I'm helping to organize a solidarity brigade from Jan 7 (tomorrow!) to 13 of 30 nursing and med students from UNAH to Ciriboya, and we're in desperate need of last-minute financial support, since funding I'd thought we'd procured fell through. Please donate any amount you can, tax-free, through the California Honduras Institute for Medical and Education Support (CHIMES). Here's the form for credit card or check donations in .DOC and .PDF formats. The completed form can be faxed to 916-927-1643 or mailed to:
CHIMES (California Honduras Institute for Medical and Educational Support)
P.O. Box 160113
Sacramento, CA 95816
Please email me as well to let me know you've sent the money so I can budget (you can also send me the completed electronic form if you wish to get it in that way; it'll get processed right away). We only need to reach a goal of $4,000 to fund the whole brigade and are about half-way there thanks to donations that have already come in, so it's doable with your help. On the off chance we raise more, 100% of it will go directly to the hospital toward the construction (well underway) of a new surgery center and the purchase of new desperately-needed solar panels.
The First Garífuna Hospital in Ciriboya, Honduras was founded by local residents and Garífuna doctors graduated from the ELAM in Cuba including Dr. Luther Castillo, in 2007. Since then it has provided free, first-rate treatment to tens of thousands of majority indigenous people from all over the region—a region (the Garífuna north coast and the Moskitia) that has historically been totally excluded by the Honduran state in terms of infrastructure, resources, and particularly healthcare. The hospital is truly a community endeavor, with the land and labor to build it donated, and with the diaspora Garifuna community deeply involved as well. In addition, it has received support from Cuba, and from U.S. labor organizations.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the country the neoliberal model is tightening its grip, with public hospitals being privatized and profit front and center of healthcare. CAFTA-DR played a big role in this. For most Hondurans, a serious illness is an automatic death sentence. The 2009 coup allowed for even greater deregulation of patient protections and concentration of healthcare profits, and positioned everyone who threatened them as an enemy. The Garífuna Hospital in Ciriboya was raided by the military following the coup. Nurses in Tegucigalpa, treating patients who had been beaten up by police and soldiers while protesting the regime, were ordered to turn their patients over to police for "questioning" (violent interrogation) and themselves were threatened for providing care. In this process there was a real radicalization that took place, which I wrote about in an article published last month (available HERE). There was even an internal board electoral takeover of the country's main RN association by a group of radical resistance RNs.
But despite the radicalization of many urban nurses during the coup, nurses and doctors outside of the isolated North Coast don't have a different model to look to, or a sense that free healthcare is a possibility and a tool for revolutionary change. Although Ciriboya is seen as a direct threat by the ongoing coup government and by health profiteers, its existence and success is mostly unknown among healthcare workers elsewhere in the country.
I have been in Honduras since July, and had the opportunity to teach a class called "Culture and Health" to 120 RN students at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) during the Fall semester. After thoroughly depressing my students with political economic analyses of healthcare for nearly three months, I showed them Beth Geglia and Jesse Freeston's fantastic new documentary film, Revolutionary Medicine about the Garifuna people's struggle for healthcare justice. They were so inspired that they immediately started organizing a healthcare brigade to Ciriboya, so they could support and learn from the community itself. It's incredibly moving to see them this excited. This is the next generation of healthcare leaders in this country, and if they come out of this process radicalized, I am convinced they will join the Garifuna communities who have already begun the struggle create a different kind of healthcare model for the country. Thirty students have committed to the brigade, and are prepared to leave from Tegucigalpa first thing tomorrow morning.
So here's where I'm writing to ask for your help. My students are poor, but much of what they lack in money they make up in resourcefulness. They are willing to make sacrifices to get out to Ciriboya. They'll be sleeping in the homes of local families, and the community will provide the labor for meals. But there are still a number of costs we are struggling to cover—gas for travel and cooking, food, water, paper for all the family health histories they'll be taking down in their daily trips to neighboring communities, and more. We have budgeted the total cost for a 7-day brigade (including two full days of travel) at $4,000. Several generous individual donors have already brought us to over $2,000, and we're hoping to get some funding from U.S. unions, but we're still seeking a way to cover the rest.
I'm available at (011-504) 8821-6900 if you have any questions, and will be on and off email in the coming days.
I can promise that every cent will go directly to the brigade (and if we reach above $4,000, to the hospital). I will blog about it here and ask students and community members to blog their reflections as well, so you can see the results in real time. I plan to also write about whatever organizing results from the brigade back in Tegucigalpa. Thank you.