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UI engineering group hopes to build Honduran clinic

BY JENNIFER DELGADO | APRIL 24, 2009 7:32 AM

Imagine a three-hour trip to the nearest health clinic, only to find the center has run out of medicine.

For some in Las Mangas, Honduras, that scenario is a reality — that is, if they can even afford to pay the bus fare to the clinic.

Members of the UI chapter of Engineers Without Borders said they want to build a clinic for the community and its surrounding areas. On April 26, the group will hold a silent auction to raise funds for the center.

“One of the major concerns is there are a lot childbirths that take place outside the clinic,” said UI engineering graduate student Mike Schaefer, and the closest health center is 12 miles south of Las Mangas. “Some of these problems may be avoided if a clinic is there.”

UI student Leda Lozier, a native of Honduras, said many of the people from Las Mangas have stopped receiving health care because of the inconvenience of the long, tiring trek. Many of the people are asking for a clinic to help improve their lives.

“There are a lot of poor people there,” said Lozier, a Spanish major, and the mayor of the town has committed to buying the land for the clinic. Many locals have also said they will house student volunteers or donate vehicles from their farms for transportation, she said.

“The health clinic is necessary,” she said.

Lozier met her husband, Matt Lozier — a UI Ph.D. student in public health — in Las Mangas while he was with the Peace Corps. After the two came to the UI, they established a relationship with Schaefer and other engineers. With their contacts and knowledge, the group, made up of roughly 40 members, decided to construct a health clinic at an estimated cost of $26,000.

They expect their project’s approval from the National Engineers Without Borders organization by the end of the summer.

“I think we can get something off the ground and running for this, because people have the passion and we can see the potential for it,” said arts and engineering major Jess Smith, and many of the group’s members belong to health and international organizations. Smith helped create the fundraiser this weekend, which will auction such items as salsa lessons, shiatsu, and five hours of yard work from organization members.

If the plan is accepted, group members will travel to Honduras and assess the site. After evaluating what types of health needs the communities have, the group will also look at how it can staff and supply the clinic. Constructing the site will happen much later, group members said.
Smith said she hopes students get more out of the project than just engineering skills.

“It’s to get students involved and be passionate about something outside of class,” the Iowa City native said. “It feels wonderful to have experience using your skills to help someone out — you go beyond engineering.”


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