The familiarity of pre-March 2020 life is resurfacing for many. We have witnessed the return of large-scale, in-person events, the disappearance of testing and mask mandates and the acceptance of many to move forward with life.

As a result, my column will shift away from the weekly cadence and move towards a monthly cadence that captures my travels through the perspective of health and wellness.

In the middle of March, I made my first international trip since January 2020. Coincidentally, returning to the same place of Roatán, Honduras, with a team of nurses and doctors to provide health care to local people. 

The team of surgeons and nurses that traveled from the US to Roatán
The team of surgeons and nurses that traveled from the US to Roatán © Jenny Yu / Lonely Planet

The planning/traveling for a week of service

We were a team of four surgeons and nurses who traveled from two different locations in the US to take part in this service trip. This was my first international trip since 2020, so we used the various resources to ensure we met all of the testing requirements to enter Honduras. When it came to organizing our documents, I would say that the VeriFLY app navigation was easy to use and made it manageable. 

It took us months in planning – gathering medical supplies, communicating with local physicians to triage patients, and all the while being flexible for potential change and cancellation. As we made our journey, you could sense that people were ready for the return to travel – I was only reminded that we are still in a pandemic by the masks, extra paperwork and the more sightings of hand sanitizers. Because of the pandemic and the nature of our travel to a more remote area, we packed our usual “medicine cabinet” essentials to provide our own care.

Dr. Jenny Yu travels internationally for the first time in over two years
Dr. Jenny Yu's first international trip in over two years © Jenny Yu / Lonely Planet

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We landed at Juan Manuel Galvez airport in Roatán at the same time as the rest of the inbound flights from the United States. Hundreds of people were ahead of us in the immigration line. By that time, I had already been in my mask for 12 hours and was now in a crowded, humid, hot room waiting to proceed through immigration. Yet, my exhilaration for returning to Honduras outweighed any temporary discomfort of heat and dehydration – I chose to be there, I could be there.

The picturesque Oakridge bay in Honduras
The picturesque Oakridge bay in Honduras © Jenny Yu / Lonely Planet

Honduras: a rich multicultural melting pot

Roatán is off the Northern coast of Honduras, and the largest of the Bay islands of Honduras. An island measuring 48 miles by 5 miles, it is a popular destination with divers and tourists who arrive weekly on cruise ships. Tourism is the main economic driver, followed by the fishing industry. However, these simple facts do not highlight that this place is a rich multicultural melting pot with a population of roughly 110,000 people. There are communities of Czechs, American ex-pats, Spanish- and English-speaking locals, Afro-Carribeans and more. What you will find is the happy-go-lucky nature of almost everyone you encounter – they truly embrace the joie de livre. In my conversations with some of the locals, I can sense that their fortitude endured during the early lockdown of the pandemic, but everyone led with a smile, happy to see the return of tourism. 

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Dr. Jenny Yu providing medical care to a local Honduras patient
Dr. Jenny Yu providing medical care to a local Honduras patient © Jenny Yu / Lonely Planet

A week providing specialized care to those in need 

Unlike most people who travel to Roatán for leisure, my return to Roatán, just like the first time, was to provide medical services to the local people. I am privileged to be able to use my medical knowledge and skills to positively impact the community. Access to health services is limited on the island, but in particular specialized health services. The local clinics and hospitals provide basic services similar to an urgent care setting. More complex health issues require transfer to mainland Honduras. Often, care is delayed or neglected due to the lack of access to specialists. 

Our main goal with each trip is to provide specialized care. But we are also educating local providers so that they can expand their services to establish a sustainable model. Our week was an emotional rollercoaster – frustrations with the inability to provide certain care, exhilaration when we could, sadness hearing the stories of resignation and joy of knowing we changed the life of one. 

On this particular trip, our own organization, Project Theia, partnered with another organization. Not all of the volunteers knew each other, but we had that shared purpose of service for the week. With each one of these trips, I truly experience the power of shared purpose and how that makes our time together more meaningful, more efficient and more rewarding for all. 

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The line forms for medical care at the Roatán clinic where Dr. Jenny Yu and her colleagues spent a week volunteering
The line forms for medical care at the Roatán clinic where Dr. Jenny Yu and her colleagues spent a week volunteering © Jenny Yu / Lonely Planet

Because of the tight-knit community, even with the lack of resources, everyone lends a helping hand. Patients helped to translate for each other, employers brought their employees and community helpers made sure people made it to their appointments. 

Every day, patients awaited us early in the morning, relieved and grateful to be seen. 

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A soccer game on the beach of Roatán
A soccer game on the beach of Roatán © Jenny Yu / Lonely Planet

My takeaway: how to give back on your next trip

I appreciate the ability to help and build a more sustainable healthcare model in Roatán, Honduras. But, like with all of my travels, I also take away new perspectives. The natural beauty abounds and the culture is rich in Roatán, but by connecting with the locals in the health clinics, I understand their perspectives. Being there for a week, I am reminded of what it means to appreciate the beauty in the details of my day-to-day life.

Certain resources can impact in a meaningful way. A local clinic such as Clinica Esperanza is always looking to receive basic hygiene kits, shoes and clothing that help the locals. On your next trip, if you have extra room in your baggage, consider giving back to the local community. 

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