International Medical Outreach


Written by Audrey Cheng and Shuli Lo
Translated by Ariel Chan

Tzu Chi TIMA team provides free diagnosis and treatment services to local poor and sick residents.

In 2017, Tzu Chi International Medical Association members from the United States conduct medical consultations in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. Photo/Audrey Cheng


Longstanding structural issues in the spheres of education, health care, wealth inequality, and more pose significant challenges for the people of Honduras. Political upheavals, including a 2009 coup, weakened human rights protections, and as indicated by data from the World Bank Group, the population of Hondurans living in poverty reached a staggering 57.7% in 2020. 

“Between 2001 and 2005, Tzu Chi volunteers visited several times, and while I hosted them, I felt their sincerity,” said Jorge Chang, a local water resources expert with a calm, open-minded demeanor. Moved once more by Tzu Chi volunteers’ compassion after the Foundation’s 2011 flood relief in Tegucigalpa, the nation’s capital, Chang began collaborating with Tzu Chi’s support team led by Martin Kuo. Together, they handled transportation, distribution, and long-term care — eventually planting the first seed of Tzu Chi’s relief in Tegucigalpa.

Tzu Chi volunteers distributing mosquito nets to local residents to prevent mosquito bites
In October 2015, the Zika virus grips Honduras, and in March 2016, Tzu Chi volunteers distribute mosquito nets to help prevent insect bites. Photo/Tzu Chi Honduras Service Center. Photo/Tzu Chi Honduras Service Center

Recognizing the Needs of the People

As charity work expanded in the region, Tzu Chi volunteers discovered that Tegucigalpa’s hygienic conditions and a shortage of daily necessities must be addressed. Most rural areas in the region lacked clean tap water, and people stored water in various containers. With inadequate sanitary essentials, mosquitoes and diseases thrived, leading to annual outbreaks of infectious diseases such as dengue fever. Following the devastation brought by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, additional natural disasters struck. In 2020, Honduras underwent its most active hurricane season in recorded history, battered by 30 storms, and hit by hurricanes Eta and Iota within a two-week span. This cascade of challenges has hindered efforts for growth and recovery in Honduras, allowing little opportunity to recover fully. 

While residents in Tegucigalpa may have government health insurance, not everyone can afford the premiums. Uninsured patients visiting public hospitals must pay a consultation fee of $35. However, this cost is a significant amount for people who are medically uninsured and financially disadvantaged.

“I found that the disadvantaged people here don’t have the privilege to seek medical treatment, so Tzu Chi should hold medical consultations here,” explained Chang, who resides in Tegucigalpa. “I proposed this idea to Tzu Chi International Medical Association, hoping to collaborate and organize medical consultations in Tegucigalpa.” 

Through the introduction of Martin Kuo, Chang met William Keh, the Executive Director of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation at the time. The two became fast friends, and Tzu Chi’s medical resources were brought in. With support from Tzu Chi’s global headquarters in Hualien, Taiwan, from 2012 to 2013, a Tzu Chi community medical center was established in Marcovia. On March 15, 2015, Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) physicians and volunteers came to Marcovia for Tzu Chi’s first medical consultations, providing fundamental medical services to community members alongside 29 local doctors.

The overwhelming medical demand exceeded expectations, and physicians had to adapt to unexpected cases during the event. “It was a bit chaotic on-site. Even though it was our first medical consultation service in Tegucigalpa — not only for us but also for the local doctors and all our volunteers — I think we did quite well,” shared Dr. Stephen Denq, who oversaw the distribution of necessary medications. 

Thanks to the seamless cooperation of local doctors, volunteers, and the Tzu Chi team, the two-day medical event, serving over 1,000 patients, was a wonderful success. “All the volunteers collaborated very well,” shared Steven Voon, Executive Vice President of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation. “What I’m most grateful for is the compassion of the Tegucigalpa volunteers. They really want to learn, want to help, and sincerely want to assist their fellow countrymen,” he said.

