Volunteer Honduras: My favourite memory in this trip has been interacting with dentists and dental interns on shifts. They have been extremely helpful and encouraging whenever I experienced difficulty in treating patients.
1. How was the local ABV Coordinator and the support provided in-country?
Rafael was an excellent and extremely helpful ABV coordinator. He helped us settle and transition in smoothly (despite some political turmoil in which we landed, unbeknownst to us), he provided us with helpful tips for living in La Ceiba, helped us through daily problems we had, and aided us with communicating with patients in the dental clinics.
2. What was the most surprising thing you experienced?
In the program: The most surprising thing that I experienced in the program was how different clinics were to clinics back home in Australia. For starters, they lack many instruments, materials and diagnostic equipment that we take as indispensable back at home. Appointments are extremely treatment driven without comprehensive diagnostic examinations, investigations, diagnosis and treatment planning that we would normally do before undertaking any form of invasive treatment on patients. Treatment is often dictated by patient wishes even if the clinician thinks otherwise. Furthermore, record keeping is close to nil and sterilisation practices are extremely primitive and would normally be considered as unsatisfactory back home.
At the accommodation: There were a couple of things that I found surprising at the accommodation. The lack of hot water meant that you couldn’t take a hot shower, especially during the colder times of the rainy season in December. Additionally, the portion size of meals was also strikingly different. As privileged individuals living in developed countries, most of us take the amount of food choices and quantity sizes on offer for granted.
ABV: hot water is not a luxury Honduras has as the weather can be very hot, so showers are cold water to overcome the heat.(December temperatures: 79F to 82F)
About the country: The most surprising thing that I experienced about the country was the political turmoil on arrival in La Ceiba, which I had no idea about prior. We experienced flight and transport issues where protestors had blocked off roads including the one serving the airport to the city centre. We had to trek through an angry mob of protestors and climb over barriers that they had formed with all of our luggage. I would say that it was quite a frightening and confronting experience at the time, especially as we had just arrived in a completely new environment. Nonetheless, the locals were very welcoming to us seeing that we were foreigners.
ABV: this was an exception to the norm, the recent elections had some problems with the votes, but things are back to normal, we know you didn’t have any problems while in la Ceiba, all this issues you mention were mainly in Tegucigalpa or the capital.
3. What was most difficult to experience?
Volunteer Honduras: The most difficult thing to experience in the program was working in extremely different environments to one that we were used to. As mentioned before, lack of basic dental materials, instruments and equipment that we take for granted back at home, suboptimal infection control practices, lack of proper instrument sterilisation and appropriate diagnostic and treatment planning procedures was something that required understanding and quick adaptation to while working. Furthermore, I found treating paediatric patients particularly challenging as treatment techniques and practices were extremely different to ones that I was used to back home.
At the accommodation: I found the lack of hot water the most difficult thing to experience at the accommodation, particularly at the beginning. Since I have always had hot water at home, spending a couple of weeks without hot water was something that I had to get used to quite quickly, especially during the days when the weather became quite cold at night.
ABV: small third wold challenges to overcome.
The country: Sanitation is something that Honduras differs remarkably with developed countries. I had a couple of bouts of an upset stomach which did not help when I had my volunteering shifts. However, the most important thing is to understand how to avoid situations that may pose a risk to this occurring in the future. This includes things such as avoiding street food if possible, avoiding ice, drinking bottled water, making sure your food is cooked through thoroughly and washing your hands before handling or eating food. Raphael was excellent in guiding us in this.
ABV: yes don’t eat or drink from street vendors, or when doing a tour, make sure you get bottle water, don’t use ice, and try to eat all your meals at the volunteer house, you can also try food at the local mall or reputable restaurants.
Volunteering in Honduras
4. Tips for future volunteers
- Clothing: If you are travelling and volunteering in December, make sure that you pack long pants, long shirts and sweaters as it can get quite cold, particularly at night and when it rains. Try and leave your expensive clothes and shoes at home as roads can get quite muddy and dirty and you won’t want to risk destroying them.
