Local man helps bridge the language gap in Honduras

A world away in Central America, there are families living in extreme poverty where access to health care is an exception, rather than the rule.

 Rick Reiter has the honor of carrying the newborn to the nursery, following the C-section delivery at Puerto Lempira Hospital, 2012.
Rick Reiter has the honor of carrying the newborn to the nursery, following the C-section delivery at Puerto Lempira Hospital, 2012.

Parasites and lice are chronic among children. People who just want to read the Bible aren’t able because their eyesight is failing and glasses are a rare commodity.

For Rick Reiter this fall will mark his sixth visit to Honduras, one of the poorest nations in Latin America. Honduras is bordered by the countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Reiter, who was a longtime resident of Coon Rapids before moving to Anoka two years ago, visits the country with International Health Services of Minnesota (IHS), where he works as a translator between medical staff and the people of Honduras.

IHS visits Honduras 10 days in October and two weeks in February, setting up medical service centers where a staff of mostly Minnesotan doctors, nurses, dentists and optometrists treat all sorts of illness and ailments.

“We set up clinics in the remotest and poorest areas of Honduras,” said Reiter. “It is difficult to describe the conditions – no running water, no electricity, no motorized vehicles.”

People live in houses made of rough cut lumber and the children run bare foot.

Six years ago Reiter, or Ricardito as he as known to his Honduran friends and clinic patients, was quickly immersed in the program when he was assigned to a surgical team as a Spanish/English interpreter.

Patients requiring surgery are flown by missionary aircraft to Puerto Lempira for evaluation and care. Along with the surgical team, Reiter has also been part of eye care and medical/dental teams.

Each team sees over 200 patients every day.

“Some people walk five, six hours to get there,” said Reiter.

The locals handle the organization of different villages for health care, along with crowd control once they arrive.

There are moments when the dire and enormous needs of the Honduran people make the work emotionally overwhelming.

“Sometimes you feel like a drop in the bucket because there are so many people you can’t help them all,” said Reiter.

The smiles and the hugs from patients buoy him in those tough times, according to Reiter.

“You get a little bit frustrated and sad because there is so much that needs to be done, but you just have to think about the ones you are helping,” Reiter said.

IHS is in need of both financial support and volunteers – particularly trained medical staff and translators, he said.

This fall Reiter will travel five hours by boat, where volunteers will set up clinics along the Kruta River.

Volunteers pay for their own round-trip flights to and from Honduras plus a fee to IHS to cover their travel while in the country, along with food.


How he got involved

Reiter’s interest in the Spanish language goes back to high school.

His first career was with the Minnesota Army National Guard where he served safety and occupational health manager – a career where there wasn’t much call for bilingualism.

After his retirement he went to work for a local company that provided janitorial and building security services as a training manager.

Here, he started to improve his Spanish in order to better communicate with the company’s Hispanic workforce.

When the company closed the division where Reiter worked, he lost his job.

At the urging of friends, he visited the unemployment office where he was assigned a Mexican American case worker.

Reiter qualified as a dislocated worker, which led to extensive language training both in the U.S. and Mexico which he did through government funding and on his own dime.

In the years since he has taught Spanish throughout the state, and even had his own language school for a while.

“All during my life I had this interest in Spanish and people kept asking me why I was doing this,” said Reiter. “I didn’t have a definite goal.”

After connecting with IHS through his daughter’s workplace, he got his answer.

“Now I know,” Reiter said. “This is why I am doing this. I am putting all my work over these years to good use.”

In addition to the twice-yearly trips, Reiter also puts his fluency in Spanish to work on a regular basis in the Twin Cities, volunteering as an interpreter at St. Mary’s Clinic in St. Paul. He also translates one day a week at a women’s shelter.

“We’re lighting a candle in the darkness,” said Reiter of his work with IHS.


Funding a challenge

For IHS to provide medical help in Honduras is hugely expensive.

Reiter said the medicines alone for the upcoming October trip will cost $42,000.

According to Deb Fisher, IHS fund-raising director, state and national problems with unemployment and a weak economy have resulted in donations hitting an all-time low.

The Anoka Rotary Club, of which Reiter is a member, has voted to include IHS as part of its international outreach efforts and made a financial contribution toward this year’s fund-raising campaign.

On Sept. 30 a local fund-raiser at Anoka’s Green Haven Golf Club will raise both money and awareness for IHS’s work.

A social gathering will start at 11 a.m. followed by an all-you-can eat brunch at 11:45 a.m.

Tickets are $25 for adults and $12.50 for children under 15.

Door prizes and auction items will be available. For more information contact Fisher at [email protected] or Reiter at [email protected] 763-755-8267.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]