The following is a journal kept by Dr. Lun Hangfu, as he recorded the rollercoaster experiences from his recent mission to Paraguay and Brazil in July 2010.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
As I stand in front of my house waiting for a ride to the airport with 20 suitcases of equipment, and medical and dental supplies, I wonder how 21 volunteers and doctors will fly out from Vancouver, Montreal, London, Lion Head, Cleveland and Toronto to Sao Paulo, Brazil for a two-week long Amazon mission. I hope we will all get there safely and on time because the boat will not wait if anyone is late.
It has been a long journey as we prepared for this year’s Amazon mission trips to Paraguay and Brazil. Health Mission Outreach (HMO) changed its mission protocol and now all missions must be approved by the host country. It took several months before Paraguay finally approved this mission. The Brazil embassy gave their verbal promise but eventually gave only tourist visas at last minute.
I am not superstitious but this was where the warnings started. Our reliable contact from Air Canada failed to make the proper arrangements for our extra luggage and we had to pay an extra fee of $860. Our flight was delayed two hours due to mechanical problems. Furthermore, one of our volunteer’s flight was cancelled in Houston and she was unable to get to Sao Paulo on time. I had to make last minute arrangements to accommodate her without knowing if she would be able to get on a new flight.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
After 10 hours of flight, we arrived at Sao Paulo, Brazil; two hours late, we barely got connected with our next flight to Campo Grande, Brazil. The Tam airline would not honour our Air Canada itinerary and we were charged an additional $2500 CAD for our extra luggage. One saving grace was that all 20 out of 21 members were on this flight. This was a small miracle. The flight to Campo Grande was about 2 hours.
I informed the team and was granted their approval to wait an extra seven hours for our last volunteer to arrive before boarding a seven hours bus ride to Corumba, Brazil, located at a delta of Paraguay River between Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia. I was very happy to see the final volunteer arrive safely. Now: six dentists, one medical doctor, one hygienist, two hygienic students, three dental students, one nursing student, two dental assistants, and five general volunteers, were all present.
Friday, July 2, 2010
We joined our Brazilian translators: three medical students, Baptist minister, Pastor Carlos and his son, Denis, and eight crew members from fishing boat named Neptuno. This boat was where we ate, slept and worked for the next six days.
The ride itself was 24-hours long before we arrived at Bahia Negra, Paraguay, a naval military town with a population of 800. Our final destination was Port Diana, Paraguay, home of the Chamacoco Indians, the natives of the land.
On the boat, we unpacked our equipment and counted out $150,000 worth of Canadian generic medications for our mission preparation.
We observed the marshland of untouched wonder on the Paraguay River: flowers, bushes, trees, wildlife, and of course the piranhas and anacondas.
There were not enough beds on the boat for all 26 volunteers, so Denis and I slept on the sofa in the dinning room. We could not get to sleep at night until everyone was tired out and left the dining room, and found ourselves awakened every morning at 4 a.m. when the crew started their breakfast preparations.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
After two and a half days of travel via air, bus and boat, we arrived at Bahia Negra. We checked in with the naval command and proceeded to Port Diana for our mission.
Port Diana is one of few Chamacoco Indians villages along the Paraguay River. It spreads over several miles from the riverbank. On first impression, it appears to be sparsely populated with wooden log cabins isolated from one another. The only passage between them is a villager’s walkway comprised of animal and human excrement compressed over time. The village has no electricity, filtered water, sanitation services, motorized vehicles, agriculture, or even grocery stores.
For more description, please visit www.hmocanada.org under “Projects”.
We had 12 dental stations and one medical doctor assisted by three medical students. The pace was furious and we worked very hard to keep the traffic going. This year the lineup was not as long as previous years. The afternoon Paraguay was in the World Cup quarter-finals, very few locals came for treatment.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
There was morning church service and many locals stayed away till the afternoon.
There was rampant cavities and gum diseases throughout the village. There were many ailments related to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, and eyes. And for the first time, many were happy to be able to see Brazil across the river with our donated prescription glasses.
The boat was not prepared with our electrical requirements and our dental equipment was forced to operate at substandard speed. We had to improvise and worked accordingly. Our Brazilian translators were not qualified translators. There were many miscommunications because of their poor language skills; we now knew we had to recruit professional translators for following years.
Monday, July 5, 2010
We decided to visit another Chamacoco village, Port Karcha Bahlut.
We have never been here but for the past five years we have received requests from them for help. This village had about 40 families with 120 people. It was well organized with some agriculture and herding, and better housing than what we had already seen. It was mostly children that attended our clinic because the adults were afraid. We are the first foreign doctors to visit the village and they are scared of dental pain.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
We moved to the third village down the river at Porto Esperanza, with a population of 900 people. Again, they were very poor with no electricity or running water. The lineup never ended and we were forced to stop when the night fall came. About 700 to 800 patients were treated in the last four days.
