More than 650 villagers along the Amazon River in Brazil were recently helped with their dental and medical needs by a hard-working Louisiana Volunteers in Mission team. The group, led by Beverly Dinnel, traveled by river boat as they served various villages from April 2-12.
Mae Belton, team member and a member of First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, is shown with clients during a medical clinic held during the LAVIM mission.
Read more about this fascinating mission by reading Dinnel’s blogs, posted below.
Our doctors have arrived! Kinsey and Katie had a safe trip, but ran into a little delay trying to get Vickie's luggage from customs. Teca intervened telling them it was all for missions. After a breakfast of local fruit, cheese bread, and Brazilian coffee, the team gathered for devotions before heading out for a day of bonding and cultural immersion. Teca took us to the local handicraft market with wares from all over Brazil. We definitely helped the local economy! We learned that brazil nuts are actually seeds and saw what they looked like coming from the tree. Our big adventure for the day is the Brazilian BBQ! The authentic Texas de Brazil but 10 times better! We were so stuffed that we had to walk around the Black River before we could be stuffed back in the van. We took a short tour of the Opera House which was built in the early 1800s. The patrons complained about the noise from the horse drawn carriages, so the cobblestones were pulled up and replaced with rubber "bricks". The European ladies weren't happy with the laundry service in the area and shipped their clothes to France for cleaning! Seems like it would have been more efficient and economical to bring the French laundresses to brazil. We loaded all our supplies in the van and headed to Pastor Augusta's church for a Seter service. This was a first for many of the team and very moving. Since we missed dinner, Teca took us to the Lebanese drive thru for the Lebanese version of Brazilian pizza. We weren't disappointed. We continued on the river to meet our boat crew and the rest of our interpreters. Our interpreters include Max and Jesica, who are the young Brazilian couple now in charge of the boat mission, Fabio and Zulackia, a Brazilian missionary couple assigned to Mozambique, and Padtor Augusta. The John Wesley boat is a three deck diesel powered boat. Each small cabin has four bunks and there are three communal bathrooms for the team and crew to share. We are loaded and begin our journey down the Black River. We are asked to get some sleep and be up by 6AM to see the joining of the Black and Yellow Rivers, when joined become the Salomon River, which is what the locals call the Amazon.
The dawn is beautiful with pinks and golds on one side of the boat and the full moon on the other. We can now see the two different rivers flowing side by side. After a mile we see some swirls and blending. In another mile you can barely see any distinction between them, then we are on the Amazon. Most of the team returns to bed for a little more rest before breakfast. Mid morning the team shared a beautiful Easter Communion service with our interpreters and had time for reflection on deck afterwards. The beauty of the Amazon is truly awe inspiring. We had time to relax, play games, and get to know our new team members and interpreters as we traveled 19 miles down river. We arrived at our first village, Agadenu, after dark.
We wake to see villagers arriving by boat to be seen in our first clinic. We gather for devotions and breakfast before gathering supplies and debarking for clinic. We are introduced to the village chief and health agent, who welcomes us to the Amazon. There is a little chaos as we set up for the first time, but everyone soon finds their place and the mission begins in earnest. We do morning clinic from 8:30 to noon and come back from 2:00 till 5:00. We saw 124 patients during the day. Our patients ranged from several weeks old to 96! The children are beautiful and well behaved. After sharing some gifts of health and sewing kits with the village chief, we gather our supplies and head back to the boat. After dinner we head down the river several hours and branch off on the river Mutuca to dock at Saissama for Tuesday's clinic
Tuesday dawns clear with another spectacular sunrise and boats heading our way. We now have found our rhythm and set up is easier. Doctors Katy and Kinsey get set up with Bud, Vickie, Suzanne, and Ruth coordinate the patients getting height and weight, the escort them to Claire and Stephanie for temps and blood pressures. Sharon and Mae have the children's clinic, while Kinsey and Katy see the adults and families or more complicated cases. Families start early in the Amazon where the average life expectancy is around 60. We had a young couple 16 and 18 years old with a three year old and one on the way. Many women have come in with 5 - 10 children. The winner had 17! We saw 130 patients today. After clinic Dr. Katy gathers supplies with Stephanie and Claire to make a house call. They load up in a small pirogue type boat and head down one of the smaller rivers. After they come back and after talking to one of the crew, they discover they went to the wrong house and had to go back to the correct house. Once again we say our goodbyes and leave the chief with health and sewing kits, saying thanks for allowing us to serve his clinic. We head back to the boat with all the supplies for the next leg of our adventure down the Amazon. We branch off on the river Altazes Acu and dock at Murutingas. This is the largest indigenous village in this part of the Amazon, with 1000 families. It has been hit hard with the influences of the outside world of drugs, alcohol, and sex trade. The federal government has now stopped allowing groups in and is trying to get a handle on the problems. We are the only group allowed to work with the village this year.
Our clinic space is a little more cramped. The clinic has multiple rooms that you have to walk thru to get to the doctor exam rooms. Some of the rooms have fans or air conditioners, while others have large windows that let the river breeze circulate thru. they have a wonderful dental clinic set up, but can only get a dentist to come out about twice a year for one or two days. The lady patients love Katy! We have a hard time directing them to one of the others stations. We saw about 150 patients today before heading back to the boat for the night. We relaxed after dinner playing board games, cards, or reading. The sunsets here are gorgeous. With no air pollution, we can see the stars very clearly. Some of our team even picked out the constellations.
This morning dawned bright and blue on one side of the boat, grey and cloudy on the other. We were able to get the clinic set up before the first wave of the storm started. Some of us got soaked running back and forth to the pharmacy. Others, (Belvia) just ran around in the rain like a crazy person making the children laugh! The rain left us after lunch and we resumed our clinic with a fresh breeze. Dr. Kinsey and Dr. katy had to make a house call on a young lady 110 years old. The only thing in her home was a fan, washing machine, and her hammock. She had a broken hip with a sore on the opposite side due to her inability to move around. The doctors talked to her grandson about as plan to make her more comfortable and fixed a box of supplies for them.
The day has arrived grey and overcast. We will only see a half day clinic today. The weather may keep some of the boat people away, so we get started early. After vital signs are taken, Bud takes Suzanne, Vickie, Ruth, and Belvia to finish the dental class and make balloon hats and animals. The children gathered round despite the rain. We are able to finish clinic on time and load all the supplies in the boat during a lull in the rain. We say our goodbyes to the village and head down river towards the Amazon. Sorting thru our supplies, we feel we were able to assist quite a few people. Jessica says our final number was 650 patients. We used all the glasses, toothpaste, and tooth brushes. We had a few packs of vitamins left for the crew, and a few other meds we will leave for the next team.
The clouds have vanished and it looks like we will have a beautiful day to end our Brazil mission. All of our luggage is packed and we'll debark after our breakfast and morning devotions. Pastor Augusta lead us in a beautiful service based on the unnamed helpers in the bible and the teamwork needed to serve. Teca taught us a Brazilian parting. You place your hands on the persons shoulders and say "God bless you", move your hands to frame their face and say "God protect you", then hug them and say "God give you peace". We don't leave for the airport until 9 pm. I guess we'll have to suffer thru some shopping with the street vendors and continue to support the local economy.