Dr. Barbara Cordell will travel to Belize from May 16-23 with Bianca Moses, Christina Carroll, and Chasity Rook, three Panola nursing students, and over 20 other doctors, nurses, and dentists, to host a free clinic for the native people.
“Our goal is to reach the unreached,” Cordell said. “We minister to people who may never see a physician otherwise.”
The mission trip is a long standing tradition, beginning 23 years ago when a group of doctors in Nacogdoches decided to reach out to some of the people in the most remote and unseen villages of South America. Cordell has traveled with the group 20 years, and Panola nursing students have gone for 15 years.
“We are allowed to stay in a local schoolhouse at the bottom of a mountain, basically, and we cram all our cots into one tiny room,” Cordell said. “Modesty pretty much goes out the window when it comes to bathing; we just throw on our swimsuits and jump in a river.”
During the day, the troupe packs backpacks full of food and medical supplies, and hikes hills to minister to people in dirt floor huts. There is no running water or electricity, and often the patients of this free clinic only see a doctor when Cordell’s mission group makes their yearly visit.
“The most extreme case I’ve ever seen was on a young boy who had an infection on his head from bot flies laying eggs in a wound,” Cordell said. “We had to borrow Novocaine from one of the dentists to numb the outer area, then lance it and stitch him up the best we could. You could tell he immediately felt better.”
Over 1,000 patients are seen each summer in the clinic’s eight-hour days. The medical team provides everything from basic treatment of infections to minor surgeries and wound care, a saving grace for many since the nearest hospital is over 50 miles away. Any patient in a dire enough condition to need hospitalization must be carried down a mountain on a stretcher and then loaded into a jeep to make the journey.
“Everyone pays their own way, including airfare, meals, medical equipment–everything,” Cordell said. “We are fed dinner by the people, but we have to pack our own breakfast and lunch and keep in it our backpacks when we start the daily hike to the clinic.”
The work environment and treatments involved on this trip rarely change, but Cordell says that each trip offers fresh insight, the students who are able to see people living in developing countries come home with a much bigger appreciation of their own home lives.
“My favorite part of the trip is seeing the students blossom,” Cordell said. “They are so passionate about their work, and it’s just amazing to see their eyes light up when they know they’ve had a job well done.”
While the heat is brutal and the working conditions are not ideal, Cordell maintains that the mission trip is still a great experience. Both she and the nursing students are excited to take on the challenge once again.