Helping Honduras: CoC Student-Athletes Participate in a Medical-based Mission Trip

Hayley Harrell, Sarah Havel and Jamie Harrell with a group of children in Honduras

Volleyball magazine contributing writer Jacob Messer conducted a question-and-answer session with the Harrells and Havel during an hour-long telephone interview. Read on to hear what they had to say.

Three College of Charleston student-athletes—Hayley Harrell, a junior defensive specialist on the volleyball team; Jamie Harrell, a freshman on the tennis team; and Sarah Havel, a junior outside hitter and middle blocker on the volleyball team—enjoyed a life-changing experience in February.

The young women spent five days in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where they participated in a medical-based mission trip organized by the sisters’ mother. St. Phillip’s Church, a Diocese of South Carolina parish where the family worships, has taken spiritual-based mission trips to the Central America country for about 20 years. This was the sixth visit for 21-year-old Hayley, a biology and psychology double major; the fifth for 19-year-old Jamie, a biology major; and the second for 21-year-old Havel, an elementary education major.

The Harrells plan to become doctors like their mother and maternal grandfather, while Havel aspires to become a teacher like her maternal grandparents. Helping Hondurans is a family affair for the sisters, who are accompanied by their mother, Dr. Laurie Harrell, a radiation oncologist in Charleston, SC. A family friend, Havel decided to tag along for the past two trips.

Performing procedures with a group of doctors and dentists, the student-athletes helped treat 617 people in three days of clinics—a new personal best, they proudly noted.

VBM: How did your involvement in this program begin?


LAMB [Latin American Missionary and Bible Institute] founder Suzy McCall is from South Carolina. She spent a significant amount of time in Charleston. She went to the College of Charleston. She went to our church. She got a calling to go to Honduras after Hurricane Mitch hit in 1999. A group from our church started going down there because of her. My mother also went with a different group of doctors on a mission trip. From there, my mother and I started going on our own. It was primarily her idea. She wanted to start another team to go down there more than once a year to do medical mission work. Instead of seeing patients once a year, we get to see them more than once. My mother and I went the first time. My sister went with us the next year.


I was roommates with Hayley my freshman year. When she came back from one of her trips, she told me about her experience and what she was able to do. It sparked my interest. I was fortunate enough to go with them my sophomore year and then again this past time.

VBM: You all have made multiple trips to Honduras. Why do you keep returning?


One of my main goals in life is to help people. I’m interested in medicine, and I want to be a doctor. It gives me an opportunity to help people who are less fortunate than we are. I don’t know. I just fell in love with doing it.


The first time I went down, it was an eye-opening experience. I’m also interested in medicine. It piqued my interest. It isn’t some terrible burden to go down there and help people. Since we have the resources, I think we have the responsibility to do it.

VBM: Is it something you look forward to?


Yes, it’s something I look forward to. Living in the United States, we are so blessed to have almost anything we want. It’s an eye opener and a gut check to realize how much we have and how thankful we should be every day. It really makes me appreciate what I have.


One thing I really look forward to is interacting with the different kinds of people we meet. We see people that we saw the year before, and they recognize us and remember us. It’s really cool to have that interaction with them.

VBM: What did you all see and experience in Honduras?


As far as the most shocking thing that we see, we go to this one community, I’m not sure how many people live there. It’s a little neighborhood on the side of a hill next to a landfill. There are literally wooden shacks built into the hillside. No water. No electricity. They are living on the bare essentials.


One of the most amazing things to me is the scenery. The landscape is so beautiful. You can see for miles. The sky is always so blue. But the houses and conditions these people live in … they have nothing. It’s all rock and dirt. No grass. The poverty they live in is pretty amazing.


But they are still happy. They don’t know any different.


The houses they live in are terrible. They don’t even have floors. But they take so much pride in the little they have. They love telling and showing you where they live. They sweep the floor and clean the house. They don’t have a lot, but what they do have is so clean.

VBM: What do you learn or take from it?


Anyone who has an experience like this will have more love in their heart for other people in the world.


It always takes me a couple of days to process what we have seen. I think we, as humans, are responsible for helping our fellow humans. It’s something everybody needs to do and experience. We all live in this world together. It’s part of our nature to want to help people. If you have the resources and ability, you absolutely should do it.


I definitely agree with both of them. You see what we take for granted in the United States. It’s important for us to lend a helping hand. We have to take advantage of that opportunity and do as much as we can when we can.


A lot of times, people say, “It’s so great that you go down there and help people. You are a good person.” But it’s more than that. I personally think it’s a privilege to go down there and have the experience. I count my blessings every day. I’m so thankful I have had the opportunity to do this. They get the medicine and medical care out of it, but what we get out of it is even more important.

