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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Honduras: The Underreported ‘Poor Volunteer’

In the remote village of Jamalteca, Honduras, 20-year old Honduran Annly Couvas volunteers her time to run a village pharmacy. For the past year, every day, people have been coming to see her, complaining of various problems: headaches, fevers, diarrhea, coughs, and fatigue. She treats them when she can, and refers them to the closest clinic when she can't. Though she's not a doctor or a nurse, Annly has learned to diagnose basic health issues thanks to training she has received from us and can now recognize the symptoms of all common illnesses in her community.

Now ask yourself, do you know many 20 year olds who would do this?

Annly is part of the reason why we are driven to help the poor. The fact is, the poor are driven to help each other—to a humbling extent. Any work we do to fight poverty is multiplied by the work the poor do themselves to change their situations and those of their neighbours. The amount of work they are willing to do—not just for themselves or their own children, but for their whole communities—makes our investment of money and effort seem quaint, and that’s the truth.

Without Annly’s pharmacy, the 700 people who live in Jamalteca would have no access to basic medicines. They would have to travel several kilometers by foot, and pay exorbitant prices to buy medicines from the closest main town. Annly's pharmacy is open 24 hours a day, and she charges only what it costs her to get the medicines and transport them back to her village; this money is then used to buy more medicines. Her neighbours are so grateful for the service Annly provides that, when she started, they pooled their resources to give her about $100 of seed money to buy the first medicines. In addition to running the pharmacy, Annly works with other health volunteers in her community to monitor pregnancies and track the weight of children under two; child malnutrition has, as a result, decreased significantly in Jamalteca.

Annly likes the work and likes helping the community. She's deservedly proud of the difference she is making in people's lives. Annly is only one of over 100 volunteers that run similar community pharmacies in central Honduras, and is one of over 400 health volunteers currently working with us to improve the health of children, women, and men in extremely poor villages. We support them by sending needed medicines (antibiotics, pain killers, anti-inflammatories, antihistamines, cough syrups, vitamins) that would otherwise be unavailable in remote rural communities.

Volunteerism by the poor is a big reason why your donated dollar goes as far as it does. What happens in Honduras happens in every country in which we work, in some way or another, whether it’s brigades of Ethiopian volunteers building roads by hand or Swazi women donating their time to mother HIV/AIDS orphans in their villages. It’s a big reason why we feel absolutely comfortable asking for money in the name of the poor. People like Annly prove to us constantly that this work is not a case of giving hand-outs to passive victims. The fact is that Annly works much harder with the dollar I give to her than I did to earn it in the first place. If that’s the case—and it is—then why on earth would it be difficult for me to part with this dollar?

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