I have had the honor to volunteer with Hillside Medical Clinic International over the last few months, and it has truly been an uplifting and enlightening experience. It was early January when I first met Lori, Hillside’s current Rehabilitation Director, we engaged in conversation so easily and the topic of health and nutrition came up naturally… I was so intrigued by the work she was doing here in the Toledo District, and expressed interest in assisting where I could. Being the warm, kind hearted person that Lori is, she invited me, along with the Hillside Team, to volunteer for the Disability Awareness Workshop’s that are conducted on a regular basis for the many local schools around the district. Yes please! What a fantastic way to meet friends in the community, interact with and educate kids all along the way.
The Toledo District has many schools: Government Schools, Christian Schools, Methodist Schools, Mennonite Schools… and more! It seems that every turn there is a school, whether it is a single class size of thirty, or multiple classes of standard 1, 2, 3, ect., whether it be a purple uniform or a green uniform that the students wear, whether they take a bus, horse, walk or ride to get to their school that is made out of either thatch, wood, or concrete in the towns or rural villages… all of these sweet kids are eager to hear the presentation that Hillside has to offer and participate in their own unique way!
The presentation on Disability Awareness is to enlighten each of the students and allow them to experience, through stories, video testimonials, and hands on activities what it it would be like to have a disability… a humbling experience for all of us! An experience that allows the students, (and myself) to develop compassion by “walking in other’s shoes” and that although we are different as human beings, we all have unique talents and abilities to offer (regardless of our physical state).
The first presentation with Hillside was at a school in the heart of Punta Gorda, right along the beautiful waterfront with the Gulf of Honduras breeze refreshing the air… we had four classrooms of thirty students each! They saw us pull up with crutches, a wheel chair, paints, and play dough… and the excitement begins! This school has energy! We take a moment to organize the stations before we begin: The Story, The Documentary and The Stations of painting (using no hands, only our mouth), tortilla making (with one hand), and playing soccer (with only one leg, using crutches and a wheel chair)… very hands on (or off should I say?)… we each take a station to manage, and I am partnered with Flor at the soccer station! It’s a good thing there was two of us there… the younger boys were raring down the hill in the Wheel Chair… “Stop! before the road!” One of us would stand by the edge and it worked out just lovely! They participated really well, helping each other with the wheel chair and near the end developing more of an understanding for others.
…and then we ventured into the jungle! Hillside Clinic was invited to host a workshop in the rural village of Graham Creek; a one and a half hour drive from Punta Gorda along a dirt road (thankfully it has been well leveled!) and then a two hour hike through the beautiful, lush jungle in the south of Toledo District. We woke up early that morning and made the sunrise drive to Crique Sarco, where we would park for the car for the day and begin to hike. Crique Sarco is a sweet little village as well, that is accessed by a foot bridge over a refreshing and clean river and then a ten minute walk from the bridge is the town (when we last visited for another workshop presentation, they were working on the bridge to allow cars to pass through). On the road leading to Crique Sarco, as far as the eye can see are rolling grass fields, speckled with palm trees and beautiful birds on either side; the town itself is nestled amongst the lush jungle of coconut and palm trees, and when you arrive it almost feels like you have stumbled on a special discovery.
A quick rest break in Crique Sarco and with accompaniment from the Ministry of Education as our leaders on this trek, we begin the hike! Bushwhacking and twisting and turning amongst the collage of plants, I feel like I am dancing through the jungle as my foot catches a vine, and I do a little spin to brace myself then a sticky leaf tugs on my arm, I spin around… feeling alive!
The road is muddy as it rained a bit the night before (but luckily the hot sun is clearing a path for us)…stepping carefully on the dry path is the goal, but their is the occasional mud bath as my foot slips in! Onward we go… slap! at the mosquito trying to hitch a ride on my right arm… Drip Drip! as I clear the sweat seeping into my eyes! Refresh! With a big sip of water… and we are only half way… and I am loving it. We all stop to take a break by a river, that is known as the half way point, and trek on… when we finally enter the village it is such a treat to see.. pristine, lush, clean and each thatched home and building looks as though it has been made with care. We were told that this village has been built from the efforts of the whole community, working together to assemble each home and build a lovely little two room school house! The feeling as we walked into the village really does hold a sense of community, the vibe was uplifting, connected and relaxing… and each sweet young child came running up to just look, smile at us, and run away again… some of the lovely kids did stay to introduce themselves and practice their english with us. We were warmly welcomed and offered to join one family for lunch for Caldo and Tortillas, which some of the group members participated in (others had already packed their lunch)… such a kind gesture to feel part of the community instantly.
The presentation, in this two room, wooden, school house, went really well, and we were able to spend more time in the village after the presentation to get to know some of the local children and enjoy our lunch on the school house steps, before the trek through the jungle back to the car. It was really sweet taking a moment in their village, breathing in the air of what life is like here.
Just the trip to the school really allowed us to feel a sense of perspective for what this village’s life is like… some of the children had never been out of the village, or rode a bike, or seen a TV… so the presentation alone, with the video and documentary of a man named Emanuel who rode a bike with only one leg, was a huge eye opener to them too! Seeing their sweet, attentive eyes as they were watching the film, was lovely. Although that was a new experience for them, their sense of community, family and connection to the earth is something that they practice each day and is inspiring… simplicity…there are so many different ways to live life in this beautiful world, and we can all learn from each other in small ways, and celebrate the diversity that each person, family and culture offers.