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Slugs Catch the Bug

sluglogoUCSC students ready to offer free health-care in Honduras

Daniel Truong meets me over a cup of coffee during UC Santa Cruz’s finals week, yet, unlike most of his peers, he isn’t fretting over studying or upcoming exams. Truong, a third-year neuroscience major, had a biology final in the morning; his physics test is in a day. He says he simply has bigger things to think about.

On June 21, Truong will lead a group of 20 UCSC students on a week-long volunteer mission to Nuevo Paraiso, Honduras as part of Global Medical Brigades (GMB), an international organization of more than 50 student-run volunteer clubs from around the world. GMB sends almost 1,000 volunteers to Honduras each year, where they “provide sustainable health care to underserved villages.”

Truong and friend, Ida Shahidi, established the UCSC branch of GMB earlier this year, the formation of which Truong says was simple. The act of getting the group’s first brigade trip off the ground, however, was not. Each autonomous GMB chapter is responsible for accruing its own battalion of medical supplies and recruiting doctors to accompany them on their trip. After nearly a year of applying for medical grants, fundraising, handling paperwork and manning endless meetings, e-mails and conference calls, the duo is finally seeing their vision realized.

“[I’m] scared to death but very excited to see everything finally coming together,” says Truong. “We had a frea-out about three months ago about not having medication, money, support, doctors, etc. But to see now that donations are still coming in and [we have] alternative methods of getting doctors, as well as seeing boxes of medication coming into my house, only makes me feel more stoked on the trip.” 
Although the UCSC branch was unable to find a professional doctor to join their ranks (a hiccup in the process that they’ve resolved by teaming up with the University of Virginia GMB club), they did eventually begin reeling in donations. Truong’s house has been filling up with the $32,000 worth of medical supplies and medications they raised, mostly from international medical relief programs and grants.
Among the most needed medicines GMB troops bring to Hondurans are antibiotics like Amoxicillin, over the counter drugs such as Aspirin and Tylenol, inhalers, ear wax removers, eye drops and lice treatments. “And vitamins –that is huge,” adds Truong. GMB groups are advised by the organization to bring enough vitamins for at least 1000 adults and 1500 children for at least one month.
Once the students arrive at their console in Honduras, they work gathering patient information at the triage station, or the pharmacy station, where patients come to gather the medicines prescribed to them by the participating health professionals.

“Our main aspect is to give medical relief free of charge to the people, but it’s not just about going there and handing out medication,” says Truong. The organization recognizes the need to address the roots of the problem in Honduras, where 53 percent of people live in poverty or without access to healthy water resources, and plans to do so with a newly instated Public Health Brigade. Three Medical Brigade volunteers will set aside time each day to assist the Public Health Brigade in tasks such as rebuilding lanterns and chimneys (to lessen household pollution and improve ventilation) and educating classes of Hondurans on hygiene —“like brushing your teeth and bathing correctly, things we take for granted,” says Truong. 

“A lot of them aren’t educated to the point where they know about water sanitation and so this [education] is key,” he says. “We are going to try to implement this knowledge at the beginning point, to keep them healthy throughout.”

The group is counting on the trip to be educational, too. Not only have the members learned from working out the many bugs of running a group and organizing a global volunteer effort, they hope to learn about culture and health problems in Latin America. For Truong, personally, he is expecting this trip to either reinforce his plans to attend medical school, or change them altogether. Either way, he is counting on a life-changing experience. 

““I love travelling, and I love Latin America. I knew there were a lot of problems there but I had no idea until after I started researching it that I actually wanted to put myself out there [for them],” he says.
“My own goal is to be able to put myself, not in a vacation kind of trip, but an immersion kind where I will be learning a lot about how much I am able to handle and put myself out there, especially as a leader…Also, I want this trip to help me reassure myself that this field is [what I] want to go toward.”
Truong, Shahidi and the rest of the group hope to use their testimonies to garner more interest among potential student volunteers and local doctors and medical suppliers when it comes time to start planning for next year’s trip. The group returns on June 27. Visit gtweekly.com for a follow-up about their experience, and http://gmbslugs.weebly.com for the group’s official site.

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