- Donations: I admit that it was hard for me before I came to La Ceiba to imagine the conditions that people work in Honduras. As a result, any form of donation is extremely valued by the hospital. In the dental clinics, simple restorative equipment and materials that we normally use back home may not be available or be extremely limited in supplies. For example, this may include gloves, masks, scaling and cleaning equipment, dental filling materials, polishing materials, auxiliary equipment such as dappen dishes and microbrushes, alcohol wipes, disinfecting surface wipes, alcohol hand sanitisers, toothbrushes and toothpastes. It will also make your experience more enjoyable having these at your disposal in clinics.
- Weather: Research the local weather prior to travelling to La Ceiba as it can vary during different times of the year. I had expected La Ceiba to be quite hot and humid and did not pack many long sleeve clothing, and thus fell short when it became quite rainy and cool, particularly during some nights.
5. Other things volunteers should know
I did not speak much Spanish before I arrived and regretted it when I realised that communication with locals and patients was often limited because of this. You don’t need to be fluent, but if you can get to a basic level and understand basic conversation, it will make your experience more enjoyable being able to interact on a more personal level.
ABV: you can also download itranslate apps, or take our Spanish lessons course in La Ceiba and print a cheatsheet with keywords and phrases to use with locals.
Something that I was really happy that I brought was traveller’s diarrhoea and stomach cramp medication. You can buy most medications without doctor’s prescriptions in Honduras (except for some psychiatric medication), but it was handy to have it at my disposal as soon as I felt something come on.
ABV: Rafael (local coordinator) also has medication if needed, if other volunteers need help make sure you speak with the local coordinator to help with any situation and email us or call the US office)
6. Personal Paragraph (ABV Program Testimonial)
The ABV dental volunteering program provided me with a platform to further my practical dental skills and build relationships with the local Hondurans. As some aspects of my practical experience was limited back home, the program allowed me to fill in those gaps and build up my confidence. I enjoyed every moment of the program which included interacting with dentists and dental interns, treating patients, working out solutions to challenging problems, building resilience and exploring La Ceiba and its surrounds on weekends. I would recommend this program to anyone completing a dental degree as it will make you a more well-rounded and competent dentist in the future.
Gap Year Honduras
7. How would you describe your accommodation, meals and security
The homestay accommodation that I stayed in can be described as simple with basic amenities provided. There is no hot water which may take getting used to for some. Hondurans usually have three meals a day. Expect lighter meals as most Hondurans generally do not eat as much as those living in developed countries. Breakfast can range from cereal and toast to pancakes and fruit. Lunch and dinner generally consists of rice, beans, eggs and cheese.
There are fast food restaurants around the accommodation if you ever feel you need to supplement your calorie intake. Despite many websites deeming Honduras as unsafe, security is generally in La Ceiba is very good as long as you adhere to common sense and general precautions that locals give (eg. not going out late past 9pm). Hondurans are extremely friendly, particularly if they see you as a foreigner. I don’t think I’ve gotten this many smiles from locals and cars stopping and giving way to me while crossing the road!
8. What was your favourite memory in this trip?
- Program: My favourite memory in this trip has been interacting with dentists and dental interns on shifts. They have been extremely helpful and encouraging whenever I experienced difficulty in treating patients. As dental students or dentists, you will be extracting a lot of teeth which could be of valuable experience as it may not be something that you would do much back home. I also got to do many cleans and fillings.
- Volunteer Honduras: During weekends, I had the opportunity to go white water rafting and visit the hot springs. This was my first white water rafting experience and I must say that it was something that everyone should try at least once in their life! Henry, one of Rafael’s friends, took us on these tours and made our experience extremely fun and exhilarating
9. How was the ABV USA support prior traveling?
Communication (Phone/emails/online chat) I found the ABV USA support prior to travelling very helpful. A special mention to Sarah, who proved to be very professional and an excellent communicator, answering all my questions before and during my volunteering experience.
Website Information: the website was extremely comprehensive in answering the majority of questions about the program that I had. I was confident that it would provide me with an invaluable opportunity to complement my dental education.
10. Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers?
Definitely! I would encourage potential volunteers to ask as many questions as possible prior to travelling. I would be more than happy to help answer questions so that volunteers are fully equipped with the knowledge for an enjoyable and invaluable experience.
11. Can you tell us how you found out or know about A Broader View?
I found out about A Broader View through Google and its website.