Four PSHS grads spend spring break on mission in Honduras

PARKERSBURG – Four Parkersburg South High School graduates spent their spring break tending to the needs of residents in Honduras, a republic in Central America.

The group was made up of about 40 students from West Virginia University, including four PSHS graduates, who went on the trip March 22-28.

The effort is a collaboration among students, faculty and local doctors, said 2010 PSHS graduate Taylor Bush.

The crusade consisted of Bush and three other PSHS graduates – Brooke Bertus, Alan Rejonis and Tyler Calkins. Bertus is a biology/chemistry major, Rejonis is a biology/psychology major and Calkins is majoring in exercise physiology.

Bush, a junior majoring in biology and biochemistry at WVU, went on the missions trip to provide medical and dental care to the city of Granadilla, Honduras. She said it wasn’t just about providing short-term medical care to adults but also teaching children preventive methods of health care.

“We taught kids how to be healthy,” Bush said. “People were so happy we were there.”

Priyanka Jagannath was the student leader to Bush and her group and is one of the presidents to the WVU chapter of the student-led Global Dental Medical Brigade, part of an international organization.

Global Brigades is the world’s largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization. The group focuses on international nonprofits, including student volunteers and professionals helping to empower communities in developing countries with programs that improve their quality of life while respecting the local culture and improving the environment, according to the organization’s website.

The WVU chapter was founded in 2010 and visits the communities of Las Champas and Granadilla in Honduras, the website said.

Jagannath, a junior majoring in chemistry, and senior biochemistry major Michael Bush were presidents to the chapter this year and had to raise about $4,500 to take their classmates on the missions trip.

Jagannath is the group’s medical president while Bush is the group’s dental president. The initiative began about three years ago. The group had to recruit professionals and medical students to attend the trip.

“It is completely student-led,” she said of the trip. “I think it’s a better experience than donating to a cause because the students going are more involved.”

She said donating money to a charity can sometimes be hard because it is unknown where the money goes, but by students participating in the effort they are able to treat patients, learn and see first-hand how their charity is being used and benefited.

The trip costs about $1,500 for one person, including $800 for the plane ride and $700 for room and board. Jagannath said the room and board is not as much as it seems and the extra money can be used for special projects while students are in the developing country.

Bush said she was shocked to see some of the living conditions in Honduras.

“We visited an orphanage one day,” she said. “We worked on providing concrete flooring in houses; you don’t get to see the impact on medicine but you got to see what you were doing with floors going from dirt to cement.”

Bertus, a junior, said she got to attend the trip this year for the second time. She went last year when the group helped dig holes for water pipelines. Bertus said going a second time made her able to answer other students’ questions.

“It was an amazing experience,” she said of both trips. “I went last year and it was such an experience. I had the opportunity to go again and I had to do it.”

Bertus said the village the group visited was different than the one last year.

“This year (crews) ventured out into the community where people couldn’t leave and make it out to the medical clinic,” she said. “There were more Honduran doctors to participate this year so the (village natives) felt fine with them being in their homes.”

Bertus said the first three days consisted of the group setting up medical clinics but on the last day the volunteers helped a village install flooring.

“We got a more personal relationship with the families because we worked with them all,” she said of helping with the flooring. “They would bring us coffee in the mornings.”

With a standard of living index of 116th of 170 countries, Honduras is one of the most destitute countries in Latin America. It has a 28 percent unemployment rate, about 53 percent of the population lives in poverty and many don’t have access to running, healthy water sources.

Bush said it was a welcome change from the work she is studying to do in the United States, being able to offer the medical stations free of charge and make an impact on the lives of those who appreciated the group being there.

To donate to the cause and help sponsor the group to go on more trips visit www.brigades.org, search “WVU” and click “Go,” click “Donate.” Checks can be sent to WVU Global Brigades, Mountainlair, West Virginia University, P.O. Box 6444, Morgantown, WV 26506.