Kelsey Millonig is a dual degree DMU student in podiatric medicine and surgery and public health, which fuels her passion for global health efforts. She was among an interdisciplinary group of students and clinicians who participated in a five-day health services trip in rural Honduran villages over the 2014 spring break. She is a member and trip leader of the Global Health Student Club and president of the Student Chapter of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. Millonig also is founder and president of a podiatry advocacy organization, a peer tutor and a teaching assistant in surgery and clinical medicine.
Honduras – the location of beautiful mountains, sunshine, thankful residents and substantial danger. In March, 30 DMU students flew to Honduras to medically serve its residents. In our preparations, our group worked with Global Brigades, the world’s largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization, to prepare students for the cultural change we would experience upon arrival in the country and to pack the necessary supplies to provide medication and health care packs to more than 1,500 patients.
The Honduran government welcomed us, and Global Brigades thoroughly protected us. We stayed on a protected compound, were required to be on the compound as soon as the sun went down and were accompanied by a caravan of armed guards everywhere we went. Our group was fortunate to feel safe and secure during our duration in the country. However, less can be said for the patients we served.
As the news poured in regarding Central American immigrants – including many unaccompanied children – coming to the United States, I frequently reflected on my time spent playing Pato, Pato, Gato (Duck, Duck, Goose) with these same children. They were brought to our site by loving parents from distances as far as five hours away to seek medical care and feel safe in the confines of the schools we housed the clinics in. When they left the clinic to embark on their journey home, they had no armed guards, no safe haven, no clean food and water, no health care service for months and no guarantee of safety.
The Honduran residents we served had nothing, but they were thankful enough that they seemed like they had everything. When given a granola bar from the personal backpack of a physician and a drink of water upon arrival at the clinic after a five-hour trip, the patients were astounded at the service they received. Our group had the opportunity to visit a local orphanage and spend time with the children there. These children welcomed us with open arms to run, play and smile. Meanwhile, their livelihood relied on volunteers and donations.
There is no doubt that there are a multitude of political issues behind the risks of Central American immigrants who seek to escape to the United States, but beyond those issues are the mothers whose hands we held as we told them their children were malnourished, the children who clung to our legs as we played tag with them, and the families of eight that risked travel in a very dangerous country to ensure the health of their children.