Hong-Tsai Chang
During the free clinic, volunteer Jorge Chang interacts with visitors, his caring personality helping to meet patients’ needs while they await treatment. Photo/Audrey Cheng

As a doctor, participating in Tzu Chi’s medical consultations is a great opportunity to care for children, adults, and seniors by providing medical advice and treatment for vulnerable groups. Collaborating with Tzu Chi can bring better services to patients.

More Than Medical Consultations

In Choluteca, Honduras, a worn-down house stands on bare, yellow soil. Alba Luz Antonia Ordonez and her young granddaughter live in this home together, where Alba uses a makeshift stone stove to heat water for her granddaughter in an attempt to alleviate a persistent cough.

Alba’s voice was filled with pain as she related her situation to Tzu Chi volunteers, expressing, “My granddaughter has Down syndrome. She is a special girl who needs special care, but our life is already very difficult. Because I have to provide her with nutritious food, I barely make ends meet by selling things outside. It’s really not easy for me.” 

Despite her grandmother’s dedication, the little girl was very thin and frail. Alba couldn’t help but shed tears as she confided, “I need someone to help for a long time to take care of her.”

I cry and pray to God, hoping that He can open a door for us, or a window. I often cry. God knows I am waiting for God to show us a way out.

“When I think about that grandmother and her granddaughter, I feel very sad,” said a local doctor in Honduras. “They don’t have the ability to buy medicine, and they can’t get the medical assistance they need, so their health and situation can’t improve,” he added. In Honduras, countless people suffer from long-term illnesses and are unable to improve their health due to poverty. Having gained a deeper understanding of the situation, Tzu Chi volunteers realized that one or two medical consultations could not fully meet their medical needs. They needed long-term care and assistance, thus strengthening Tzu Chi’s determination to establish a TIMA chapter in Honduras.

Nourishing Life Like Spring Rain

“For this medical consultation, we had the participation of 29 local doctors, in addition to a fantastic group of volunteers, and, of course, we had medications. With these three indispensable elements, I sincerely hope to establish TIMA in Honduras because the people here really need it,” said Dr. Stephen Denq, whose confidence in establishing a local TIMA chapter grew after this first medical service event. “I hope that after choosing a suitable location, doctors can come back every three months for medical consultations to continue providing services to local residents,” Denq concluded.

Medical volunteerism can develop in Honduras because they have a group of doctors who are very willing to help. At the same time, they also have a group of local volunteers who are very willing to learn how to assist these doctors in providing medical consultation services. I believe that in the future, we will have more medical consultations in Honduras.

William Keh has visited Honduras several times, working tirelessly to lift up local medical care. “The times I have come to Honduras were mainly for interacting with local volunteers, sharing, conducting medical consultations, and evaluating the feasibility of establishing a medical consultation center,” he said. With the assistance of Jorge Chang, Tzu Chi began volunteer training in Honduras in 2011. In 2016, the long-awaited TIMA chapter in Honduras was established. From then on, Tzu Chi was empowered to lead local medical personnel in organizing more consultations, marking another milestone for Tzu Chi’s medical mission in Honduras.

People queue up for medical treatment
In 2018, Tzu Chi’s TIMA chapter in Honduras conducts medical consultations and check-ups in Tegucigalpa. Photo/Tzu Chi Honduras Service Center

Over the years, Tzu Chi members in Honduras gradually extended the reach of their local charity work. In addition to supply distributions, they prepared nutritious meals to raise awareness of vegetarian alternatives, encouraged the community to engage in environmental cleanups locally, and initiated medical and charitable home visits. Tzu Chi volunteers also soon discovered more families in need through free medical outreach events. After obtaining approval from physicians, they started small-scale medical consultation events in six communities on a rotating schedule beginning in June 2021, providing medical services regularly and diligently. 

Tzu Chi’s team in Honduras is continuously growing and developing, and by working hand-in-hand with the local community, these efforts can go even further for those in need. Whether inside or outside Honduras, Tzu Chi members are dedicated to this nation and its people, and volunteers hope to continue cultivating good health and great love wherever the path leads. 


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