VBM: What was your favorite part of the trip?


My favorite part is interacting with people and seeing how grateful they are when you can give them medicine. To be able to make somebody feel better by giving them 50 cough drops … it’s really an eye-opening feeling. If you give someone a cough drop in the United States, they are like, “OK. Thanks.” If you give someone a cough drop in Honduras, they are so grateful to have some of their pain relieved. We take little things like that for granted. If we are dehydrated or have a headache, we can get a drink of water or take an Advil. They can’t do that.
We took a dentist [with us to Honduras] this time. I [applied anesthesia to] a lot of people and pulled a lot of teeth. Sarah pulled some teeth, too. It was really, really fun. They don’t have the hygiene we have here. They don’t even have toothbrushes; that is one of the things that we take down there. To get those teeth out of there so it doesn’t bother them anymore is really cool.


My favorite part is having a clear mission or purpose to fulfill. We are able to provide immediate relief. It’s really gratifying, not just to relieve their pain, but to give them some kind of hope and encouragement to fight through all of the challenges they face.


My favorite part is interacting with people. Just playing simple games like Freeze Tag with the kids and making them smile.

VBM: Sarah, I heard you stood out because of your height and appearance.


I definitely do. The tallest men are nowhere near 6 feet tall. Me, I’m over 6 feet. They called me “Alta,” which means tall in Spanish. We all got a kick out of that. I have blonde hair and light skin. The little girls wanted to play with my hair because they had never seen it; they all have black or brown hair.

VBM: Were there any sports involved on the trip?


No, it was pretty much medical and educational. Soccer is a huge sport down there. A few of our team members are really good soccer players. They took some balls and gear. They went to different fields and ran day camps. We were just with the medical team.

VBM: So, no volleyball or tennis? Is that an aspect you would like to include in the future?


Yes, I would love to bring an athletic aspect into it. We have talked about it. Getting the equipment down there is the biggest obstacle.

VBM: Hayley and Sarah, is there anything you have learned on the volleyball court that prepared you for your mission trip?


Teamwork. It’s a huge aspect in volleyball. We had to have it when we were in Honduras. We had to work together and communicate with the doctors.


Another big thing is trust. When we go to Honduras, we go into these villages and they aren’t exactly the safest places in the world. We don’t know what we will encounter. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s dangerous, but it isn’t safe. We have to have trust in God, each other, our translators, and our bus drivers to get home safe each night.

Read more about South Carolina native Suzy McCall and the LAMB Institute.

Hayley Harrell: It's a Match

A spur-of-the-moment decision led to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Hayley Harrell, whose lifelong goal always has been to help others. Rewind to the spring semester of her freshman year at the College of Charleston, her hometown school, where the South Carolina native is a 5’7” defensive specialist for the Cougars’ volleyball team.

Harrell and her former roommate and teammate Sarah Taggart were heading to class when they noticed Nation Marrow Donation Program volunteers soliciting Be The Match Registry recruits. Urged by Taggart, Harrell decided to join, despite some mild misgivings.

The woman who swabbed her cheek to get a DNA sample assured Harrell there was only a one-in-150,000 chance she would be called. Case in point: Her mother, Trident Cancer Center radiation oncologist Laurie Harrell, has been on the list for 25 years and has not been contacted for a donation.

But almost two years later, Harrell received an unexpected and improbable phone call from the Nation Marrow Donation Program. The message: Her bone marrow was a match for a six-year-old girl afflicted with Fanconi anemia, a rare genetic disorder that prevents the body from making red blood cells and leads to bone marrow failure.

“It would have been 100 percent fatal unless she got a bone marrow transplant,” Harrell said. Doctors at Medical University of South Carolina performed the painful procedure on Dec. 10, 2010.

“They put you to sleep, and then they go into your iliac crest,” said Harrell, a biology and psychology double major. “They stick long needles in both sides and fill them up with the marrow.

“It was very, very painful, but it was all worth it,” she added. “I felt extremely blessed to be able to do it. It was very rewarding.”

Her bone marrow immediately was flown to an unspecified location, where the recipient was awaiting it for the transplant. Harrell, 21, will not get to meet or contact the girl.

“She lives in another country, and that country will not release her name and information,” said Harrell, who will receive six-month and one-year updates on the girl and her progress. “As rewarding as it is, it is sad that [a relationship with her] is out of reach. I won’t ever get to meet her or know her.”

But knowing she saved the girl’s life is enough for Harrell, who struggles to talk about the topic.

“It’s very hard,” she said, “because I get very emotional about it.”

Originally published in July 2011

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