DANVILLE – A Danville woman is collecting donations in order to take vitamins, medicine and dental supplies to some of the poorest people in the world.
Dena Sawka, a registered nurse, will take part in a Salvation Army-sponsored medical mission trip to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, from Feb. 4 to 11.
"For many of these people, this is the first time they are receiving medical attention," Sawka said.
Named the Raymond Project, the annual trip is sponsored by the Salvation Army's World Service Office, which works to improve the health, economic and spiritual conditions of the poor around the world. It was started in 1992 by four brothers from Ohio: Cliff, Frank and Norm Raymond, all obstetrician-gynecologists, and Russ Raymond, a cardiac specialist.
The Raymonds united a team of health care workers, Salvation Army officials and Spanish-speaking interpreters to travel to the Third World country to dispense medical care and spread a religious message.
The Danville and Champaign Salvation Army groups will not put local funds toward the trip, but Sawka has their support, said Maj. Theresa Turner, the Danville agency's interim director.
"I think it's a great way for her to use her skills as a nurse, and it's also a way to serve God and people who are much less fortunate than us," Turner said.
This is the second year that Sawka will be one of the 35 team members. Just like last year, each member plans to bring a large suitcase filled with vitamins, over-the-counter medicine and some prescription medicine, as well as toothbrushes and toothpaste.
"Everything we take is used," she said, adding that what's not used during clinics will be donated to local medical centers. "Last year, a local pharmacy donated a lot of overstock over-the-counter items, but they weren't able to do that this year. That dramatically cuts what I'll be able to take unless I can raise more donations."
During the weeklong trip, the team will work at different sites throughout the city. Last year, members saw about 500 patients a day.
"Once you get a few people to come in, (news of the clinic) spreads like wildfire," Sawka said. "We never have a lack of patients."
Last year, Sawka performed an initial exam, then directed the patient to the appropriate doctor. She also administered breathing treatments and shots, started IVs and cleaned ears.
"We saw everything from scabies to gunshot wounds," she recalled.
"We treated chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension to more acute problems like skin and bacterial infections. We saw lots and lots of scabies. That is so widespread because most people have to wash their clothes in the river, which is contaminated."
Sawka said the lack of clean water creates another widespread problem: It forces people to buy carbonated drinks such as Coke. Since many do not have toothbrushes or toothpaste, they suffer from cavities and other oral hygiene problems.
In addition to the dirty water and extreme poverty, Sawka said the Hondurans also cope with hurricanes and political uprisings. That's why a psychiatrist goes along.
"There's a lot of post-traumatic stress and anxiety issues, so they're not being provided medical care, but mental health care, as well," she said.
Sawka said she tried becoming part of the team for two years.
Though it meant rising early, treating patients for eight to 10 hours straight and going back to a hotel to "eat dinner, debrief and flop into bed," she cannot wait to return.
"There were people who would literally walk for hours to get to the clinic," she said. "Then they would stand in line for hours to be seen. At some point, we had to cut them off. But even those who were not seen would come up and thank you for seeing their people. I don't think I've ever seen that level of gratitude before."
People interested in donating to the Raymond Project medical mission to Honduras can drop off vitamins and over-the-counter medicine at the Salvation Army offices at 855 E. Fairchild St., Danville, and 502 N. Prospect Ave., C.
They can make monetary donations to the Danville office only. Checks should indicate that the money should go to Honduras.