Penticton’s own travelling humanitarian recently returned from a six-day, 6,500-kilometre whirlwind trek to deliver a badly needed ambulance to a small town in Honduras.
Dr. Grant Bogyo, his wife Betty and two friends, Dan Gaudry and Fred Friesen, hopped in the decommissioned B.C. Ambulance at 10 p.m. March 24 on the start of a journey that would see them cross four borders on their way to Naco, Honduras.
|Somewhere in Texas, 24 hours from Penticton are (left to right) Betty Bogyo, Dan Gaudry, Fred Friesen and Dr. Grant Bogyo. (Submitted photo)
Driving continuously for the first 40 hours, they took turns at the wheel of the refurbished vehicle with the intertwined Canadian and Honduran flags beneath a large, blue medical symbol on its doors.
Bogyo, a clinical psychologist in Penticton, and his wife are no strangers to helping others, having done humanitarian relief work in Caracas, Venezuela, Haiti, Mexico, Dominica, the Philippines, Colombia and Africa where the couple met.
“This felt fantastic,” said Bogyo about turning over the keys to the ambulance to officials in Naco. “This is kind of what I’m built to do. I’ve done lots of different things over the years, in a lot of different countries and every time it’s just such a gift to see how we can really make other peoples’ lives better.
“I’m a very fortunate guy. I’m a dual organ recipient and the gifts of other people have kept me going.”
|A gas station guard with a shotgun watches over the traffic during a stop. (Submitted photo)|
Crossing into Mexico at Juarez, south of El Paso, Texas, officials there, when they found out the nature of the trip, waived the transit fee of several hundred U.S. dollars.
From there they drove only during the daylight hours and stayed in motels. With the exception of getting lost near Mexico City and having to deal with an overzealous “federales” who threatened to send them back to Juarez, that part of the trip was relatively uneventful.
Being able to speak Spanish, something he picked up during the years helping as a migrant outreach worker in Penticton, Bogyo found to be a valuable tool.
Crossing into Guatemala too, their mission was helped along its way by caring people.
At a restaurant there, when the quest of their journey was learned, someone paid for their lunch.
“That was the generosity of poor people far exceeding the generosity of wealthy people. It was just such a wonderful experience,” said Bogyo. “I just think the world is an incredible place and when we go, we learn more about ourselves and the tremendously kind people. Who would have thought that some poor people in Guatemala would have bought us lunch? And we ran into that stuff all over the place.”
|A Honduran doctor and two nurses look over medical supplies delivered by the Penticton crew. (Submitted photo)
When they finally reached the Honduran border they were whisked through and sent quickly on their way and when Bogyo told the guard they were importing the vehicle she told them they could do the paperwork later.
They arrived in Naco, with Betty behind the wheel and the lights and sirens on to a huge welcome from the residents who had been without medical transportation to the closest hospital an hour away for some time.
The next day problems developed when government officials seized the ambulance and Bogyo’s passport.
“They accused me of falsifying paperwork and misrepresenting things. I was 100 per cent honest, I had all the paperwork but they still made me prove all kinds of things by accessing my bank account here (Penticton)” he recalled. “We got my passport back about an hour and a half before our flight was due to leave—we were about an hour and 45 minutes from the airport but we still made it with 10 minutes to spare.”
When he got back to Canada, Bogyo wrote a “fairly nasty” letter to the Honduran embassy.
He later received a call from the ambassador who apologized and it’s hoped this relationship will make future deliveries smoother.
Since his return, he has also received hundreds of thank you notes from those in the Honduran community.
|Karen Melendez and grandmother. Karen hosted the Penticton residents in her home in Naco. Her sister Maryela is a new Canadian from Naco who now lives in Penticton. (Submitted photo)|
“Basically they’re saying ‘God bless you, thank you, thank you, thank you.’ They said you don’t realize how big this is for us and I think that’s true that we don’t realize, we can’t realize the need, we don’t feel those needs here,” said Bogyo. “But the celebration that they had, singing and dancing and everything welcomed the gift of that ambulance.”
The doctor who worked in the dusty, dirty medical clinic in the Naco, which had no air conditioning in the 40 C heat, said the ambulance was better equipped for delivering health care than the clinic.
Before leaving Penticton, Bogyo alternately parked the ambulance in front Rona, Canadian Tire and Walmart where many people donated to the cause.
There was also a GoFundMe page and many businesses and individuals who also helped out.
“This community has been incredibly great in supporting us,” said Bogyo. “We raised a lot of awareness and I’ll tell you the kid that gave us a dollar to go four kilometres down the road is a kid that is going to have a vision for the future, that even a little bit can make a difference.
“Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. People say: ‘It’s crazy, it’s stupid, it’s foolish’ but there’s the potential here in Penticton to be shot in your driveway but I believe if we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing the good Lord watches out for us and, if something does go awry, that’s OK too, because it was probably meant to be.”
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