed there was the most enormous crash outside - only to find it was mango's falling on the roof from next doors tree!
Thurs 20th June Today started about 6am with more mangos crashing on the roof, but all in all we had a more leisurely start to the day. We first visited a local school that is part of the project of St Vincent de Paul and has been open 20 years. A scheme similar to social enterprise has been set up whereby the school have funded some former students in a jewellery making business and now they were visiting the school to show their wares. They will repay the school from the profits over a period of time. They were at the school to display there wares and to sell some items to the children (cost all under £1) they also supplied drinks and snacks. A really productive morning, great to be with some many local children from the area, and a young teacher who spoke good English showed me around. Children lined up to say hello and have their photo taken -its amazing how simple things really makes a difference to them. We finished the session with some disco and Gegham dancing. Rosa who has been head of the school since it opened was a delightful host, and is a great friend to Cath.
We then headed north to El Progessio to visit Sister Renee and her assistants from the Medical Missionaries of Mary. The area they are based is a particularly dangerous and poor area and if I thought the roads were bad in San Pedro boy these are the most ropey dirt tracks I have travelled - thank goodness for four wheel drive - and the Jospice supporters who funded the vehicles some years ago. The centre was a little haven of peace and tranquilly and supported children who are or have been physically & sexually abused by their families, special needs children, as well as having a basic health centre and also a tremendous amount of community work looking after people in their homes and also education sessions in remote area that are held for some groups.
We had a quick lunch and a really good chill out at the centre, and it was totally fascinating understanding their work, and how also that Jospice works hand in hand with them, taking patients that they referred for respite. This includes a lady whose husband was shot and she was left for dead having been shot in the feet and both her hands cut off. MMM support this lady in her home, and Jospice takes her three times a year for respite care. She is an inspiration to everyone despite the trauma in her life and is very resourceful having learnt to cope with life and getting around in a wheelchair and looking after herself. The MMM provide funding for her transport and to provide her with a mobile phone that she has learnt to text from. Her living conditions are very basic but she will not accept anything else from the nuns as she feels that goods would be stolen and sold being such a poor and dangerous area.
After lunch adults and children started arriving at the clinic and we could see a busy session was well under way. Hopefully Jospice and the MMM will keep up this good working partnership. On our return we visited a local supermarket for fresh provisions for the hospice. The fruit and vegetables here are amazing and a very large trolley full of fresh food including meat was less than £50. I noted that the last time I purchased half a water melon in the local fruit shop I paid £2.50 - cost here 30p. We then called at the bakery for the weekly donation of bread. You are reminded very quickly of how dangerous the area is when they have to employ an armed guard on the door.
Friday 21st June Up bright and early this morning as we planned a day trip to Morazan. This was no problem as the hens had excelled themselves with choir practice, and one in particular had been up and down her scales from before 6am.The drive up into the mountains was very pretty and specular scenery at times. Pasting through small villages were basic living has not changed for many years apart from a garage moving in and the Coca Cola signs it all is very peaceful. As we were arriving into Morazan part of the main road had totally collapsed, this is still part of the after math of Hurricane Mitch some 14 years ago. Entering Morazan the roads turn to dirt tracks, and thank goodness once again for the 4X4.
Morazan was and still is the jewel in the crown of Jospice. I often wonder what Father O'Leary thought when he first visited this remote village and was asked to set up a health clinic. The clinic is large in three wings and has recently changed its management structure. There is basic health care offered five days a week. A large pre and post natal clinic has also been set up and a Mother and baby clinc where Mothers come to, and have their babies. There were three Mum's in the ward who had had their babies in the last 24 hours - two girls and a boy. The Mum's are normally keep for about 24 hours after the baby is born. The pre birth and post birth rooms can each take four patients. This month in the first 20 days of June they have had 56 births - a busy clinic - normally 800 births a year. Its great to know that this clinic that was set up over 35 years ago is now responsible for the safe birth of a couple of generations in this remote village.
Until recently Cath in San Pedro had helped very much with the supply of medicines for the clinic, but after changes they felt they could manage more indecently, although we still support the salary of a couple of staff. However when we arrived we found the pharmacy was nearly empty, and some staff had not been paid for three months, as the government had not forwarded funding. Cath has offered to help in supporting medicines for short term but it looks as if they have a battle on their hands regarding funding- sounds like home.
