Local volunteer returns to El Salvador to lend a hand

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Local businessman and Chamber President Simon Boersma poses with a group of doctors and medical professionals on a past Flying Doctors of Canada humanitarian trip.
– Submitted Photo

by Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – Pleasant Homes co-owner and Morinville and District Chamber of Commerce President Simon Boersma leaves for El Salvador July 8 on a humanitarian trip. The journey is his sixth trip with the Flying Doctors of Canada, a non-governmental, non-profit registered charity made up of general volunteers, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers, each committed to helping those most in need. Boersma is part of a group that will spend 10 days in the Central America nation seeing patients, teaching them how to build special stoves, and making a significant contribution to the local economy while they are there.

“We’re going into a smaller community and they are a historical community that dates back to the 1500s,” Boersma said. “There’s an old Catholic church in town and a lot of the [people there] work very tight in the community. We work with the outer communities of that main community. We have the mayor and council come out and help us set up medical clinics. All the schools shut down while we are there, so we use the school house for the day.”

Boersma said the flying doctors would mainly see women and children on the trip as the men are away from the community working during the week. The men will be seen largely on the weekend when they return home from work in the fields or in San Salvador. “On Saturdays the fathers usually come home, so we try to hit one of the clinics on a Saturday in a local community,” he said. “We see more men at that point. But for the most part we see mostly women and children, and grandfathers.”

Regardless of age or gender, Boersma said it is not uncommon to see a line-up of 200 to 300 people when they open shop for the day, people who will wait the day to receive medical or dental treatment during the Flying Doctors’ visit to the community.

But tending to a large number of patients over a short period of time takes more than skilled medical professionals and volunteers like Boersma who assist them. It takes plenty of equipment and supplies. “We’ll bring 12 to 14 bags of stuff with us,” Boersma said of the supplies needed to treat patients, adding medication alone will cost as much as $12,000. “We bring a bovine x-ray machine with us so we can actually use it in the field. We have an x-ray tech with us. We used to have to hang the cards up and look in the sunshine. Last year we went to the Mac system. We can actually bring the computer now and do the data imaging a lot better.” In addition to the portable x-ray unit, the group brings a lab, allowing them to do blood work and getting instant results. “We’re almost a hospital on wheels. We can’t do operations but we wish we could some days.”

Proactive approach to health

While providing medical attention is a key component of the humanitarian trips, the project is also focused on ensuring the communities in El Salvador and Nicaragua become sustainable communities. Boersma explained in many of the communities the organization works and have worked, stoves are not in the principal dwelling – instead they are contained in an external cookhouse, covered to protect against the monsoon rains. Boersma’s expertise as a builder has allowed him to play a significant role in addressing the problem by teaching the El Salvadorans a new way to build a cook stove, one with a chimney to vent the smoke far away from the cooks’ lungs.

It has not been an easy task because it is a matter of re-teaching people who have cooked a particular way for generations. Boersma will once again be working with community members on building proper stoves this trip, but also teaching them how to make bricks so that they can teach others how to make the special stoves. “We have an adobe brick-making machine, so we are hoping to work a little more with the [brick] press,” Boersma said, noting we is excited to see what progress they have made with it over the past year. “Last year I left the press with one of the fellows there. Hopefully they’ve made some bricks, and I’m hoping to see some solidification of what we’ve left behind.”

Long history of volunteering

For Boersma, the trip is a continuation of humanitarian and social work he started at the age of 18 when he began smuggling bibles behind the wall in Eastern Europe. Though today’s efforts are more about bringing physical rather than spiritual health, the passion to give of himself is still as strong, if not stronger. “I think it really brings a rounding effect to you,” Boesrma said. “It’s part of the character. There is so much that you receive from it. It’s like you give but you come back on a high. You not only fly home but you are flying when you get here.” The lifelong volunteer said he sees the mission as good for the soul, one that enhances the respect and appreciation for what Canadians have to be thankful for, things he feels people shouldn’t take for granted.

Beyond the personal satisfaction and reinforcement, Boersma derives considerable pleasure from vicariously enjoying the experience of the students who accompany him and the Flying Doctors of Canada on the trip. “I think I get so much strength out of what I see happening with those kids down the road,” he said. “I’ve now seen six years of kids that have become doctors. I think 90 per cent of the students who have gone through our program are now doctors. I see those kids on Facebook and I now see them doing what we [the Flying Doctors] are doing. They’re doing this somewhere else. They may be attached to a Rotary Club. They may be attached to another organization. But they are doing it. That is the biggest thing for me, seeing others grab the torch and start doing.”

The volunteer has also seen the impact on community leaders in the areas the humanitarian group serves. We also speak into the lives of leaders during the time that we are there,” Boersma said. “We may be there to do medical aid, but we are speaking into the lives of big leaders. We meet with government officials. They come to the site. There is a bigger picture. You are doing so much when you are in that community. You are a leader when you are there. As much as we have to give them, they give back to us.”

Boesrma is set to return to Morinville July 21. For more information on the Flying Doctors of Canada visit flyingdoctors.ca.

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  1. Amazing work Simon. We are blessed to have you as a member of our community.

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