Just came back last week from a 10-day medical mission trip in Sao Paolo Brazil with a nondenominational organization (founded by a family member who is Colombian). The organization makes a yearly trip (sometimes twice yearly) to South America. The next will likely be Honduras next March or so.
I worked with an American ER M.D. who volunteered for the trip. And there were two dentists and two opthomologists along, as well as a Brazilian PA, a couple of other nurses, a dental hygentist and some nonmedical volunteers who helped with histories and other matters.
We served over 1600 Brazilians between med/dent/optho. It was basic clinic, like out of nursing school, primarily for bad HTN, like 200/100 was very common. Several high blood glucose. Some reashes. A few who basically fainted while waiting to get served. Mostly the very poor, farm laborers in a rural location, slum dwellers in another. We had 5-1/2 solid days of clinics, the rest lounge-around time.
The Sao Paolo we saw in the southern section consisted primarily of mile afer mile of people living in little concrete-brick-tin roof structures the size of the average American living room. The poorest--the squatters--live in cardboard/tin structures, mostly open to air. Some poeple living in parks and under bridges (but you can see that in the good old U.S.A.)
All but the squatters have domiciles strong enough to make locks worthwhile. There are bars on every window (sometimes even the second story) and the garages have locked mesh steel slides that people keep locked even when you see them out tooling around in the garage.
We were told to always stay in the group, not to stray. The only incident was when one of the meds put down a cell phone and it was stolen, but the person who took it came back later to say her husband had bought it for $150 and suggested she be paid back. (She got some food.)
Being driven around Sao Paol you realize why there are so many Brazilians in NASCAR. Brazilians drive in a frenzied sincrynous fashion with motorbikers darting in and around lanes. People ride bumpers if they want to send the message they want to pass--I'm talking two feet at 60 MPH. If it had been the U.S. I'm sure several gun battles would have broken out. Yet we saw only a few fender benders in all the 10 days. (The say that a biker gets killed in Sao Paolo every day because of the driving--but not bad for a city of 23 million.)
It was not a vacation. That is not what a mission trip is about. Yet time is allowed to get a good picture of how people in the host country live. And as in Brazil--particularly the Sao Paolo area--it was a real eye opener. And when I got back to the U.S. I would have kissed the ground...if I wasn't a nurse (as a nurse I know what can lurk there). Overall it was a good experience.