Honduras experience reminds Boise native of what it means to be Catholic
The following story appeared in the February 24 Idaho Catholic Register.
Surgery teams at the Honduras NPH campus have different volunteers who visit on a weekly basis to perform surgeries free of charge. (Courtesy photo/Mary Thompson)
By Mary Thompson
For the Idaho Catholic Register
I grew up in the foothills outside of Eagle and attended St. Mary’s Catholic School before going to Bishop Kelly High School.
After graduating from there in 2018, I moved across the country to attend the University of Alabama, about two hours from my mother’s hometown. While there, I studied chemistry, math, and Spanish. I eventually decided to go on to study medicine. I graduated in December 2021 but because I was not able to get into a medical school straight out of college, I started looking at volunteer opportunities abroad, ideally some place where I could improve my Spanish.
I heard about Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH), which means “Our Little Brothers and Sisters,” through one of my father’s former coworkers, a resident doctor who volunteered at NPH Mexico. Upon investigation, I learned that NPH is a world-wide organization with multiple homes throughout Central and South America. Founded upon Catholic values, NPH’s mission is to support communities until their presence is no longer needed. I decided to apply because I wanted to volunteer with an organization that sees itself as serving and supporting a community on its own journey rather than an organization that imposes its own goals on the community and views itself, rather than the community, as the caretaker to meet the goal.
After applying and getting offers from NPH homes in Bolivia, Peru, Honduras, and Guatemala, I eventually decided to come to Honduras because of its One World Surgery surgical center and the size of the community here, which is much larger than the other homes.
The rural Honduras NPH campus includes a large working ranch, a surgical center for those who cannot afford surgery, and a children’s home.
My daily schedule starts at the surgical center where I arrive at 6 a.m. to help with administrative support for that day’s surgeries. The clinic usually runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Throughout the day, I get everything ready for the next day’s surgeries including surgical packets, stickers, schedules, etc., and I make sure that all of the patients are cleared for surgery. During clinic, I help make appointments, add patients to pending surgery lists, and make sure they have all the necessary paperwork. In between, I will scribe for the local doctors, observe a surgery, or help interpret between the patients and the visiting English-speaking providers.
Mary Thompson plays the game “Tower of Terror” with children at the Honduras NPH campus. Thompson, who is a 2018 graduate of Bishop Kelly in Boise, began volunteering after graduating from the University of Alabama. (Courtesy photo/Mary Thompson)
At the surgical center, we host international medical mission specialty groups of surgeons, known as brigades, who come about every other week for a week at a time. As part of my job of preparing for any particular group of surgeons, I look for patients who need to see that particular specialty, call them, and get them all set up for their surgery or appointment with the specialist.
At about 4 p.m., I head back to the volunteer house to exercise and spend a little time with the other volunteers from around the world. At about 6 p.m., I head to my “hogar,” which means home. There are more than 200 children who live on the ranch and even more who live off the ranch while attending high school, college, or vocational school.
The kids on the ranch are split up into houses based on age and gender, and each house is split into hogares of about six to 12 kids. My hogar currently has 10 girls ranging from 10 to 16. While in hogar, we usually eat dinner, play games, dance Zumba, and sometimes watch movies. Sometimes there are house-wide or even ranch-wide activities like soccer tournaments, movies and games. I also spend every other weekend with my hogar, helping the girls with various chores, playing games, helping with homework or just talking to them. Other weekend days are spent providing orientation for the brigades. Mass at the outdoor church is typically every Saturday afternoon and occasionally throughout the week.
I have learned a great deal since being here. Most important is learning how to love and share. However, there have also been challenges when it feels like there are antiquated rules, norms, and expectations. For example, there is still a very “machismo” culture here, as well as prominent economic inequities that affect all aspects of life. However, the culture is moving in a promising direction, and I am confident that things will start to turn around.
Even with the difficulties, I have learned about and grown in my faith while in Honduras. Here on the ranch where we live, the people, especially the kids, share every gift they receive. If they get a piece of cake, they will split it into 24 parts just so that everybody can have a taste. Furthermore, seeing the values that shape this organization is a reminder to me of what it means to be a good Catholic, including the importance of accepting and serving everybody and expecting nothing in return.
Volunteers of Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH), which means “Our Little Brothers and Sisters,” make time for a fiesta. Volunteers come from around the world to help impoverished communities in Central and South Americas. (Courtesy photo/Mary Thompson)
My time at NPH has demonstrated how the love shared with a fellow person, especially a child with a traumatic past, can bring such contentment and joy to everyone, including myself. The love demonstrated on the ranch is infectious, especially when I see children helping frail, elderly members of the community walk to church or handicapped children being encouraged to participate in the group games and celebrations.
The concept of supporting an individual or community with the goal in mind that they will someday support themselves and, eventually, others has shown me what it is like to preach my faith through my actions. To me, this is what it means to be a good Catholic. Living that life here has been life-changing. I know it will be difficult to leave. The lessons I have learned here will carry with me throughout the rest of my life.
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