The Salvation Army Greater Philadelphia’s Captain Omar Rolon and Major Migdalia Lavenbein went to Honduras on a medical mission trip to change thousands of lives. They returned a week later with their lives changed too.
“My mind cannot erase all that I have seen and experienced in Honduras. Quite frankly I don’t want to forget, because I have grown as a person,” said Major Lavenbein. “I suppose it’s impossible to witness suffering and heartache and walk away unaffected by it.”
Major Lavenbein, co-commanding officer of The Citadel Corps Community Center in Northeast Philadelphia, and Captain Rolon, co-commanding officer of The Tabernacle Corps Community Center in the Fairhill section of the city, were called upon by The Salvation Army’s Eastern Territorial Headquarters in West Nyack, New York, to serve as interpreters on the February 2016 trip. The Honduras Medical Brigade, comprised of Salvation Army officers in the U.S. and Honduras, as well as U.S. doctors, nurses, counselors and translators, spent a week there providing much-needed health services, medical supplies and messages of hope.
“I think The Salvation Army is doing a great job in Honduras,” Captain Rolon said. “Some of the people we cared for only see a doctor once a year – when The Salvation Army is there.”
For almost as long as The Salvation Army has existed, it has operated hospitals and clinics in some of the neediest areas of the world. It has maintained a permanent presence in Honduras since 2000. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Honduras is the second poorest country in Central America, with a per-capita income of about $1,880 (US) in 2010. Poverty in the country affects 60-percent of the population, with 36-percent living under extreme poverty conditions. In rural areas, these figures rise to 63-percent and 50-percent respectively. Individuals living in rural Honduras have limited access to potable drinking water, sanitation and healthcare.
The Salvation Army’s Honduras Medical Brigade mission trip is in partnership with staff from The Cleveland Clinic, a non-profit academic medical center, and The Raymond Foundation of Ohio. The medical staff and Salvation Army officers set up temporary dermatology clinics and pediatric clinics in rural villages to care for local residents who don’t have access to and/or cannot afford to pay for medical care.
“One of our first patients was an elderly man, who was 85-years young, maybe 4 feet tall and had never seen a doctor in his whole life. His one and only complaint was that his bones hurt from manual labor. He had to work for food,” Major Lavenbein recalled. “Upon leaving he said ‘Pray for me, that I’ll live to be 100.’ He was absolutely delightful. I felt sad that he was just a small thin man who was 85 and had to work for food.”
Major Lavenbein worked closely general medicine practitioners during the trip. She was amazed at what the teams were able to do with the conditions presented to them. After having a tumor removed by a doctor at the clinic, one patient apologized through a translator, saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t pay you, but I love you.” The doctor told the man that was all the payment he needed.
“The doctors and nurses from The Cleveland Clinic were literally stomping out disease and saving lives there. They made the magic happen,” Major Lavenbein said. “All of the doctors on this trip absolutely did the most they could for each patient.”
2016 marked the second year in a row Captain Rolon served as an interpreter on the Honduras Medical Brigade, which treated more than 3,500 men, women and children during the trip.
“This year was harder for me emotionally. We saw people with the Zika virus, HIV, conditions we had not seen the year before,” said Captain Rolon. “One day we traveled to an orphanage and every child just wanted a hug.”
Now that they are back at home in Philadelphia, both Captain Rolon and Major Lavenbein say they have a very different outlook on life, home and family.
“My time in Honduras reminded me of how incredibly blessed I am,” Major Lavenbein said. “There are so many things that we take for granted. I have a home that keeps me safe and protected. I have water. Clean water that is safe for me to drink. I have clothes to wear and shoes for my feet. We gave a little boy a pair of shoes who was wearing the same shoes we had given him the previous year. Here, I have more food than I need. In Honduras, there were so many people who were hungry, many who had gone weeks without eating.”
Although conditions in Honduras remain grim, Major Lavenbein and Captain Rolon feel blessed they were able to provide hope and change lives – a powerful display of The Salvation Army’s care, love and dedication to the well-being of impoverished communities across the globe.