Helping in Honduras

MSOE and Global Brigades show children in Honduras how to use the Foldscope
MSOE and Global Brigades show bacteria and parasites to children in Honduras  to teach personal hygiene using the Foldscope

Helping Honduras

Dozens of MSOE students spent their spring break enjoying the sun and people of Central America. But it wasn’t about partying and relaxing: their mission was to improve the health and living conditions in remote villages of Honduras. In total, 42 students traveled with four faculty members in the Global Brigades-MSOE student organization. MSOE first became involved with Global Brigades in 2014 when a group of nursing students wanted to volunteer their time and skills to improve the lives of those in impoverished countries. The first trip was a medical brigade to Panama and 29 students participated.

This year, the students split into two groups. The 31 students in the medical brigade focused their efforts on staffing a medical clinic for the residents of Alauca. In the course of only three days, they saw 1,007 patients. The students represented 11 majors including nursing, business management, technical communication, mechanical engineering technology, and biomedical, biomolecular, computer, electrical, industrial, mechanical and software engineering.Their role was to triage patients. They took vital signs, worked with interpreters to ask questions relating to the patients’ conditions, and helped direct them to the appropriate medical professionals in the clinic, which focused on primary, dental and gynecological care. Students helped screen patients for hypertension, handed out vitamins, asthma and anti-worm medications, provided wound cleaning and care, and gave fluoride treatments to more than 200 children as well as hygiene packs with soap, toothpaste, etc. Dr. Victoria Carlson-Oehlers, School of Nursing, was the faculty advisor and Dr. Edward Chandler, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, also accompanied this group.

“I have always known that I want to help others and make an impact on others’ lives, but it wasn’t until I joined Global Brigades that I knew becoming a nurse was exactly what I need to do. Being down in Honduras opened my eyes to how wonderful we really have it here. Yet, the people in Honduras are so happy with so little,” said Heather Hansen, nursing student and Global Brigades medical and dental president. “When you go down there, they barely have what they need. It melts your heart when you see the people smile after you are able to help them. The children were so interested in everything we were doing even if it was brushing their teeth. Being with the children was my favorite part of the whole trip. These trips have changed my life in a way that can’t be explained in words.”

Global Brigades is a non-profit organization and the largest movement for global health and holistic development. By collectively implementing health, economic and educative initiatives, it sustainably transitions communities. The organization identifies a community in need and first goes in with a medical brigade to address residents’ health needs. Next, a business brigade assesses the area and develops a business model, and finally, an architectural brigade comes in to establish infrastructure.

On an earlier mission, Global Brigades developed a business model for a chicken processing facility in the villages of Guaricayan, Tomatin and El Ocote. Eleven MSOE students traveled with the architectural brigade to help residents of these communities build the foundation for that facility. They were architectural, biomolecular, computer, electrical, industrial and mechanical engineering majors and worked alongside locals to learn construction techniques. In Honduras, construction equipment and supplies are very limited and most villagers raise their homes from the ground using whatever material is available: sometimes just sticks, mud and grass. Dr. Patrick Jung, General Studies Department, was the faculty advisor and Dr. William Gonwa, Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management Department, accompanied them.

“Local construction managers taught us the proper techniques for mixing the foundation materials,” said John-Paul Petersen, electrical engineering senior. “In turn, we taught each other and local workers. Linguistics were challenging, but it was fun working as a team for such a good cause.”

All of the MSOE students and faculty bonded with one another during this life-changing experience. While Global Brigades provides the infrastructure that enables volunteers to help the communities, students were responsible for raising money to cover their travel expenses and $10,000 to purchase the medical supplies they needed in the clinic. They each dedicated 50 hours of time to fundraising prior to the trip and currently are planning and fundraising for next year’s brigade.


Jake Karls, biomedical engineering junior, conducted a charla education activity with the children at the medical clinic. Karls took Foldscopes so he could teach them about bacteria and germs. A Foldscope is an origami-based print-and-fold optical microscope that can be assembled from a flat sheet of paper. Developed by an engineer at Stanford University, the goal is to introduce everyone to the microscopic world by improving access to microscopes around the globe. The device works in conjunction with traditional microscope slides and the camera on a mobile phone, which provides the magnification. Karls used the Foldscope to show children what bacteria look like and teach them the importance of personal hygiene so that bacteria can’t spread and cause disease.

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