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Hands to Honduras volunteers return with incredible stories

This year 88 volunteers, mostly from Vermont and many of them local, made the journey. The large group ranged in ages from nine to 77 and included doctors, dentists, physical therapists, firefighters, and a host of enthusiastic people ready to help wherever needed. The Hands to Honduras Tela program is a partnership that has been bringing North American and Honduran communities together since 1998. Members of the Charlotte Shelburne Rotary Club, as well as other rotary clubs, have volunteered their time, work power, and money for travel expenses to provide technical and humanitarian assistance to Hondurans. This years accomplishments were many and included: building an addition to the physical therapy center, building several classrooms and making school repairs such as painting and adding latrines, and building two playgrounds. Aside from creating physical structures, this year saw a dental team with two dentists extract a total of 250 teeth; a medical team of thirteen people plus translators who saw close to 100 patients a day, staffed an HIV clinic, and brought over 200 pounds of medicine that was gone by the end of the week; a physical therapy group who trained their Honduran counterparts, saw over 100 patients, and saw children walk for the first time with the help of physical therapy equipment they had supplied. In addition to the vast amount of work accomplished by the Hands to Honduras group, each volunteer had an experience all their own, and several had the words, amazing and incredible on the tip of their tongues. Louisa Schibli, of Charlotte travelled with her nine-year-old son, Scott, who she said fit right in with a much older group as he forged his own relationships throughout the trip. Schibli said that while she had an incredible experience she also had the benefit of watching it all happen through her sons eyes. She mentioned in particular, Watching him have an appreciation for how hard it is to build something when you just have your own to hands. In the span of eight days, Schibli said her son, Scott, grew, light-years. Bob and Thea Platt of Shelburne also made the trip this year for the first time. Thea worked with the physical therapy team and Bob, a member of the Shelburne Fire Department helped to train and equip the firefighters in Honduras. Platt was able to get a supplier to donate $7,000 worth of breathing devices to the fire and rescue squad, but said, I didnt want to send stuff down there without training people how to use it. Platt trained firefighters in CPR, search and rescue tactics, as well as automobile extraction techniques. He also showed them how to use the breathing devices and automatic external defibrillators that were donated. Platt said that the departments in Tela have 10 fire calls, and 20 ambulance calls per month, and while the numbers may seem equal to what Shelburne experiences, the calls made in Honduras are almost always serious, whereas in Shelburne they may receive calls about faulty smoke detectors or other minor concerns. Its gratifying to know they now have the skills and equipment to save lives, he said. Nicole Gilbert-OBrien of Hinesburg was one of five physical therapists that helped to train the staff and see patients at the center in Tela. While she said the group was there only for one week, they were able to teach techniques that could be carried on by the staff. The group saw mostly patients with cerebral palsy who had no access to physical therapy or equipment such as wheelchairs, and most of the children had to be carried by family members. With the help of parallel bars made by a Vermont welder, several of the patients were able to take their first steps. The Hands to Honduras team had also gathered other supplies that they packed up into a 40 foot container and carried equipment for the fire department in Tela, 60 computers, wheelchairs, crutches and IV supplies, dental equipment, and a huge amount of valuable goods, said Linda Gilbert, one of the groups organizers. The container was sent separately and traveled from Vermont to Miami where it was then shipped to Honduras, and the volunteers anxiously awaited its arrival. Unfortunately, the container was held up at customs for some time and did not arrive until the volunteers were getting ready to head home. Gilbert said the group learned to adopt the Spanish word, manana as a way of thinking that tomorrow it would come, And eventually manana came. The container full of goods and equipment finally arrived at the end of the trip and Gilbert said it was a mess of sweat to get everything unloaded and delivered before they had to leave, but well worth it. It was a miracle form some these people to receive all these gifts, she said. There was mutual admiration between the volunteers and the groups organizers during this years trip. Linda Gilbert said We had an incredible group of volunteers that were so enthusiastic to go with the flow, work in another culture, got along so well, and enjoyed each other so much. The committee enjoyed all the volunteers so much. And Louisa Schibli, of Charlotte, said The people who organized it--they did an amazing job. Its no easy task to organize over 80 people. The organizing committee, which consisted of co-chairs Al Gilbert and John Hammer, both of Charlotte, Colleen Haag and Sam Feitelberg of Shelburne, and Linda Gilbert and Dorrice Hammer of Charlotte, spent a full year preparing for the trip. Louisa Schibli also sung the praises of the volunteers who drove the large group of volunteers everywhere during the trip and included John Hammer, Charlie Magill, and Al Gilbert. The drivers were the unsung heroes of the entire thing. We couldnt have done anything without them taking us where we needed to go.

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