USD MEDICAL BRIGADE BRINGS HEALTH AND HOPE TO THOSE IN NEED
Above all else, James Walston remembers their faces: smiling, innocent and inquisitive, in spite of the harsh realities of life in a third-world orphanage.
There, amid the throng of disadvantaged Honduran children, Walston came to the jarring realization that he wasn’t just interacting with a group of youngsters who needed help; he was witnessing firsthand what his own childhood might have been like, if fortune and fate hadn’t intervened.
“I was adopted from South Korea when I was six months old,” the junior biology major explains. “The kids in that orphanage in Honduras were their own family; the older kids taking care of the younger kids. It really got me thinking about my own experience, and how truly lucky I am to have the life and the experiences I have now.”
It was the spring of 2009, and Walston had journeyed to the Central American nation as a student assistant for a group of orthopedic surgeons from his home state of Minnesota. Inspired by the medical team’s mission to provide much-needed care for the country’s ailing and impoverished citizenry, he returned to Alcalá Park with a renewed sense of purpose — and a plan.
“There really wasn’t a student group at USD that was committed to global health and providing healthcare to underserved populations,” Walston says. “The experience I had in Honduras really made a big impact on me, and I know there are lots of other students here that want to make a difference.”
With the help of friend and fellow Torero Shane Smith, Walston established the USD Medical Brigades, a chapter of the world’s largest student-led organization dedicated to improving the life of under-resourced communities around the globe. Last January, Walston, Smith and a group of 27 students, three doctors and one nurse returned to Honduras to work collaboratively with locally-based nonprofit group Sociedad Amigos de los Niños on establishing five medical clinics serving the rural communities surrounding the capital city of Tegucigalpa.
The logistics involved with the trip were daunting. Walston, Smith and their brigade cohorts were charged with fundraising for medications and supplies, as well as the recruitment of the medical professionals who would join them on their journey. Factor in cultural and language barriers, and you could come to the conclusion that the well-intentioned duo had bitten off more than they could chew.
And that’s where you’d be wrong.
“In this economic climate, it’s a real challenge to get the financial support you need for nonprofit work, but the majority of the people we’re helping in Honduras are single mothers and children, and that resonates with so many people,” Smith says. “It’s part of the university’s mission to help those who need it, and that’s what the brigade is all about.”
In addition to their work in Honduras, Walston and Smith have long-term aspirations of orchestrating medical aid trips to Panama and Ghana. There’s even talk of setting up a clinic in Tijuana, though as of now, these sojourns are more wish- list than reality. While the funding may not be there yet, the enthusiasm certainly is.
“We’ve had a lot of support from students, and it’s a great opportunity for community service,” Walston says. “I’m really excited and hopeful about where this group can go, and what we can accomplish.” — Mike Sauer