By Alex Petroski

For a dozen years, a pastor from First Presbyterian Church of Port Jefferson has been making an annual trip to Honduras to provide people of all ages with desperately needed medical care.

Reverend Richard Graugh, a Mount Sinai native who has been at First Presbyterian since 2007, first joined a small group of doctors from across North America in making a trip to the third-world country 12 years ago.

Honduran women prepare food for physicians and those waiting to be seen by doctors. Photo from Richard Graugh

In the years since its inception, the mission has expanded to include the establishment of a nonprofit organization, and plans to construct a permanent medical clinic in Honduras now exist.

Belle Terre resident Jackie Gernaey, who has made the trip once before, attended the last visit to Honduras, from Dec. 31, 2016, to Jan. 10.

“It ends up turning into a giant village celebration when we show up,” Graugh said. “It’s not really a party, but they all get dressed up; they’re cooking food like pre-gaming at a football game.”

Graugh described the circumstances of the group’s annual January trip, which lasts for a week and is funded out of the pockets of the doctors and other volunteers who make the trek. The doctors pack suitcases with medical equipment, medicines, supplies and even crayons and coloring books, to hand out to children while they wait on lines to receive treatment. This year, 18 Americans from across the country joined twice as many Hondurans in setting up shop at the Hospital of San Lorenzo in southern Honduras to administer eye exams to 430 people — most for the removal of cataracts — dental care for more than 600 patients and other medical treatments to the hundreds of villagers. Dental and eye care are of extreme importance to the Honduran people because of a lack of clean water and a blistering hot sun year-round. Cataracts are a common problem for people of all ages.

A Honduran waits to be seen by a physician. Photo from Richard Graugh

Graugh said 12 years ago, it was a small operation started by doctors from Pennsylvania who essentially just asked around to see if anyone was interested in joining.

“We used to go down there and do this, and there would be no real organization behind it apart from people with good intentions and good faith and good skills to help these people,” he said.

A nonprofit organization called Key Humanitarian Initiative for Southern Honduras was established with bases in Virginia and Honduras, as a way to raise more funds for the annual mission. Now, the group is seeking donations and has received a plot of land to establish a permanent medical facility so that groups can make trips to provide care to Hondurans all year.

“Ostensibly, one from North America is astounded by the quality of joy they have in the day that we’re there,” Graugh said of the trips. “I don’t know if they have the joy all of the time, but there is a palpable sense of joy present even though these people live in very poor conditions.”

Despite the joy Graugh said he observes during his time in the country, the mission is far from a happy occurrence for him.

“If I’m totally honest, I always struggle with how important it is to the individual when it happens, but how small of an effect [it is] on the whole grand scale of things,” he said. “Life is hard. Doing this for 12 years, I’ve seen 12-year-olds [turn into] 24-year-olds [who] have two kids of their own. They’re rung out. Life is hard. At the same time they come and they smile.”

Volunteers during their annual medical mission to Honduras. Photo from Richard Graugh

He said beginning and continuing this mission has opened his eyes.

“If you’ve never been to the developing world, there’s a real straightening out of one’s priorities,” he said. “When you come back and we’re all so consumed with so many things and so busy it’s like, ‘did you have food today?’”

Melvin Tejada, one of the founders of KHISH who lives in Honduras, said in an email what the missions mean to the people of Honduras and the group’s mission to provide medical care to people in desperate need.

“[He is] a humble person with a great heart for the poor of my country,” Tejada said of Graugh in an email.

Graugh said he is just glad to be able to help in any way.

“It’s just this real minute part of improvement in their lives,” he said, “but if I can be part of that, it’s enough for me.”

To learn more about KHISH’s cause, to donate or to get involved, visit www.khishprojectvision.com.

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