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A Veterinary Mission to Honduras

As we crammed our boxes full of medical supplies, a cooler full of fresh mangoes and cold water, stuffed backpacks full of sun screen and bug spray, bags full of toys and candy for the children, and a cooler filled to the brim with vaccines, I wondered how we could possibly squeeze six or seven people into the back of these old pick-up trucks.  Were we going to tie ourselves to the roof?  Little did I know that jamming six people into what very tiny space was left in the truck bed is the fastest way to get to know a group of strangers with whom you will be sharing the next week of eye-opening and amazing experiences.

The scenery that zoomed by us from the back of the truck was unlike anything I have ever experienced.  It was a mixture of despair and true beauty.  There were extremely impoverished neighborhoods everywhere, emaciated dogs that didn’t think twice about lying dangerously close to being within car’s reach, and barefoot children too poor to afford a uniform to attend school sitting outside of their homes watching the world pass them by.  However, the lush green plants, gorgeous mountain landscapes, sweet smells of flowering trees, and the way that the people’s faces lit up as we waved at them while passing through their village was incredibly beautiful.

One of the most exciting parts of the trip was not knowing what the day would bring.  How far would we be traveling?  Where would we be setting up shop for the day?  What types of conditions would we be encountering?  How many animals would we be treating?  Each day brought with it so many surprises.

As we pulled into the village where we would be working for the day, we were greeted by a large crowd of smiling people and countless animals spread across the land waiting for our care.  It was clear to me very early on what was meant when I heard from another volunteer that having a truck full of Americans visiting these tiny villages for the day was similar to having the circus come to town.  People of all ages gathered around to watch the show intently.  Entertainment was guaranteed for all as they watched us vaccinate and deworm hundreds of animals totally unused to being handled by humans.

I was not sure what to expect from the large animal work.  Having a predominately small animal and research based background, vaccinating cows and horses was pretty foreign to me.  However, this trip centered around learning and gaining experience, so the veterinarian on my team showed me what to do and seemingly thirty seconds later I was a regular cowgirl.  My team became a well-oiled vaccinating and deworming machine, and had a great deal of fun doing so.

I learned how, even despite the language barrier, it is completely possible to communicate with a simple smile.  Although Honduran culture and the culture that we are used to in the United States are very different, we were able to come together and work wonderfully as a team.  The Honduran men wrangled the large animals and lined them up in the chutes that they made for us out of tree branches as we provided the veterinary care.  The Honduran children wrangled the dogs, cats, pigs, chickens, parrots, hens, rabbits, goats, and sheep for us and held them or attempted to, as best as they could, as we gave them health checks, vaccines and dewormer.  Most of us spoke only a limited amount of Spanish, and yet we were able to mesh beautifully and have a highly productive week in Central America.

The people of Honduras were absolutely wonderful, embracing us all with open arms.  Their gratitude and hospitality was overwhelming.  Even if all that they could offer was a shady tree for us to sit under when we took lunch breaks or a smile that showed their true appreciation to us during a moment of chaos or stress.  So what was the reason that over thirty people from a wide variety of backgrounds took a week out of their hectic schedules to serve their brothers and sisters in Honduras?  The answer is simple—God has blessed our own lives so deeply and in turn we were simply called to use those blessings to show God’s love for the people and animals of this beautiful country.

In just four days we treated a record breaking 6,418 animals, tallying our daily count carefully with a paint stick on the bark of a tree.  We helped the people tremendously by caring for the animals that are the source of their livelihood.  However, the American team also benefited greatly from the experience.  Veterinarians that have been practicing for years came away rejuvenated and excited about being a part of the best profession in the world.  Veterinary students that came on the trip worn out and weary from a long hard year of course work came away from the experience feeling refreshed and blessed to be on such an exciting career path.  Students hoping to be accepted to veterinary school came away with an amazing experience to talk about on their applications, and those that were on the trip because they simply love being a part of such a unique experience that so deeply impacts both humans and animals came away with a great sense of joy and accomplishment.  This was truly a remarkable week—and I cannot wait to do it all over again next May!

Jessica P.

Michigan State University

College of Veterinary Medicine

Class of 2011

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