After our visit we made a brief call to see Mario & Diane's family and then grabbed a late lunch before we left. Back in San Pedro we called into the city for a brief walk around the indoor market, adorned with every possible sort of tourist trinket, religious items and of course T shirts. We realised it was clouding over and the was rain in the mountains as we returned to the hospice. Shortly after getting back the rain started, and boy did we have a tropical storm. A Sefton wheelie bin was soon filled to the brim with rain water and the palm trees were moving quite violently. We thought a heavy electrical storm was about to happen but fortunately it past us by, but once the rain subsided walking back to the house which is only a few minutes away proved impossible without wading through deep dirty rain water. The children enjoyed paddling in the massive craters of water in the pot holes in the road. A good chill out evening, and after having a large lunch it was great to have a meal of boiled eggs and marmite toast (something I never travel without)
Saturday 22nd June We had planned a trip to the beach today, but woke to fine there was still rain, and internet had been cut off. Cath had to spend a couple of hours at the hospice with the students as it was their last day, so I took the opportunity to catch up on my blog and even start writing the Jospice newsletter. I also needed to start packing and thinking about the next stage of my trip in Guatemala.
We headed out for lunch and a visit to a shopping Mall in the city centre. This visit was a very good reminder of the haves and have not’s in the country and all living so close to each other. The shopping Mall was one you would find maybe in any city in the USA with brand named shops and fairly affluent shoppers and teenagers hanging out. We then headed to a supermarket similar to Costco for some hospice supplies - a quick coffee and then to the Cathedral for the Vigil Mass. I was not going to be able to attend the local church for Mass due to my flight times. the Cathedral was already being decorated for the big feast the following week of St Peter & Paul (Patron of the city) It was announced that the Priest had been called away on an emergency and a Eucharist service would be taken by the Knights of St Columbia. This started, and one of them was still able to give an impromptu 30 minute sermon, by which time a Priest appeared to be able to continue with Mass. Only KSC members are allowed to be Eucharistic ministers and all five were trying to take centre stage. I thought of our group in Liverpool and how supported they were last year of the work Jospice does overseas after I went to speak to them and subsequently raised £3000 towards our work on a sponsored walk.
Sun 23rd June
The second part of my journey is due to start - Guatemala.
Up with the lark literally, and showering, packing and generally running around to get sorted for the airport. However time for breakfast before we leave. We arrive in plenty of time for me to check in for my two short flights - firstly to San Salvadore and then onto Guatemala. Arrive at airport to find the second leg of the journey is cancelled and my only way of travelling today is via Panama City, a much longer journey and then onto Guat arriving at 10.30pm. A quick phone call to Carlos who appeared to not realise I was arriving today, but promised to meet me whatever time. After many conversations I then find the flight is booked up and I am transferred airlines and am flying via Costa Rica. As I write this blog I have checked though security and hoping a flight will take me in the right direction and I will find a bed somewhere tonight. The screens are flashing up flights with names of places that sound wonderful distance cities - but hey I am sitting in one. Fabulous scenery flying in over the mountains in Costa Rica, but for some reasons I have to spend time at the naughty table and after three immigration forms completed I was finally allowed to clear customs, and manage to get lost outside the airport for some time.
More security checks, passport, immigration forms and finally found a gate that said Guatemala - the final leg of the journey I hope. The flight delayed I finally get into Guatelmala at 10.30pm - I could have travelled by road quicker. However Paty & Carlos were waiting to meet me with a big welcome, and a bag of do nuts! I heard that Elena the director of the hospice had turned up at the airport at 4pm with 11 children to meet me and they had spent a couple of hours plane watching. I checked into an airport hotel for the night and just sank into bed.
Mon 24th Jun
Awakened by my alarm just after 7am as I was being collected at 8.30pm and its good to have a shower with hot water. A swift breakfast and arrived at the hospice and children's centre. This week is school holidays in Guatemala so all 68 children are at home needing to be somehow entertained. when we arrived a number of the boys were working off some energy and morning around the buildings, but all stopped to come and meet me. I had a quick tour and met a number of the staff who were all delighted that they had a "visit from England" and I had time to chat to Doctors, psychiatrist, dentist and other workers.
A visit to the large laundry made me realise what it is like to wash and sort the clothes of so many children - I met the poor girl who was sorting the socks back into pairs. My overall view of the building is that although it is only about eight years old it is well worn, and needs quite some maintenance and decorating work done. I then visited the out patients clinic and met patients with their children and also the nurses and doctors who run the centre. they also make home and community visits.
We then went to the rec room were a number of children were having lunch - very reminiscent of school dinners, but all very well behaved, and were polite when introduced to me, although very excited when their photograph was taken. It was quite a day in the orphanage as one of the little girls is to be adopted by a Colombian couple and the "new Mother" had come to collect Marianna. A very emotional time for all the staff and children as she said her good byes, as she has lived in Hospicio San Jose for six years but everyone delighted that she is starting a new life, but some of the children get upset as it is not them who are going to a new family.
