By Tamara Tellis/Staff Writer
In 1998, a hurricane swept through and caused significant damage in parts of Honduras. Ever since that time, volunteers from the United States have dedicated their services to help the people of Honduras.
Dr. Jennifer Alverson of Eyecare and Eyewear in Southside, in conjunction with Southside Baptist Church, recently joined in the annual service by volunteering her medical expertise in Honduras.
“We have several doctors,” said Alverson. “We have dentists, a team of nurses, an eye doctor and a pharmacist. It’s something that we can do to treat their short-term needs but not much to treat their long-term needs. We give them what we can in terms of glasses that have been donated.”
The mission is run by Mike Anderson, who resides in Honduras. The Honduras Baptist Dental Mission is based in Mississippi and was started 40 years ago by four dentists from the mission.
According to the group’s team leader Bob McCartney, Alabama was asked to try to bring volunteers to Honduras to help build little houses in 2000. The next year, Mississippi Baptist became very involved in the project and asked for a medical team to be present. The mission is held yearly in the villages of Honduras.
“We go through an organization that’s based in Mississippi, the one that asked as to carry the medical team down,” said McCartney. “We always go out in the little villages. We don’t go to big cities. We travel on an old school bus, about seven or eight hours into Honduras and we set up and do a medical clinic for three days.”
The team visited San Sabastian Limpera this year and began setting up the clinics as soon as it arrived. The eye care clinic is usually set up in a schoolhouse.
“I can’t do a full comprehensive eye exam because I don’t have that equipment, but basically we meet their visual needs,” said Dr. Alverson. “We try to get them a pair of glasses if needed, and sunglasses. They surely need sunglasses because of the geographical location they are near the equator so they have a lot of exposure to the sun. We have a pharmacy for there is a need for eye drops. Most of the time it is just meeting their visual needs.”
Most of the residents of Honduras travel to the clinics on foot and stand in line in order to be seen by doctor.
That may be the only time that they have ever gotten medical attention.
“One thing we get out of it is to see an elderly person who hasn’t seen very well in years and Jennifer will finally give them their glasses and they just shout,” said McCartney.
“The smile on their face is amazing,” said Dr. Alverson. “I know just enough Spanish to get through an eye exam and the word that you learn is “claro,” which means clear. So they finally get to the point of being clear and they are just ecstatic. We’ve also had some children with really, really high prescriptions and I am amazed that they were even able to function.”
The mission happens every year in April. It takes $12,000 to ship materials needed over to Honduras. The local mission holds a few fundraisers to pay for the project.
“We have a golf tournament yearly over at the Attalla Country club and it has been a real asset to us,” said McCartney. “They don’t charge us to use the course. Southside Baptist usually has an art show that raises some money and some of the churches help us out.”
A number of churches are involved with the project as well as people from Albertville, Boaz and Birmingham.
“I’ve actually had a nurse from Washington State that has called and is interested in going with us,” said McCartney. “They go on the Internet and look at the webpage of the organization that we go through and I get contacted from all over the United States of people trying to get involved in this.”
The mission also orders the medicines from Europe and has them shipped directly to Honduras. McCartney said that this method cuts down on cost being that getting those supplies from a third world country is less expensive.
Though the volunteers primarily are there to meet the medical needs of the locals, they must also look out for their own safety.
“We have to keep it clean,” said Dr. Alverson. “When we go through the lunch line, its bleach water, iodine water, clean water and then you dry [their hands]. We try to make sure that we are not getting any of the [illnesses]. This last time we only got to shower because we had torrential (heavy) rain. We didn’t have running water so when it finally rained we were like, ‘yay!’”
“We don’t always have running water or electricity,” said McCartney. We do have to take all of our bottled water with us. We can’t drink any of the local water at all. If you accidentally do, it only takes one drop to be sick. Of course, their immune system is built to where they can drink it and it doesn’t bother them but it will us.”
In Honduras, a man in his 30s makes his way through the crowd of many people waiting to be seen by volunteering American doctors. Since his sight is poor, his brother helps guide him to the clinic entrance. Dr. Alverson soon learns that the man has a very unique prescription.
Hoping that she has a pair of glasses that will match, she has her assistant search through the assorted donations of eyeglasses. Amazingly, there was a pair for him with the exact prescription.
“Those glasses were donated,” said Dr. Alverson. “Somebody had that high really unique prescription here in the United States and it was on the table right there in front of her. We organize the glasses when we get there and we thought we would never get to use these. You just never know what the need is going to be and God provided. That just warms my heart.”
“There is always something you can go back to and say ‘God had to have been there’ because it just defied logic,” said McCartney.
Aside from medical service, Dr. Alverson and her team takes shoes, baby clothes and other donated supplies to Honduras.
“The first year I went, when we got finished there were some children out playing soccer,” said Dr. Alverson. “They were playing soccer in gravel with pretty sharp rocks and they didn’t have shoes on there feet. I realized they were kicking around was a tin can and I thought, we have got to get them some shoes.”
Southside Baptist Church collects the donation of shoes for the next mission trip. Dr. Alverson said that her garage is filled with shoes until April when she ships them to Honduras. She has several hundred pairs at a time.
“As Christians, our duty is to help each other,” said McCartney. “Do unto the least of thee, you have done it unto me so we feel that it is part of our job to try and help our fellow man. They know we are sacrificing. They know this is not our common everyday duty or life to sleep on an army cot and take a bath out of a bucket, so it makes a difference in their lives to see us coming.”
“It does your heart joy and the joy I get from that one week carries me through,” said Dr. Alverson. All I can say is, pictures don’t do it justice in trying to describe the feeling you get just being there in the midst of God’s work and just giving. They are just so open, so ready to hear the word and so ready to receive a hug. It is hard to leave too. When we are packing up that stuff and the children’s faces are all lined up at the fence. They are all so sweet. The department also gets donations of candy so we are throwing candy over the fence to the little ones.”
The mission trip lasts a week, taking one day for travel. Monday through Wednesday are clinic days and Friday is free day.
“Now they actually have a clinic on site for the dentists,” said Dr. Alverson. “Some of the dentists stayed behind to do dental work while we enjoyed shopping and having a free day. So some of them work the whole time they are there.”
Alverson has been attending the emission trip on and off since 2002.
In preparation for next year’s trip, White Springs Baptist Church, located at 4411 Rainbow Drive in Rainbow City, is now accepting donations.