Spring-breakers serve in Honduras

  • Students with the Global Medical Brigades went to Honduras over spring break.
  • Students went for a week and formed temporary health clinics.

Instead of Florida or Mexico, College of Engineering senior Brittany Obert picked a unique destination for her spring break: Honduras.

But this was no ordinary trip. Obert, along with about 30 other students and 10 health care professionals, went to Honduras for a week to represent the Global Medical Brigades, a service organization originally started at Marquette.

"We go down to rural communities that are isolated," Obert said.

She said she has been going on GMB trips since her sophomore year.

The Marquette GMB has gone on two trips this semester, one over spring break and one in January.

Obert said the group set up free clinics in four local communities in the area. The clinics provide village residents with medical care from the six doctors and four dentists that came with the students.

Obert said the brigade helped 1,200 people in one day at a community called San Juan. She said this was a nearly overwhelming volume of patients.

She said students all play distinct roles in the clinic's operation. Students with medical majors help run the pharmacy or help assist the doctors in the clinic. Students with foreign language backgrounds work as interpreters.

"It's a very eye-opening experience," said College of Health Sciences senior Kim Hanson, who has been with the GMB since her freshman year. "It completely changed my perspective."

On trips to impoverished countries, students are sometimes inclined to feel pity for the people they are serving, but faculty adviser Thomas Peters said that stereotype shouldn't be reinforced. Peters has advised the group since its creation in 2003.

"We don't go down there looking to feel sorry," Peters said.

He said the villages they visit often have a strong sense of community. Children play together and with the student visitors without inhibition.

"We bring much more back with us than we bring to the people of Honduras," Peters said.

He said since the group's creation, the GMB has expanded, forming brigades for business and water purification, amongst others. Peters said a public health brigade is currently in the process of development and is designed to teach villagers how to be more self-reliant.

On the March trip, students spent one day teaching villagers these skills, and some students have suggested creating a public health brigade at Marquette, separate from the medical brigade.

Peters said 120 students applied to go on one of the two trips this year. However, only about 30 new students are selected each year, creating competition for those coveted spots.

Obert said this year's selection process involved trimming the applicant list to 60 students, who then interviewed for the last 30 slots. She said the process ensures that new students selected are the most enthusiastic about the trip.

Mara Brandli, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, said the most memorable part of the trip is how refreshing the experience was. Mike Puglisi, senior in the College of Health Sciences shared Brandli's sentiment.

"I remember the air seeming so fresh and life-giving. Everything seemed ideal when you looked around," Brandli said.

She said though the effects of the medical brigade are helpful, teaching people to be self-sufficient will make a dramatic, long-term difference.

Puglisi emphasized the human aspect of the trip.

"Some of my best memories come from simple conversations with people," Puglisi said. "The people there are just a great group of human beings."

Sarah Bly, junior in the College of Health Sciences, went on the trip for the first time in January. She said one particular conversation with a woman patient will always stand out in her mind.

"She told me, 'You listen, you help us. That makes you a doctor,'" Bly said.

She said the woman told her this in response to her explanation that she was a student, not a doctor. She said the woman's response convinced her of the importance of what she was doing.

Tony Guzzardo, a fifth-year student in the College of Nursing, said the willingness to serve is a key aspect of the trip.

"It instills in you values of service and gives you both the want and the desire to do more," Guzzardo said. "You get to better the bigger picture."