Thursday, August 14, 2008

Early mornings, dire needs and other notes from Project HOPE Volunteers on the USNS Mercy

It's 4:49 P.M. on Thursday on the east coast of the U.S. mean while it is Friday, 6:49 A.M. across the globe in Papau New Guinea and after sleeping in confined quarters aboard the USNS Mercy(we are taking bunked beds on a ship that could rock quite a bit, how many adults do you know would volunteer to sleep in a bunk bed for a month or two?) Project HOPE volunteers and their Navy counterparts are begining a new day of providing HOPE and healing to the local community. A HOPE volunteers day may begin early but it doesn't end early--the crew on the ship's day can usually go into the evening hours.

As the day begins volunteers will report to stations either working in the medical rooms aboard the ship or on shore at a local hospital. The folks who are taken ashore are shuttled there aboard a helicopter or boat. When they arrive at the hospital they are will be greeted by hundreds of people already waiting in line since about 2:30 A.M. A continous flow of people will come through the stations to be screened, vaccinated, and get other health care needs taken care of. Those who are in need of surgery, and can be helped by surgery, are then shuttled back to hospital ship.

There is a constant movement with upwards of 2,000 patients seen daily, many who are in need of the most basic health care we take for granted. The team is also providing another key component to these missions, education and training to local health care workers. Project HOPE believes in providing sustainable advances in health care. This means educating and training those can help their communities and encouring them to continue to teach others. The students who attend these training courses are like sponges, soaking up all the they can get because many of them don't have access to training and new techniques. In the U.S. we have continuing medical education, were health care professionals can stay on top of the newest advances in medicine. This is not the case in other parts of the world.

Even though the conditions for such missions can be very demanding many of these Project HOPE volunteers continue to volunteer time after time. They know it's hard work but also very rewarding. It is truly a humbling and inspiring experience.

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