(Reprinted by permission from Mt Juliet News, February 19, 1998)
Five years ago when Bill Staggs went to Nicaragua he faced the vacant stares of hungry faces. People who didn’t know how they would ever make their way through the brutal inflation imposed on them by their government. Zeros were literally printed over the currency and it was so worthless, it blew through the streets like trash.
“It is so much better today than it was five or six years ago after the Sandinistas left,” Staggs said over a cup of coffee Monday morning as he told of his recent trip to Managua as a medical missionary.
“The economy is better, and I’ll tell you how you can tell. One, there’s a four-star restaurant now in Managua, and the food is wonderful,” Staggs said. He was treated to dinner at that restaurant the day he arrived, Jan. 29–his 50th birthday. “The other way we can tell,” he said, “is by the number of teeth we pull. If their teeth are good, it’s usually because they are able to buy toothpaste and a toothbrush.”
Staggs was the only pharmacist on a team of four doctors and five dentists that saw nearly 1,000 patients over the course of four and a half days. He and his two assistants who spoke no English filled thousands of prescriptions.
In the past, the medical teams that visited Nicaragua saw a lot of cases of worms and malnutrition. With economic conditions improving, the health of the Nicaraguans is improving and the team saw less nutritional deficiencies this time. Fungal infections and runny noses were predominant in the clinic this visit, Staggs said.
The team only saw one “scary incident,” Staggs added. An eight or nine-year-old boy impaled his hand when he slipped while climbing a 10-foot security fence. “He was fortunate he didn’t sever any tendons,” Staggs said. “He did very well. We did surgery right there in the clinic and he was in church the very next day.”
They also had a slight run-in with a local officer of the law. “The guy that was driving us almost ran into a guy that was standing in the middle of the road. The driver put on the brakes fast, but there was no screeching, no sliding. Well, the guy in the road turned out to be a police officer and he accused us of trying to run him over. He fined us 180 lempira on the spot, which of course went right into his pocket.” The Nicaraguan currency lempira exchanges with the U. S. dollar at 10.5 to one.
Staggs has been on more medical mission trips than he can remember. “The only two trips that you remember are your last trip and the very first trip you went on.” He travels with teams through Health Talent, a missionary organization based in Birmingham, Alabama. Teams are made up of medical and dental professional from all over the United States. They travel to Africa and South America bringing services and supplies to people in the largest cities as well as the most remote regions. He funds his own trips, and brings along goods that are donated by individuals, businesses and organizations.
He brought along 70 pounds of pharmaceuticals that the Church of Christ clinic in Managua might have difficulty obtaining, and what wasn’t prescribed while he ws there, he left behind for the clinic’s pharmacy (“and I use that term loosely,” he added), which is manned by a young woman who Staggs said “does a really good job, and she’s had no training.”
For his next trip in March Staggs is lining up a team of local practitioners to travel to the San Blas Islands of Panama to work with the Cuna Indians and the remote village of Sambu near Davarian to work with the Choho Indians. “That trip will be a real adventure,” Staggs said. The natives are gracious and generous he said, and he especially looks forward to their chicken foot soup.
The one thing he dislikes the most about the trips? “Packing,” he said. “And if it wasn’t for the souvenirs I bring home, I would return almost empty handed. I give away practically everything I go down there with, even my clothes. We can always use donated items to take with us.”
If you would like to donate goods such as t-shirts, snacks, or bottled water for Staggs’ next mission trip, please contact the church office.