Sept. 17 Salsa Sizzle is CAMO'S biggest fundraiser

Sept. 17 Salsa Sizzle is CAMO'S biggest fundraiser

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For almost three decades, Central American Medical Outreach has been growing, increasing the services it provides to fill gaps in care in Honduras. The upcoming Salsa Sizzle at the Greystone Event Center in Wooster on Sept. 17 is CAMO's biggest fundraiser of the year, and all proceeds go directly to expanding its impact in Honduras.

The Orrville-based nonprofit has three areas of focus: community development, education and medical services. It has 25 medical programs and 57 permanent staff in Honduras, five staff in Wayne County, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. CAMO has gone from its first major project in their early years — the creation of a kitchen at a hospital — to being a leader in both health services and in disaster relief, providing shelter to Hondurans after two hurricanes hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re heading into our 30th year, and every year we have seen strengthening of what we are doing and growth of the organization," CAMO founder Kathryn Tschiegg said. "The most important thing from the past six months, with the new leadership in Honduras, is we have been working closely with USAID and the (Honduran) Ministry of Health. The top officials in healthcare in Honduras asked us to talk to them about our model.”

The new leadership she is referring to is the election in January 2022 of the first female president in Honduras, President Xiomara Castro.

“CAMO has seen such success that people are seeking us out to have meetings with us due to our model of sustainability and the impact this model has had in the city of Santa Rosa de Copan with a population 64,000,” Tschiegg said.

It is difficult to have success in communities in Honduras due to many areas of high poverty, lack of infrastructure, poor roads for transportation, lack of access to credit and a plethora of other issues. What makes CAMO unique is its emphasis on sustainability. The group doesn't focus only on short-term solutions, but also has invested for three decades in communities, improving quality of life and building local capacity.

How does CAMO work?

Tschiegg launched CAMO after serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras and witnessing too many preventable deaths. Upon return to the U.S., she spent 15 years as an emergency, trauma and surgical intensive care nurse at Aultman Hospital. She made a connection between surplus medical supplies in many U.S. medical facilities and the gaps she had observed in the Honduran medical system.

CAMO now collects and stores surplus medical supplies — and equipment — in a warehouse in Orrville, shipping full containers to Honduras each year.

However, supplies alone won't solve the problems impacting the safety and quality of life of Hondurans. CAMO also trains local Honduran staff so they can carry the programs into the future.

And finally, CAMO takes a holistic approach to human well-being. It has completed community-development projects around education and job training, construction of a community gym and a cultural center, and supporting and improving the lives of those in a domestic-violence center.

CAMO success stories

Completed in 1997, CAMO’s first kitchen project in a Honduran hospital was no small thing. Building the new kitchen for the hospital cost about $57,000.

“They were cooking on a wood-burning stove and doing tortillas on an open fire for the entire patient and staff population," Tschiegg said. "The women that were working in that kitchen, when you walked into the adobe kitchen, the walls were black from smoke. Most of those women would die shortly after retiring from COPD or similar illnesses.”

Fast forward to the COVID-19 pandemic: CAMO had continued to grow over the years, but everything came to a halt during 2020.

“It was a low point in 2020. We had no idea if our funders would respond. I didn't know if we could work around COVID,” Tschiegg said. Then things got even worse.

“Two hurricanes back to back hit Honduras in November 2020. They were Hurricanes Eta and Iota. One million people were displaced, so I just started a campaign for towels and blankets, and I was just trying to keep funding for my staff in Honduras. Then in December 2020, I got a call from a major donor. It allowed us to build 432 homes in Honduras for those without shelter.”

That final project was valued at $1 million including many donations of supplies, equipment and time. Three local businesses made notable donations: Seaman Corporation, which donated heavy polymer material that would become the walls of the homes; Navarre Weldmaster, which donated $18,000 in equipment to weld the material at Seaman; and Gerber Lumber of Kidron, which donated 10 tons of screws, equipment and more.

Salsa Sizzle

All of this relies upon philanthropic donations and volunteers. CAMO has tracked its total number of volunteers and gets an average of at least 200 every two months.

The Salsa Sizzle event is CAMO's biggest fundraiser and is entering its 14th year, with 100% of funds going directly to programs and staffing in Honduras.

“We have a live band, dancing, buffet dinner, dessert — all Latin-flavored food. Then we have a half-hour auction with (a comic) auctioneer to liven up the event,” Tschiegg said.

The auction has a live and an online component for those who cannot attend in person. Several high-ticket experiences are prizes in this year’s auction including a hot-air balloon ride; a weekend in Nashville, Tennessee at a bed and breakfast; and a week at an oceanfront condo at the island destination of Roatan, Honduras. There also will be a variety of mid-sized items, ranging from a professional charcuterie spread to artwork.

The Salsa Sizzle will take place from 6-11 p.m. Tickets are $50 per person, or groups and businesses can buy full tables as well. There also are $10 dancing tickets from 9-11 p.m. for salsa dancing, targeting college students or anyone who just wants to dance and buy drinks. Call the office at 330-683-5956 or register at www.camo.org/salsa-sizzle-2022/.