MANITOWOC, Wis. — Silver Lake College senior Heysa Orellana Vega grew up in the small village of Toncontin near La Ceiba, a port city on the northern coast of Honduras in Central America.
By her own admission, her family is poor. They are not alone. More than 66 percent of people in Honduras live in poverty, according to official 2016 statistics.
Finding affordable, nearby health care is a problem.
“Poverty is everywhere, but mostly in the rural communities,” Heysa said. “They live in the mountains and don’t have the opportunity to go to the city and pay the doctor. They don’t have money to pay for the bus.”
Thanks to Heysa and the generosity of three area churches — Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Kiel, Holy Rosary Catholic Church in New Holstein and St. Ann Parish in the town of St. Anna — the people of her hometown now have a clinic in their community and can get the care they need without spending a lot of money.
The project was a team effort, involving more than a dozen hospitals (including Holy Family Memorial in Manitowoc), as well as individual donors.
Two existing buildings were available for a clinic and support building; they were crumbling and in need of repair.
Heysa acted as liaison between American supporters and the Honduran government and its people, said David Worhall of Holy Rosary Church, who encouraged Heysa to get involved in the project.
“Heysa was ambitious enough to go to government officials and not leave until she had support. Heysa is superb at this kind of thing. It’s just beyond belief what she does,” he said.
“I have a passion to help the poor,” Heysa said. “I have wanted to help others since I was about 9 or 10 years old.”
Heysa began her studies in Appleton in 2009, the first one in her family to leave the country in pursuit of a college education. About a year after she came to the United States, she met members of the New Holstein churches, who were transferring donated equipment from HFM to New Holstein for eventual use in Honduras.
She asked the church members to help her pursue her dream of opening a clinic in her home community and they were generous in their support. Her work with American donors and the Honduran government was instrumental in the clinic’s opening in 2013.
“For many years, people were looking at how to open the clinic. When I started working at the clinic, it included two run-down buildings, no medicine, no medical equipment, no doctors or nurses,” she said.
Her collaboration with the area churches also assisted the city of Puerto Cortes and the town of Omoa with medical needs.
Heysa spent about five years volunteering at her hometown clinic and other clinics and hospitals in Honduras before she returned to the United States in 2016 to continue her studies at Silver Lake College. Scholarships and help from the churches made this possible. She is pursuing a degree in business management.
With her education, Heysa hopes to help sustain the clinic when she returns home. She also hopes to help the people of Honduras set up their own businesses so they can earn more money to better their lives, she said.
Right now, she’s raising money to build a bridge.
Her hometown is one of about 35 towns situated along the Cangrejal River System. When the hard rains hit the area in November through January, villagers on one side of the Rio Viego (Old River) have a hard time getting to the clinic and villagers on the other side of the river have trouble getting to the city.
Heysa has been speaking to various area church groups to gather support for the project.
“Faith in God has taught me to have love for others,” Heysa said. “Life is all about giving, not gaining. The more I do to make other people happy, the more I increase my own happiness.
PHOTOS: Silver Lake College student Heysa Orellana Vega (top). The clinic (center) and river (bottom) in Honduras that Silver Lake College student Heysa has taken on as projects. Submitted