Helena gives heart, help to Honduras

Published 3:03 pm Saturday, March 14, 2009

The people of Honduras rely almost entirely on mission efforts from the U.S. for medical treatment and supplies for themselves and their animals.

“Sister Eleanor Cooper, director of Cruzada, loves the people of Alabama,” said Joe Jones, whose wife Reverend Paula Jones is associate pastor of Helena’s United Methodist Church.

Cooper, the ‘Mother Teresa of Honduras’ oversees some 200 churches, sewing and woodworking schools and children’s homes.

Scheduled between May and September, the mission trips, usually 10 days in length, are largely supported by the United Methodist Church. From a single mission team sent in 1995, northern Alabama has grown to 12 teams this summer. For the upcoming May trip, eight of the 18 participants are from Helena.

When the team arrives, several 50–pound crates of supplies (enough to overfill five trucks) will accompany them to be distributed via pick-up truck, the beds of which also serve as the examination tables. These cartons contain multi-vitamins, antibiotics, ibuprofen, allergy tablets and blood pressure monitors, to name a few.

The total bill for this trip will run about $28,000, according to coordinator Cindy Richards, RN, with each participant responsible for $1,500 to cover flight, food and lodging. Medicines are donated or purchased at far below retail cost from pharmaceutical companies.

Richards is part of the team that includes Dr. Josh Miller, ER physician Wendy King, Pediatric Nephrologist Monica Tucci, Occupational therapist Sylvia Wiseman and six translators, one of whom is Jorges Lagus, a native Honduran who will soon earn his American citizenship. Richard’s 19–year–old daughter, Jennifer, a pre-veterinary med student at Auburn, will be going for her fourth trip.

Two years ago, the team went to the Mosquito Coast, a remote area rarely visited where the population still lives without running water or electricity. There, in four villages they treated 1,200 people, 1,100 animals and fitted 500 pairs of eyeglasses. Often the animals, such as goats and pigs, represent the people’s livelihood. Worming, neutering and flea and tick treatment are the services most often needed.

Pat Richards, Cindy’s husband, recalls a pig, down to just skin and bones brought in and administered antibiotics. The following year, its owner was back to tell them the pig had survived and had been sold, bringing in one-half of the family’s annual income. The average annual income in Honduras is about $2,600 (US).

Lodging is provided in the native’s homes. Last year team members were able to save a two-year old who had fallen, hands first, into the camp cooking pot sustaining second degree burns up his forearms. A sling was fashioned to support the arms, alternately, and the boy was sent home with his grandmother to recover.

“When you feed a man, he is no longer hungry at that time, but when you teach him to fish, you help feed him for a lifetime. We see our time in Honduras in a similar way,” agree Cindy and Pat. “The small things we help them with in our days there help to make a change in their lives to the better for many years to come.”