Peace Corps Eye-View of A Floating Doctors Mission

Medical Volunteer Opportunities Abroad

“Lifeboat Chronicles”

July 29, 2012

Blog by Las Tablas Peace Corps Volunteer Doug Martin

Sandwiched between the banana plantations and the mountains
Sandwiched between the banana plantations and the mountains

Sometimes, early in the morning, the mist from overnight rain storms envelopes the town and hides her from outsiders.  Sometimes the murky brown waters of the Sixaola River creep higher and higher until they stumble up and over the only road into and out of town.  Its a place to get lost, a place to start over.

La empresa showed up one day, years back.  They brought complex irrigation systems, John Deere tractors, and an airplane.  The menacing drone of diesel fuel combusting hundreds of feet high shakes the town from her slumber.  The cool evening breeze carried the seductive whisper of modernity; the people from the mountain came down.

For three days in July, sister Sky and brother Dr. Ben LaBrot and the volunteer group they head

A rare x-ray available...
A rare x-ray available…

offered free medical care to the communities of Las Tablas and Barranco Adentro.  One can see in the hour long queues that the service their group Floating Doctors provides is desperately needed.

Their volunteer medical professionals work hard.  Long days start when the rooster crows and often don’t end until after the sun has long settled behind the mountains.  They sleep in hammocks strung up over cement walls, on sleeping pads strewn out over the floor, under mosquito nets.  On Saturday the baseball game doesn’t end until two in the morning.  Neither does the blaring reggaeton coming from the trunks of several baseball fanatics cars.  But they never complain.

Hammocks hung in a half-built house...
Hammocks hung in a half-built house…

Many people here do not have access to medical care.  There exist several barriers – cost, culture, language – that have kept the people from the mountain out of a doctors office.  The Floating Doctors work to remove these barriers, and not just by providing medical care free of cost.  Dr. Ben is a leader by example, and his volunteers all show a genuine sensitivity and interest in the diverse culture of the indigenous groups that they attend.  He also converses in Spanish after spending time in Honduras and Panama, and might accidentally greet you in the Creole French that he picked up in Haiti.

Dental Health is Important--send toothbrushes!
Dental Health is Important–send toothbrushes!

The end to each of their three multi day mobile health clinics has been bittersweet.  Imagine being the captain of a sinking cruise ship with only one life boat.  Mothers weeping to include their sons and daughters.  Adult children pleading for their elderly parents.  An uncomfortable undertone, asking “what more could we have done?” often lingers after the last patient has gone.

Somewhere beyond the mountains to the north there are children grown fat from too much and too many.  Here the children’s bulging bellies speak not to a fast food diet and cable television but to malnutrition and constant parasites.  What response quells the crying eyes of a six month old child, forgotten by the world and unable to access the most basic and fundamental care that he so desperately needs?

Fortunately, the Floating Doctors are continuing to grow.  The most recent clinic expanded its offerings to both the thirty five hundred people living in Las Tablas and for the first time to another one thousand living in Barranco Adentro.  The life raft is getting bigger, better stocked, and more efficient.