When my husband and I set foot on Roatan, Honduras in January 2000, I never once thought about returning there or becoming involved in a project that would be conceived by my daughter and her husband. I believe now this was God's introduction to his plan in shaping a new life, not only for me, but also my daughter Allison. In November 2000 my husband died suddenly from cancer and although devastated by his loss, we knew God spared him the pain and suffering others encountered with lung cancer. This gave us solace and a sense of peace.
In March 2001, being offered a place to stay with friends, Allison flew to Roatan for a respite vacation. During that visit, she ventured into untouristed areas, following the one main windy, hilly road, meeting village natives, playing dominoes at roadside cafes and like a pied piper, being followed by smiling children everywhere she went. Roatan represented peacefulness and beauty, away from the busy demanding life that was draining her year by year. It was on this island that she felt a call to help these people in whatever way she could. She vowed to return.
A lot of thought went into preparing for her next trip in 2002. She began buying pencils, pens, school supplies, toothbrushes, baby items, medications, 'smiling face' Frisbees. Friends also contributed—enough to overflow two suitcases. Accompanied this time by her friend Mark, who shared her enthusiasm, they distributed items in Punta Gorda—medications to a hospital and baby items to "Mud Angels".
It was during this trip, that Allison and Mark (who proposed to her there) observed the children's playground—it was the village garbage dump. As they began planning their small wedding for later that year, they thought of the garbage dump playground and made specific requests for 'no wedding gifts' but rather monetary gifts that would purchase playground equipment for Punta Gorda, school supplies, etc. for children in need. Their playground dream was to become a reality in March 2003.
With huge boxes containing basketball backboards, nets, basketballs and swing sets, Allison, Mark, myself and three friends, flew to Roatan intending to set up the playground. Although the land had been cleared we soon learned, things don't happen quickly. We flew home disappointed although we did see the playground site. Boxes were safely stored until later that year when Allison and Mark returned to help install the equipment. Children and parents were delighted. Now they knew where their children would be!
Allison and Mark then began a serious search mission to find where their abilities and resources would be most beneficial. They discovered an American nurse, Peggy Stranges, who five years ago began a non-profit or free medical clinic in her West End home. Working first alone, and now overwhelmed with work, she is thankful for volunteers to assist, be it doctors, nurses, or dentists, for whatever time they can give. When Mark, a dentist, asked if he could be of help, she exclaimed "God has answered my prayers."
Her living room was quickly transformed into a dentistry; the dental chair a folding cot, diver's oxygen tanks to operate the drills and plastic basins for sterilizing. A quick dental assistant lesson for Allison, and the clinic was set to open. A fee of ten lempera (equal to fifty cents) for either a medical or dental visit is requested but no one is denied service. Allison and Mark returned home, thankful for finding and working along side Miss Peggy in her clinic.
As stuff began accumulating again, I knew another Roatan trip was being planned. School supplies, dental equipment, bed sheets for hospital, folic acid, antibiotics, soccer shoes and forty T-shirts for basketball teams soon filled seven suitcases.
Allison, Mark, myself and several others flew to Roatan in April 2005 to work a dental clinic for Miss Peggy. I was 'equipment sterilization lady' and Allison was Mark's able dental assistant. Miss Peggy's clinic had moved from her house into temporary quarters allowing separate rooms for medical and dental patients, until a new clinic is built. These quarters allowed both medical and dental patients to be treated at the same time. Each morning, adults and children filled the outside porch, waiting patiently for our arrival in 30 degree plus temperatures. Patients continue to trust each new doctor, dentist or volunteer who arrives at Miss Peggy's doorstep and express their thanks with one huge smile.
Schools, 'Mud Angels', pregnant women and Coxen Hole Hospital all benefited from these donations. Will we go back? God willing, we will return with our suitcases once more filled to the brim-Mark the dentist, Allison his assistant and myself, the "sterilization" lady.
-- Betty Groff
Trinity, Shantz Station, Ontario