NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Trekking through the remote jungle of Belize may not sound like the ideal place to find medical or dental services, but a Nacogdoches-based nonprofit group find themselves hiking miles in the heat to provide such services to thousands of villagers.
Project: Belize is a nonprofit group made up primarily of doctors, nurses, and dentists who volunteer their time once a year to travel to Belize and offer their services, free of charge.
“We started visiting Belize as a retreat... we ended up liking the process so much, we ended up becoming a 501c3 [organization] and have done these visits every year," said Bruce McNellie, director of Project: Belize.
The group holds 4 to 5 days of clinics in the southern end of Belize in the Toledo district. Their trip involves hiking several miles in the jungle to setup wellness clinics that served around 2,100 in 2018. McNellie said they anticipate treating that many or more in 2019.
Group members who volunteer pay for their own travel and other expenses. McNellie noted that any donations that are raised for the trip go solely toward medicine the group takes for the villagers.
“The only prohibitive is you have to be heat tolerant; it’s really, really hot," said McNellie. “Several of our hikes run through three-and-a-half hours through the jungle and mud and up hills. If you can’t handle that, it’s best to do some other group.”
As for the medical treatment for villagers, McNellie said the 4 or 5 clinic days are “real intensive”, and the group sees as many people as they can. Upon treatment, villagers receive things like toothbrushes, multi- and prenatal vitamins, and water filters to help clean the village’s drinking water. However, the group’s mission is to increase the villagers overall health the best way they can while the group is there.
“We mainly understand that we have people that are hurting that day,” McNellie explained. “We see upper-respiratory infections; we treat that, it cures that. We see skin disorders; we take something specifically for that. Past that, I don’t know if we’re in a position to do much more.
“But mostly, it’s they’re hurting today, we treat that, and it’s enough for us,” he said.
The 2019 group will be made up of around 60 people; student nurses, pre-med students, nurses, doctors, and a dentist. However, not everyone is of medical relevance.
“We’ve had husbands, wives, spouses, boyfriends; people who are involved in medicine, those who aren’t involved in medicine,” McNellie explained. “We’ve had young people go who weren’t interested in medicine at all, then they come back and change their majors to some form of medicine.”
Project: Belize leaves for South America on May 19. The group will travel to Belize, hike to the villages, and set up a clinic for several days before packing up and heading home. McNellie said the group expects to arrive back in the U.S. on May 30.