For Veronica Mangrich, a registered nurse at the Skiff Cancer Clinic, and 36 other volunteers, their mission trip to El Salvador was a humbling and educational experience. The group left for Berlin, El Salvador on March 17 and returned on March 24.
While there, the mission group visited five villages over a period of five days. In each, they deployed a mobile clinic that provided much of the technology and amenities that the doctors and dentists would have available to them in their offices back home.
Mangrich, who now organizes the trips, has seen the mission grow drastically over the 17 years she has been involved.
“There used to only be a few of us … Dr. Angel Martin would go to a village, and he used to sit under a shade tree with his single suitcase of medicine and then he would help the patients,” Mangrich said.
This year the mission included six doctors, six dentists, a number of medical students, nurses and other volunteers. Rather than one suitcase, each of the 37 volunteers had two carry-on bags loaded down with goods. They brought everything, from 1,200 pairs of eyeglasses and a full-fledged pharmacy to toiletries and recreational goods such as soccer balls and uniforms.
Colfax dentist Bradley Hagarty said the amount of equipment available to them is surprising for a mobile clinic.
“All of our equipment that we use is very modern,” Hagarty said. “We set up a clean clinic, and we have all of the things available to us … anesthesia for operations and everything else you would think of.”
The group serves 250 to 300 patients each day. The patients have the choice of visiting the doctors, dentists or eye clinic. Many of the villagers receive multiple services in one day.
All of this doesn’t come without a cost, but fortunately it is one that people back home are more than willing to help out with.
For every person who physically volunteers on the trip, there is a widespread support network back home that makes it possible. Local churches and community groups such as Sacred Heart Church and other groups and individuals, both locally and statewide, raise a significant amount of money to purchase items such as reading glasses and other goods.
Despite the hard work, the volunteers find the mission to be a valuable and eye-opening experience.
“It’s extremely rewarding … hot, long and difficult days but it’s wonderful and it’s worth it,” Mangrich said. “My role over the years has changed to providing people with the opportunity to go and have this experience. They have their lives changed, and they really begin to realize the value of water and electricity and things that 90 percent of the world doesn’t have available to them. I love that aspect of it. It exposes more and more people to what the real world is for the majority of the world.”
Looking forward to next year’s mission, Mangrich hopes to engage even more of the community.
“The mission is to really do whatever we can and to serve these people who are just the same as us,” he added. “You learn that belongings aren’t everything.”
For more information on opportunities to contribute or volunteer, contact Mangrich at email@example.com.