CAMO celebrates 30 years of medical aid in Honduras

CAMO celebrates 30 years of medical aid in Honduras
Alan Espinoza

Kathy Tschiegg, left, founder and executive director of Central American Medical Outreach, visits with a young Honduran girl in a daycare her group established. Tschiegg and CAMO are celebrating 30 years of service in 2023.


It takes a special personality and skill set to be able to consistently deliver humanitarian aid internationally for 30 years. And that personality belongs to Kathy Tschiegg, founder and executive director of Central American Medical Outreach, as does the skill set.

CAMO is a nondenominational, Christian-based, humanitarian organization that brings medical services, education and community development to Central America. CAMO provides more than 140,000 life-saving services each year to impoverished people who otherwise would not have access to aid.

An open house celebrating CAMO’s 30 years of service will be held Sunday, May 21, between 1-4 p.m. Featuring live music and food, as well as a tour of the facilities, it takes place at the CAMO facility at 322 Westwood Ave. in Orrville.

Tschiegg of Orrville has not only helped ensure many containers of medical supplies and equipment make it to Honduras each and every year, but also has spearheaded community programs like a domestic violence shelter for women, a community center and a trade school.

It all started more than three decades ago with Tschiegg serving as a Peace Corps nurse at the Hospital de Occidente in Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras.

“Peace Corps taught me to be a good nurse. There were no ultrasounds or EKG monitors. You had to rely on your abilities to assess a patient in critical condition without those tools,” Tschiegg said.

But it would be a long path from her start of Peace Corps in 1979 until CAMO was launched in 1993. After returning to the United States, Tschiegg worked for many years as a trauma and surgical critical care nurse at Aultman Hospital. In 1993 Tschiegg received the Outstanding Alumni Award from the Aultman School of Nursing.

That award ended up being a key piece to the puzzle because the recognition from that award helped Tschiegg connect to a bigger network of healthcare professionals who eventually would support CAMO’s mission. The third key piece that set Tschiegg up for success was her business degree from Kent State University, which ensured the right business model was developed at CAMO.

Yet the real ingredient to Tschiegg’s success has been relationships with the Honduran community and with her donors, staff and volunteers in the U.S.

“I'm the most proud that we stayed true to our mission of being able to train Hondurans to take the lead. And I think that's really evident when we look at the staff development in Honduras. We now have 60 staff in Honduras,” Tschiegg said.

Unlike other humanitarian aid groups that only go to Honduras two weeks at a time, Tschiegg has deeper roots in Honduras. Tschiegg has countless stories of individual Hondurans who have benefited from CAMO’s medical services. She shared about a Honduran man who fell off a train and lost a leg when attempting to illegally immigrate to the United States, trying to earn money to send his children to school. Tschiegg met him after he had returned home.

“We found this man, and he was so depressed. He was 34 and felt like he no longer had anything if he didn't have a leg. We gave him a leg, and when I went back to visit him, he was out in the fields working. You couldn't even tell he had a prosthetic leg,” Tschiegg said.

Ruth Brown, a longtime CAMO board member, lived in Honduras for five years growing up, when her father was a diplomat, so she understands firsthand what a challenge it can be working in a country often faced with corruption. She also has witnessed the gaps many Hondurans face in getting their basic needs met.

“CAMO has been successful because it is a different model," Brown said. "It's about sustainability and partnerships — and the fact that Kathy Tschiegg has donated her life to this. Kathy lives down there a third of the time. And instead of just doing teams going down and fixing things, she actually lives down there. So she has relationships with the local people and politicians, and they trust her."

Tschiegg’s biggest surprises in her three decades of work are the random acts of kindness she's encountered along the way.

“And the huge coincidental little miracles that have taken place with the right thing happening at the right time to provide for us," she said. "It takes me by surprise every time, even after 30 years.”

She gave an example of a random donation in 2019 of PPE materials. CAMO ordered a container and sent the shipment directly to Honduras.

"When Honduras closed down March 13, 2020, everyone was looking for PPE supplies, and there were none to be found in our area to protect our staff from COVID-19," Tschiegg said. "On March 15 our container arrived at our site in Santa Rosa de Copan and was distributed to three hospitals. To this day I don't even know who that company was and how they found me."

Over the years Tschiegg has learned not to be afraid to take the group on a chosen path or allow herself to be influenced by what others think.

“You take information, you look at both sides and you probably will find truth in both sides," she said, adding her responsibility is seeking the truth instead of going along with group think.

It's been Tschiegg's mission to bring help to an area that needs it — and she's done it for 30 years ... and counting.

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