Sisters volunteers treat kids in Honduras
Last updated 12/5/2023 at 9:40am
Volunteers from Sisters recently returned from one of many trips to Honduras with the nonprofit Heart for Hope.
Dr. John Spomer, now a Central Oregon resident, helps orchestrate the trips in collaboration with Cadena de Amor in Honduras. Before Heart for Hope partnered with Cadena de Amor (Chain of Love), the Honduran non-profit worked with Medical Teams International of Portland, Oregon, to provide dental care for grade school children. Ten years ago, Medical Teams International phased out its support of Cadena de Amor. With the help of Dr. John Spomer, Heart for Hope gradually became Cadena de Amor's principal financial source.
According to their website: "Since then, Heart for Hope has also responded to several other areas of need in Honduras, such as small construction projects undertaken to help meet basic housing needs, especially those of women and children. Dental services have expanded to serve secondary school students in San Juancito and other villages."
Dr. Spomer has been on countless trips to Honduras, volunteering with village dentists to bring dental care and education to grade school kids. Kathy Campbell is a former professor at the University of Oregon and, since retiring in Sisters, has enjoyed volunteering for many organizations and keeps returning to Heart for Hope.
"Every trip is an opportunity to continue the education and work with kids we've seen before, and the kids are wonderful and so happy to be with us during the clinics," said Campbell.
Dr. Spomer sees Heart for Hope's work as an essential aspect of everyday life in the villages in Honduras. His goal is to bring hygiene practices and dental care to every child of grade school age he can, to reinforce good practices early in their development.
"We love the work and are continuing more projects such as building homes for single women raising families; that's one thing we started doing more this year," said Spomer.
"It is such a privilege to serve these underserved communities there, and to travel there and raise money is such a reward and is so much fun. I've met some great people through the organization, and our partners in Honduras, like Dr. Gloria and her team, are the nicest people," said Campbell. "We always say when we arrive again that we are home in Honduras; it is like a family."
Dr. Gloria, one of the Honduran dentists, is a pediatric dentist and works closely with Dr. Spomer and the volunteers.
This past year, Sisters volunteers and Heart for Hope took two trips, one in June and one in November, to the Honduran villages to continue seeing kids and educate them on dental hygiene practices.
Dr. Tom Rheuben, a well-known Sisters dentist, took the trip in June and spent his days seeing 30-60 kids daily. He described seeing kids walking to school with Coca-Cola bottles.
"That's almost all you see there because it's so readily available and cheap due to big money from Coca-Cola to sell their product where sugar cane grows. Drinking that much sugar without proper dental care is rotting these kids' teeth and is a huge health crisis there," he said. Rheuben described seeing decay and rot in almost every single child. Most of the decay and rot were in the primary teeth (or baby teeth), but he is hopeful that these kids can save their permanent teeth through continuing visits and education.
Rheuben has always wanted to be able to travel and make a difference, especially in a poor country like Honduras.
"To see beautiful kids' smiling faces just fills your heart, and what we're doing is just a drop in the bucket in a country like that, but to see their smiles makes it all worth it," said Rheuben.
"The November brigade patients brought the total number of youngsters treated in 2023 to 2,783 in 10 locations. We know that this dental care improves their overall health, self-esteem, and educational achievement - all made possible when a child's teeth are healthy, clean, and pain-free," said Campbell.
Dr. Spomer brings volunteers along to help set up the clinics in the villages, usually in an open-area entertaining room. They bring dental chairs, lights, tools, and whatever else is needed to turn it into a full dental clinic. Volunteers help set up and tear down clinics, sterilize instruments, and set up areas for the dentists to treat each child.
"We would fill an entire 25-foot truck with dental equipment, and it was a major undertaking to unload it and set it all up. Four hours after arrival, we had a fully operation dental clinic. It takes some serious manpower, and that's where the volunteer help comes in," said Rheuben.
Teresa Mills, finance manager at the Sisters Folk Festival, went on the most recent trip in November as a volunteer and said this of her experience in Honduras:
"My message is that my heart is full - full of love and respect for all that reach out and care for these beautiful children; and love for these precious kids. I hope our work leads to overall health for the kiddos, and long-term awareness of dental hygiene that can, hopefully, span generations. Health outcomes are much greater with healthy teeth."
If you are interested in volunteering to go to Honduras with Heart for Hope, you don't have to be medically trained or know any Spanish, although a bit of training is preferred. Campbell encourages anyone interested to visit their website and reach out directly to get involved: http://www.heartforhope.org.