We thought we had one more working day but we were surprised when the boat had to leave because we were misinformed that the rental was for five days instead of six.
Many of the local residents and children came to the shore to wave goodbye. It will be another year before we return.
We thought we came here to help the local with their health care problems but we found beauty in this land and genuine smiles on their faces as God graced them with gift of life under such harsh condition. They exemplified existence of humanity in its best.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
There was no sense to fight over the day lost; we needed to solve our predicament. Now I had to find a hotel for 21 people and arrange new meal and travel plans for our next mission destination in Capao Bonito, Brazil.
Many volunteers woke up at 5 am to sample the local game fishing. Piranhas are the best catch. The Pastor and the boat captain first insisted there was no gas for the boat and there was no fishing equipment. It was magically resolved when I agreed to pay for the gas even though in previous missions, it was included.
Overall, the Paraguay mission trip was full of surprises with missed schedules and poor cooperation from our Brazilian partners. We needed work out better logistics for next year to avoid these kinds of problems.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
We stayed in Campo Grande for the extra rest day and toured the local shopping centre, restaurant and Samba night club.
Friday, July 9, 2010
We managed to get to Sao Paulo airport safely where some of our volunteers left to tour Brazil and some went home to Canada. We were joined by one more dentist from Canada, Brazilian physician, Dr. Loo’s medical group, and Pastor Wendell from Capao Bonito. After a four hour bus ride, we arrived at Capao Bonito, a picturesque mountain village located southwest of Sao Paulo city with a population of 45,000 residents. The residents were predominately farmers. Capao Bonito is known for its fresh and clean air quality.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
The mayor and the Presbyterian Church were very organized in every detail from patient registration and selection, transportation, and our daily meals. They published our medical and dental mission in the local newspaper and the rest you can imagine.
We set up nine dental stations, one medical doctor, one optometrist and one acupuncturist. There were long line ups and a lot of hard work.
Many volunteers declined evening church service because they are very tired. Dr. Reavell, his wife and I represented HMO. The church service is lively and has lots singing. The translation was poor and sparse but it was enjoyable.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
I was surprised to find out that the clinic would only open until 1 p.m. because many locals wanted to watch the final match of the World Cup. Furthermore, all our Brazilian doctors are leaving too because they are going back to Sao Paulo. That means we will only operate the dental clinic for Monday and Tuesday.
The dental clinic did not finish until 3 p.m. because many last minute patients and emergencies showed up.
We went to a local establishment for the soccer match and walked about Capao Bonito. Some enjoyed their brief shopping experiences.
I had to attend the evening church service for three hours with no translator. It was an experience.
Monday, July 12, 2010
It is our first solo dental clinic day. The pace is fast and none stop.
The mayor, local health official and newspaper visited us and have many photo opportunities.
Most of the volunteers laughed when they found out that there was no church service that night.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
We started early at 8 a.m. because the clinic was scheduled until 1 p.m. The vice mayor would like to take us for a city tour in the afternoon.
Again, the dental clinic did not finish until 3 p.m. before we finally packed our equipments and concluded our mission trip in Capao Bonito.
Later, we visited local water park, public dental clinic and finally a farm house in the country. It was raining very hard when we were at the farm house. It was a spectacular modern chalet. The driver urged us to leave early because the road was not paved and it was very difficult to travel late. He was right – our bus tilted 10 to 15 degrees and we got stuck in a ditch. They called a tractor to pull us out with everyone inside.
We had to walk 100 yards to meet the bus down the hill in pouring rain with no rain gear and very few umbrellas. Dr. Reavell commented that I planned this on the last day as a team building exercise. I was relieved when we all got back to the hotel – but we were totally soaked. It was an interesting experience.
The local hospitality was the best we ever experienced in all our mission trips. From the beautiful smiles to gourmet kitchen foods and many acts of sincere appreciation, we were truly fortunate to be there. We would like to express our sincere thanks to everyone from the wonderful village of Capao Bonito. We loved our brief stay.
We treated about 850 patients. The mayor and the organizer were very delighted with the outcome and have proposed to enlarge the service to the adjacent villages for next year.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
We got up early to check out the Baguassu hotel at 7 a.m. The city bus was waiting to take us to Sao Paulo airport.
The morning was sunny and we were able to see the roadside scenery. On the way to the airport, we were invited to have a Chinese lunch by our Brazilian doctors’ group. Some members took the advantage and went shopping in the pouring rain.
It took almost two hours for our bus to arrive at Sao Paulo airport due to regular traffic congestion in Sao Paulo city. We managed to check in on time and board an 8 p.m. flight home.
Some volunteers continued their Brazillian tour.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
It was a huge relief when we all arrived back in Canada safely. I went straight home and enjoyed a shower.
On behalf of HMO, I am very proud to have served with this group of volunteers. They worked very hard with professional dedication and personal compassion. I could not imagine what more anyone could ask. They should be commended for their actions and deeds.