The MEDICO Pranza, Gracias a Dios, Honduras 2023 trip was my second to this quiet town along the Rio Coco river which forms the border with Nicaragua. I’ve been to La Moskitia (aka The Mosquito Coast) about five or six times now. Some of the remote villages are only accessible by boat crossing the large lagoon between Puerto Lempira and the Caribbean.
Pranza however is inland, about 60 miles from Puerto Lempira by way of a dirt road which gets rougher and narrower the closer you get to the town. Once past the military check point near Mocoron, the road narrows and potholes appear that can practically hide a VW Beetle, making the going very slow. The 60-mile trip takes at least 3 1/2 hours and maybe longer if the guards at the check-point decide to search your gear.
Pranza is typical of the numerous remote villages and towns found in La Moskitia. The homes are wooden huts on stilts that lack running water, sanitation, and electricity. The “kitchen” facility can be found beneath the raised hut-like structure where the family has its meals and congregates after a long day. Farm animals roam freely; pigs, horses, cows, and chickens…lots of chickens.
The only building not made of wood is the church building, which acts as our home for 4 days. It is where we eat, sleep, and work. The church building is divided into organized sections to maintain an orderly flow of patients: triage, medical, pharmacy, dental, and a private exam and eating area.
MEDICO brings all its own food to the village and meals are cooked by the church pastor’s wife. Rice, beans, pasta, and chicken for dinner. Oatmeal, eggs, and pancakes for breakfast. All hot and very good! Lunch is making your own lunch meat and PB&J sandwiches. Usually, some fresh local fruit accompanies the meals.
I can speak about the dental patients who are- in general- rather stoic. They expect to be relieved of several teeth before they leave the clinic and show no emotion when you deliver the bad news. On occasion a patient may ask if a tooth can be saved, which sometimes happens. Also, since we are on the river, Moskitia people from Nicaragua paddle a dugout canoe (sometimes motorized) across the river for care. It makes no difference to the villagers of Pranza, nor to us, where they are from.
Mostly, their dentition is devastated by the easy access to high sugary candy and soda brought in by supply trucks that make their way to Pranza. These cheap “treats” are readily purchased by parents who only want to please their children, not realizing the connection of sugar combined with the lack of any oral hygiene. As a dentist it is heart-breaking to extract permanent teeth on pre-teens and young adults. These teeth are beyond any hope for repair and removing them is merciful treatment. It took me a while to realize this.
What I have observed on all my MEDICO experiences, is that people are basically the same whether they are rich or poor, live in wealth or in poverty. They want to be treated with respect and dignity; parents love their children and only want the best for them. I have never seen the look of despair on any face. They are grateful that we are there and accept whatever we can do for them.
I get through these trips knowing that I helped a few people. I didn’t lift them from poverty, I didn’t change their situation, I didn’t improve their chances for financial success. But every hour of each day I made a difference in that one person who sat in my dental chair and wanted my help. And if I wasn’t there, then who would he or she turn too? And when would that be? And how many more days or weeks or months of pain would he or she have to endure?
But every morning the clinic would open and the unspoken word from each provider was “Here I am”.
Story shared by veteran volunteer, Steve Esposito