We then visited all the children's quarters starting in the nursery where they have four babies under 12 months, including four week old Angel who was found abandoned on the steps of a church. He looked very content as Marianna's new Mum fed him his bottle and then handed him to me to wind him. The room next door had about six children all around the age of two playing with the nursery assistants and lots of toys - and much nappy changing going on between the two rooms. The older children then took me to see their bedrooms, and I was struck by the small rooms they have with six children sharing rooms with three bunk beds in each. It is fine for smaller children but the older ones would love a larger room. This has been under discussion for a couple of years but there is no funding for expansion at the moment. Its great to see that the children aged 10 and over all have duties in the home just as they would if they were living with their family.
Quite a tiring time and we then visited the adult hospice, were again three patients share a small room, but it is accepted as normal. I met a group of ladies who were in for respite care, all very happy with the care they are receiving, but the furnishing and equipment left a lot to be desired, as the beds, tables and trolleys were all very rusty. I have seen much better on the skip at Jospice, and certainly we send better to Honduras.
after this I met with the admin staff and we looked at the web site of Jospice and also photos of various fundraising events that we have had over the last couple of years, and had a good discussion on ways they can increase their fundraising activities, and income. Another country suffering in a recession, but a lot of people there already have very little to give.
It was then time to drive to Antiguia to drop bags at the hotel and go and find somewhere for dinner. Paty Santis the administrator has also booked herself into the hotel to save time from driving back to the city. We find a great place to eat with a Guatemalan samba band playing Show me the way to go home! A good breathing space to discuss a few areas of the hospice, and a time to help with some fundraising ideas.
Tues 25th June
Today is my last day and my meetings with Elena the Director of the hospice and also the Hospice board. Somewhere during the day I also have to make time to meet or talk with Carlos. We leave the hotel at 7.30 for breakfast and drive to the top of a mountain for some spectacular scenery and also something to eat. A little piece of paradise and a chance to see the volcanic mountains at close quarters. Then its head back to the hospice again. This morning I had a couple of hours on my own to meet and talk to staff and children. I ended up for part of it playing football with about six boys, not good when you have open toe sandals. I then started chatting to a volunteer who is also a journalist, who had brought a 16 year boy to the clinic to see the Doctor and collect his drugs. This boy had been on the streets since he was six years old, and had worked in a bakery to get food, and slept in cardboard box. Both his parents had died of AIDS and he was HIV positive. He was arrested and jailed for 12 years because he was found to be with a group of boys who had committed some crimes, mainly stealing food. After seven months when they all insisted Pedro had not committed any offence (apart from being alive) he was released. He had been denied his drugs in jail, and therefore had become very ill. With the help of his journalist friend and Jospice he is being rehabilitated - the whole story sounded like a 21 century Les Miserable. His aim in life is to learn to read and write, but what a lovely lad.
The rest of my day was totally filled with meetings with staff and members of the board of Jospice Guatemala - so much discussion, so much information, my brain is now a jumble. The most touching moment was when about 35 of the children gathered for photos and sing for me. then then queued up to each say good bye and give me drawings and gifts for so many people back home. The older children remembering especially Doctor Heino and it must be nearly 12 years since he came back to England!
A quick turn around and dinner with the board. Still no sign of Carlos, but a phone call at 10pm to apologise and say goodbye he had been in meetings all day - did I want to meet later. Much as I would have loved before leaving for the airport and 24 hours of travel I had to say my good byes over the phone - there is always Skype.
Wed 26th Jun So my last day has arrived and although my alarm is set for 3am I am awake at 2.30am - what? I am in a I in a comfortable room and wide awake at a silly hour. The airport shuttle drove slowly to the airport and after a very swift check in I am once again at the naughty table completing immigration forms and being told no food on my first flight. There is the very rare occasion in life when McDonald's coffee appears appealing, and especially as this McDonald’s will take $US off me .McDonald's coffee hits the spot and this morning there is to get to Guatemala city airport for the three flights back to Manchester. Today yet again I have travelled through many passport control areas, more stamps in the passport, shoes off shoes on
My visit over but many memories, information, photos to return with and the knowledge that the support that Jospice in the UK is supporting some very worth while projects and that we really are making a difference in this part of the world. The patients in our hospice in Honduras, the people supported at the clinic in Morazan, the children in the airport, especially the 5 years old having chemo and of course 16 year old Pedro.