By Ali Allen
When people ask me how I became involved with OCHO, it’s not a simple answer. Cristina Sáenz de Tejada, the President of the organization when I joined the brigade, was my Spanish teacher in high school. But it wasn’t just her shining example that inspired me to come along; rather, it was the evidence for a need. Fortunately for me, I had some of the criteria to fill this need.
In February of 2016, recently graduated from college, I was at a loss for what to do with the language skills I had developed during my time in undergrad. It wasn’t until Cristina reached out to me asking if I could spend the day interpreting for Dr. Patrocinio Sarmiento, the medical director from Atima, where OCHO visits to serve. He needed a translator to accompany him on his tour of Sinai and Kennedy Krieger Center. Although I had no previous experience in the field, I was certainly willing to try, and as my former teacher, she reassured me that it would be fine.
All in all, “fine” is quite the understatement for how the day went! Dr. Patrocinio was a wonderfully kind visitor, and the hosts at both institutions were unbelievably friendly and accommodating, even of my stumbling errors. By late afternoon, when Dr. Anna Wilms-Floet gave me and Dr. Patrocinio a ride home, I was practically bubbling over with excitement after the experience I had. I soon started looking into other interpreting and translating opportunities outside of OCHO, but already had in my mind that I wanted to join them at the next possible opportunity (the following year).
Although I was not able to join the brigade in June 2016, I was determined to be a part of it. I started by using one of my lifelong hobbies/talents, baking, which helped me raise money and awareness about OCHO in my smaller social groups, my choir, and coworkers who then felt compelled to contribute. My success with fundraising allowed me to get some relief from the cost of the trip, and I was finally able to join this past June, and start looking into how to continue with this success in future years.
Even though it was my first year joining OCHO in Honduras, within the time it took to get from BWI to Atima, I already felt like I was on a journey with close friends. By the end of the long week of tireless work, I felt not only like I knew these 38 souls, but felt as though we had spent at least a month together, all working towards a common goal. It was a very special feeling, being a part of a group charged with such positive energy, where the unproductive moment was a rarity. Even feeling idle usually wasn’t; I was translating in the breakfast line when Susie wanted to let Doña Emilia (our chef for every meal) know that she didn’t want plantains that morning.
As a translator, I got to see many different faces of the work that OCHO does. I was able to stay around the base camp school and translate for the eye clinic, where there are needs ranging from allergy eye drops to cataract surgery; I got a glimpse of an outreach trip to Choloma, another small mountain community, where patients came from far and wide for diagnoses and medications, just having heard that we would be there. I watched the team of pediatricians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech/language pathologists work with the resident team at the Rehabilitation center, which was a magical thing to witness. At the end of the day that day, I had my most trying experience translating yet: in a room of about 15 people, where I was one of 3 bilingual people, about 10 people were trying to have a conversation all at once, and I was responsible for relaying the message – but it felt as though I was responsible for translating and spitting back every word I heard. This was quite overwhelming! But challenge is what draws me to these kinds of experiences, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
And here I am, thinking about next year even when it’s not quite pre-trip planning season. Among other ideas, I plan to continue with my fundraising efforts because I believe I bring back that group feeling of togetherness, of working towards a common goal, and of making a greater impact just by doing something simple on a normal day, like making a cup of coffee, walking for a cause, buying a cupcake, or singing your heart out onstage with your friends at a karaoke night. Of course, the list goes on, but that’s where everyone’s creative mind comes in! We couldn’t raise money without the ideas and the participants, and it’s a true representation of what teamwork can do.