Just got back a few days ago from another great trip to the mountains of Honduras. A group of about 20 of us- med students, docs, pharmacicst, etc. (I'm in this group..), went for about 11 days to a reigon in the southwestern part of the country called Pinares. We stayed in a small hostel located in Pinares which is about 4 hours from any major city in Honduras. Most of the days there, I helped out with the children's health project which involved running a mini health screening at the surrounding community schools. We would hike anywhere from 2-4 hours to these community schools and set up different stations- hematocrit, height/weight, dental varnish, pharmacy, eye exams, and doctor visit. Most of these kids participate in these health screenings three times a year. The days I helped with this project I usually did the hematocrit station- pricking kids- making more enemies than friends..usually making up with them on the soccer field after the screenings were over.
Another project I worked on was to prep 13 water filters which would later be sold to community members from one of the six communities our organizations serves. The filters are made from clay with pieces of silver that act to deactivate enzymes and disrupt cell life in harmful microbes.
The main project I worked on while in Honduras was composting. Last year we had taught a dozen or so farmers about composting by doing house calls and building a few piles scattered throughout the communities. The follow up from subsequent teams led us to believe that there was very little interest in composting and that these few farmers we helped had not continued to add to/build up their piles. When we arrived, we found that many of the farmers we had talked to last year were in fact, still very interested in the concept and were hoping to learn more. Some of the farmers piles had washed away with erosion and others seemed to have used the contents of their pile in the planting season. We did meet two farmers who had active piles, one of which is hopfully serving as a model to the other community farmers. This year we decided to do a composting class at Francisco's house, the farmer with the most active compost pile. The class was done on Wednesday of the 2nd week we were there. This gave us some time to think through the logistics of the class and also encourage members from area communities to attend. We ended up having 13 farmers attend the class and it ended up going really well. I'm actually considering putting together a "guide to composting in central america"handbook with the very bacics to include pictures and testimonials from this trip. When I was researching compositng in rural central or south america, I had a hard time coming up with anything other than very scientific studies done by environmental engineers on soil types in these reigons, most of which was less than helpful. Some of the farmers seemed worried about the time committment, lack of tools available, and some had previously learned different methods that were different from the approach we were teaching. If I have learned one thing through this project, it is to make it as simple, universal, and free of additional or unnecessary resources as possible. Many of the farmers had been previously taught by teams from the UK and Germany that lime was necessary for composting, and that it was imperative to have buckets and shovels if you wanted to have a successful pile. We also were told that they had been taught very specific guidelines as to the dimensions and size the pile has to be. We had an idea of these methods taught going into the trip this year as we had learned a lot from doing home visits last year and listening to the farmers talk about the methods of natural fertilizer making they had been taught over the years. Francisco, mentioned earlier, built a compost "pit" about 4 months ago because he felt like this would keep erosion down and allow his pile to get the necessary moisture it may not get if it were on top of the topsoil, baking in the sun. This proved to be very effective as many of the farmers were impressed with the quality of finished compost his pile had produced in such a short amount of time. The final part of the class consisted of expaning upon Francisco's pit and creating a new starter pile with each of the seperate layers added to show the necessary ingredients a pile needs to be successful. We also added ashes and sawdust, not necessary ingredients, but helpful if available.
All in all, the trip was a great experience. Some of the highs included the composting class, beautiful mountain hikes, home visits/house calls, mafia games in the evenings, storm watching, soccer games, Honduran cuisine, swim/dance party on the last night, and interacting with the many driven, compassionate, adventurous folks on the trip.
Click here to see pictures from my trip.