Craig woman seeks to make a difference abroad

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Donna Reishus' life changed five years ago when she went on a trip to Belize with her daughter.

"I got down there and had this incredible spiritual experience," she said. "This feeling came over me and said 'you need to come down here and help these people.'"

Reishus first visited Belize in 1974 when she was a volunteer in the Peace Corps. During a time of political angst, Reishus figured the Peace Corps was the best way she could serve her country.

After two years in Belize, she came back to Craig and worked at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association and Moffat County Clinic.

But when Reishus revisited the country, she saw a place full of people with sexually transmitted diseases, infant mortality and high pregnancy rates.

After doing some research, Reishus decided to open a clinic in Belize that combined medicine and education and focused on women's health care. Particularly, she assisted in prenatal treatment, administering birth control, STD testing and health screenings.

From 2000 to 2004, Reishus estimated she has seen 1,500 men and women in the clinic.

The clinic didn't have running water at first, but thanks to donations from the Craig community, Reishus soon had a full bathroom.

"There is a wonderful, functional women's clinic in Punta Gorda, Belize, because of Craig," she said.

Most of her work, she said, focused on teaching the women of Belize -- mostly Mayan Indians -- that there are options other than having children.

One Mayan woman she saw had 30 pregnancies that produced only 17 surviving children.

"When they found out they could do something to not have children, they cried and smiled," she said.

Her time in Belize hasn't been all good memories.

In 2002, she got malaria and had to spend several days in a Belize hospital.

The doctors gave her too many antibiotics, causing her to lose a significant amount of hearing in her right ear.

"I was so happy to get out of there," she said. "I figured if I can survive that, then I can survive anything."

Unfortunately, the trouble didn't stop there.

In 2003, her father died, and when she returned to Belize, the man she was dating at the time was accused of child pornography.

Reishus said the charges were completely false, but two men who were accused with the man she was dating were sent to prison.

Two weeks ago, the case was thrown out of court because of a lack of evidence.

Reishus had an encounter of her own with Belize police.

When three girls were taken away from their family, for no apparent reason, she said she knew she had to do something about it.

After convincing social services to allow the girls back for Christmas, Reishus said she was appalled at the way the girls looked.

"They were so depressed it was unbelievable to me," she said. "I told social services, 'you're not sending these girls back.'"

When social services denied her request, Reishus tipped off the local media about the condition of the girls.

It was leaked to police that she contacted the media, and she was arrested.

Police told her they could hold her for 48 hours without pressing any charges.

After spending two days in a 10-foot-by-8-foot cell that had human feces on the floor, she was released. Police told her she was being held on the charge of annoying the inspector of police.

"Laying on a concrete floor in a sun dress was no cupcake," she said.

With all that has happened to her, she still has "this pulling to go back."

"I think that every one of us has been given a gift, and my gift is caring for people," she said. "I feel like when I've helped somebody, I've shared the gift I was given."

With two kids and her mother back in the states, Reishus is unsure what the future will hold. But she has faith that it will work out.

"I just know," she said, "I'll know what I need to do when it happens."

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