Honduras is a country well known because of high poverty, crime and homicide rates. Many Americans wouldn’t travel to the Central American country because they would feel unsafe, but Dr. Jim Haines is not like most Americans.
The Zionsville optometrist, his wife, Julie, and son, Jack, went down to Honduras on a mission trip sponsored by the Volunteer Optometric Service for Humanity.
Haines said a total of 21 optometrists from 15 different states as well as one from Germany and one from the Netherlands went on the trip to help provide eye care for Hondurans.
“We had a total of about 65 people total,” he said. “The rest of the people that went on the trip were just volunteers, which were needed for crowd control, working the dispensary and registration table.”
Haines said the group was in the town of Tela for four days of clinic time and a three days of free time.
“They had arranged for an elementary school to be the site of our clinic,” he said. “So, the school was closed for the four or five days we were there. The school had dirt floors throughout most of it, no air conditioning or heat. We had to convert the classrooms into exam rooms by putting black trash bags on the windows.”
Haines said that there would be armed guards outside the gates each morning.
“We were guarded by the army because Honduras has one of the highest crime, poverty and homicide rates in the world,” he said. “Security is a very big issue there. Our leaders were very good about telling us to watch where we go at night and to not go into the town. Fortunately nothing ever happened while we were there.”
Julie Haines, who accompanied her husband on a trip to Cuba in 1999, said the biggest difference between the trips was safety.
“Everyone said when we went to Cuba to be careful because it is such an unsafe place,” she said, “but I never once felt unsafe or threatened there. In Honduras, I did feel unsafe at times.”
Haines said they would depart for the clinic site at 6:30 a.m. each morning.
“There would always be a long line of people waiting outside the gates to the school,” he said. “The first day we had numbers a little lower than we expected because a lot of groups say they will go down there, and then they won’t show up. After that first day, word spread that we were there, and our numbers exponentially grew.”
Haines said they saw more than 2,500 patients total in the four days they were there.
“One day it was raining really hard so we weren’t sure how many people were going to come out that day,” he said. “Our bus pulled around the corner, and there was hundreds of people standing in the rain waiting to receive care. That really sent a strong message to me that we were providing the care that they need.”
Haines said the group was able to give out prescription glasses, reading glasses and non-prescription sunglasses.
“We always try to provide something for the people there,” he said. “Some of the prescriptions were very high and almost made you wonder how they were functioning without any help. We gave out a lot of sunglasses because so many people work out in the fields and don’t have them. There are a lot of ultraviolet problems and cataract problems because of a lack of sunglasses.”
Haines said that each day the doctors would have an interpreter in the room with them.
“We got to know the interpreters very well,” he said. “I asked (my interpreter) Edna at the beginning of the week what her view of Americans was. She didn’t really want to say because she didn’t have a good view of Americans. By the end of the week, we kind of sold her over that we’re not the bad people that we are portrayed in the media down there as.
“Our country spends a lot of money trying to buy goodwill, and a lot of times, that doesn’t work so well. When you have something like this, it is so much more effective than anything that money can buy.”
Haines said the best part about the trip is coming back home.
“Going to a place like that, you are reminded about all of the great things that we take for granted,” he said. “We have a lot of great things that we take for granted every day, until they are taken away for a week. That’s when you realize how lucky we are.”