Veterinarian Follows Religious Beliefs to Honduras

Scott Karper left a comfortable veterinary practice in Pennsylvania to work in northern Honduras. There, he is living out his religious beliefs by sharing his expertise with rural families caring for cows and other farm animals.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Now on to some people whose work is more beneficial to cattle. About 240 American veterinarians who call themselves the Christian Veterinary Mission help farmers in developing countries care for their livestock. They are missionaries, but they're not proselytizing; they're taking care of the animals. Sandy Hausman has the story of one animal doctor on duty in Central America.

SANDY HAUSMAN reporting:

Ten years ago Scott Karper left a prosperous veterinary practice in Pennsylvania to work in Honduras, one of Latin America's poorest countries. Here, few people have savings for a rainy day. And in this part of the world, along the Caribbean coast, people see a lot of rain.

Dr. SCOTT KARPER (Veterinarian): If they're not making money, they don't eat. And many of the ladies in Diane's sewing project tell her the days when they didn't have any food that day and the kids were crying, and they would give them each a pinch of salt to curb their appetite. Life is tough here.

HAUSMAN: Scott and his wife Diane left their families to live in a small town called Guadalupe Carney. Their cement-block house has no television, dishwasher or telephone. And the nearest city has no airport, supermarket or movie theater. Still, Diane has no regrets. Like her husband, she felt an obligation to be here.

Mrs. DIANE KARPER: I had cancer when I was 30 in 1980 and was told by the doctors that I would die, and I didn't obviously. I'm still here. And God does ask people to do things for him. And what are we going to do? Go back home and think about these things down here?

HAUSMAN: The Karpers are Presbyterians, but they never try to convert their Catholic neighbors. Scott and Diane insist missionary work is not about preaching but about setting a Christian example.

On this day, for instance, Scott will make a free house call, hiking to the farm where Tomas Ramerez(ph) works to check on an especially skinny cow. Even before he sees the animal, Dr. Karper makes a diagnosis. She recently gave birth and is making milk for her calf. But the pasture is full of weeds, a poor source of nutrition.

Dr. KARPER: Milk has a lot of protein in it. If they're not eating protein, then they've got to get their protein to make the milk from their body and so she loses weight.

HAUSMAN: His next challenge is explaining the problem to Tomas.

Dr. KARPER: (Spanish spoken)

HAUSMAN: Scott tells Tomas to feed the cow leaves from a nearby gliricidia tree. They're high in nitrogen, a building block for protein. It's a simple prescription that requires no expensive medications or supplements. Unfortunately, Scott says, few problems in this area are so easily solved. About a third of the people have malaria, clean water is in short supply and the teachers are often on strike. Still, he and Diane are patient and determined to do what they can. She has helped local women to build a bakery and another business...

(Soundbite of sewing)

HAUSMAN: ...sewing handbags and hats for tourists and Americans who order through the Southern Baptist catalog.

Mrs. KARPER: Now they're feeding their family every day. They've already given their husbands a loan to open a cement-block-making business. And the husbands have made all the blocks for the medical center that the community is building. This is all very slow, very small progress but very big in the lives of people that never had anything.

HAUSMAN: Scott has overseen construction of a dairy and a health clinic. But back on the road home, he says his main role is that of a teacher working with area farmers and veterinary students who visit from the US.

Dr. KARPER: My objective is to train other people to do what I do and work myself out of a job. I could treat animals all day long if I wanted to, but I'm not going to be here forever, and the best thing I can leave is some kind of education.

HAUSMAN: He takes comfort from a local expression: oka apoco(ph), `little by little,' and from the strong belief that people who use their skills to do God's work get energy and joy in return. For NPR News, I'm Sandy Hausman.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. There's more to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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