CONCEPCION, HONDURAS — Rene Madrid was living in a small one-room shack, no larger than a single-car garage, with no water, no bathroom, no kitchen, no food and no hope.
Madrid, who is 53 but looks much older, is a paraplegic. He fell, he said through an interpreter, “working on the side of a mountain.” Most likely, this was a result of working on a coffee farm, where the plants grow on steeply sloped mountains.
Madrid lives in Concepcion, a village of just 83 in the Intibuca district of Honduras. The Honduran government, which ranks villages economically on a scale of 1 to 4 (1 being the best) has given this one a 4.
The Orrville-based Central American Medical Outreach has a contract with the mayor's office there to provide public health services and outreach, which is how CAMO Executive Director Kathy Tschiegg discovered Madrid. Immediately, she called a CAMO team to get him some help.
Since then, he's been in the Hospital de Occidente for surgery. A compact water system has been installed outside, and he has access to a plastic sink.
Madrid is in a wheelchair now, thanks to CAMO. Still, he must change his own catheter and rely on the people in this small village to give him food.
He needs diapers, he tells the team members. They promise he will have some soon.
“I have no wife to take care of me,” he said, and his family in San Pedro Sula, nearly a full day's drive from here, seems to have forgotten him.
It's just that kind of hard life that people live in the tiny villages that dot the countryside of western Honduras experience and just part of the reason some will join a caravan to the U.S.-Mexico border.
It's people like Madrid and thousands of others who rely on CAMO, a nonprofit humanitarian organization Tschiegg founded in 1993 after serving as a Peace Corps nurse at the Hospital de Occidente. She saw people die every day — including babies and children — without the equipment, medications and expertise about which American citizens wouldn't give a second thought.
CAMO in the U.S. takes no government money and is dependent upon private donations and grants for support. In Santa Rosa, CAMO is slowly working its way to some degree of self-sufficiency, thanks to service contracts with municipalities across the western side of the country.
And there also is INSSA, which loosely translates to Solidarity Investments, a for-profit corporation in Santa Rosa started in 2007 in which the CAMO board in the U.S. has majority ownership and the board of CAMO in Honduras has a minority stake. It sells administrative, audiology, pathology and biomedical services and equipment in Honduras and provides CAMO with roughly $5,000 per month for operating expenses.
In addition, people receiving CAMO services pay on a sliding-fee scale, based not only on income but on a scoring system that helps to determine how they live.
In Honduras, the CAMO headquarters — offices and a warehouse — are in the middle of the oldest section of Santa Rosa in the Copan district not far from the Guatemalan border. It has grown from a population of 8,000 when Tschiegg first came in the late 1970s, to more than 60,000 now.
There are five universities in Santa Rosa, which is considered the capital of western Honduras. “There are more opportunities, more jobs than in surrounding areas,” said Jose Bautista, the executive director of CAMO in Honduras.
And there is relative safety, compared to other parts of Honduras. And services, many of which CAMO provides or has a hand in: a domestic violence shelter, community gym, trade school, day care center, cultural center, literacy programs, medical programs and research, and a public health center.
Bautista has been executive director for two years, though he's known Tschiegg since 2003, when a friend introduced him as a candidate for the board of the trade school. He ended up on the CAMO board from 2003 until 2014 and the INSSA board from 2007 through 2009.
“We have more programs now. We're more sustainable now,” he said. And though CAMO in Honduras is moving toward economic sustainability, “we will always need the medical [program assistance]. What we don't want is to have CAMO in the U.S. send us money for payroll.”
CAMO works, Tschiegg said, because of the counterpart system — every American professional is paired with a Honduran in the same field. And both, she said, make a long-term commitment.
“The person who does it has to be in it for the long haul,” said Tschiegg, who is apolitical at home. “It can't be someone off the left end or the right end, but someone … who can bring the synergy of both.”
She bristles at the mention of other organizations who make any less of a commitment, including churches.
Some churches come for a different single project each year, she said, but they “have no long-term plan, no relationship on the ground. It's a frustration on my part. I see all this money being used [that] in the long term is not going to help Honduras.”
Four flights from the U.S. come to the San Pedro Sula airport every day, the majority of the seats filed with well-meaning, mission-minded people. Tschiegg puts the total at about 276 per day and multiplies that by the $1,200 ticket price.
That is more than $120 million in plane fare alone.
“Come at it from my perspective,” Tschiegg said. “I've begged for the money” to keep CAMO going over the years.
And neither the Honduran nor the U.S. government is much help. Institutionalized corruption at the national level in Honduras is the norm. Foreign aid never seems to get to the people who can best use it. “It's spent on SUVs, on hotels [by] people who are making six-digit figures,” according to Tschiegg. “For the people who are actually out in the field, it's very hard to get your hands on the money.”
Still, she is undeterred. She has seen the progress. So has Bautista, and so have the Hondurans.
“It's not about giving money to people,” Bautista said. “That's why I like CAMO, because it's a model. We approach people with health and education and community development.
"There's still a lot we have to do.”
Tami Mosser can be reached at 330-287-1655 or email@example.com.