Special photo Johnson said this young boy had been watching the team's work all afternoon while "driving" his plastic car that has no wheels. Johnson is known as El Grande by the villagers because he is the tallest person around and the youngster enjoyed getting his attention despite the language barrier. Here, they are playing a game of "eyeball tag" where they're trying to catch each other looking at the other.
COVINGTON -- Apparently helping others for a living isn't enough for some members of Newton Medical Center's Emergency Medical Services team -- they've signed up to offer their medical expertise while on vacation, as well.
Chief of EMS Kevin Johnson and EMT and Newton County Fire Services Firefighter Paul Crumbliss are participating with area churches in a mission known as Honduras Outreach. Crumbliss recently returned from a trip to the Agalta Valley and Johnson will fly out later this month. The two are serving as medical support for the mission teams who must bring their own emergency medical staff and supplies.
"Mission teams cannot go to this part of the country without bringing their own first responders. Any medical emergency falls directly on the medical members assigned to the teams and additional support is non-existent," Johnson said. "Each EMS team member is dispatched to work with local villagers in the regions of the country that remain undeveloped. As part of the mission team's support, EMS personnel from Newton Medical will be on hand for any medical event that occurs within the team itself."
Johnson attends Mountain Park United Methodist Church in Stone Mountain, which has been sending mission teams into Honduras for 20 years. Last year they were without needed medical support and Johnson agreed to take on the job. Now he's sold on the importance of the week of hard work and will be returning.
"It is just an excellent experience," he said. "It's just an awesome event."
The team will report to duty at Rancho el Paraiso, where the team sleeps at night. From there the teams are dispatched to local villages to help with needed work. Last year and this year, Johnson said plans include laying concrete flooring and making concrete latrine covers, installing ceramic chimneys, as well as nailing on a few tin roofs for the village huts.
"It depends on what the village needs," Johnson explained. "They don't have any money to buy the concrete. We buy it and ship it in and then they put mounds of dirt in the yards of people who have been approved for the work. From sunup to dinner is concrete and debris and fixing roofs and chimneys. Our team joins with all the village people and go to this house and then they send you over there ... you may be doing roofs and two or three people may be doing chimneys."
The need for these modest improvements is huge. Living conditions are primitive with most adults and children sleeping on dirt floors inside their huts. The addition of the concrete helps in reducing the exposure to harmful parasites in the dirt to which they are exposed while asleep.
"In the houses they build mud stoves and without the chimney work and ceramic chimneys all that smoke from cooking daily is inside the house," Johnson explained. "So we cut holes in the roof and install the ceramic chimney so it vents to the outside."
The villagers are excited about the improvements and all take part, doing what they can to lend a hand to those who've come to help. They've also worked ahead of time preparing for the mission team's arrival.
"They've been digging latrines for a month with a shovel and they put trees over the top of the latrines and we pour concrete over that, making a concrete lid that is waterproof," he said.
Thankfully, medical problems among team members have been few and far between, limited to some stomach problems, dehydration and some falls.
"The food is different and you definitely can't drink the water, not even for brushing your teeth. It's all bottled water," he said. "We pay ahead of time for bottled water to be sent to the ranch and that's what we live off of."
However, on his last trip he did assist a villager and he is grateful he was there to assist when a woman approached him about a young boy who had severely burned his hand.
"It was really bad and he needed some things done," he said, adding that after initially treating the burn he arranged for the boy to meet him every morning and afternoon as he walked to and from the ranch to the outlying villages for his day's work.
"He'd meet me on the street and I'd put medicine on it and wrap it up," he said. "The very last day when all the community comes out to say thank you, the mother of the boy asked me to come to her house. We went down to her house and she had gone into the forest and picked me a grapefruit that was, no kidding big as a watermelon. It was huge and that was her payment to me for taking care of her son."
Johnson said that moment made the entire trip worthwhile and everyone on the team agreed.
"It's the kind of thing you see and you want to give a lot, but really you get a lot," he said, adding that even those who stay at home are blessed by the trip. He has four children -- ages 13, 15, 17 and 21 -- each of whom is looking for a place where they can join a mission team for just such an experience.
"There's a life lesson there for my kids and they know Dad's going overseas to help other people. We teach our kids we're very blessed and that only counts if we pay it forward," he said. "The kids are going to have to be stewards of this world next. If it's 'all about me,' then it can't be about someone else."
At the end of each week, the villagers gather for a party. The mission teams supply the refreshments, while the natives put on a play, provide music and join in dancing.
"They're grateful because last week they slept on a dirt floor," he said. "This week they don't have to. And you go, 'Wow!'"