Monday, September 15, 2008

A Project HOPE T-Shirt is a Symbol of HOPE

In the excerpt below Project HOPE volunteer public affairs officer Lynne S. recounts how the hundreds of patients waiting to be seen by the American doctors and Project HOPE volunteers mistake her for a health care provider as she walks around the clinic in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua and what a enlightening experience it is to realize that her Project HOPE t-shirt is much more than just a uniform to the people waiting in line.


Snap Shots from the Field...“Excuse me, miss, can you help me?”

Leaning over the wire fence and dressed in a white ball cap, open-neck shirt and jeans, Roy Fredrick, 27, has spotted me in my “Project HOPE” t-shirt. As I turn, a broad smile spreads out over his smooth-skinned face. “My grandmother needs help,” he says, gesturing to a nearby elderly woman sitting on a fold-up chair. Her eyes are blurry and in pain, he says, hoping that I will somehow fast-track her inside.

The screeners have heard every story possible from people who are desperate to get to the head of the line. Lines begin to form around 3 a.m. as locals wait for the Continuing Promise teams to arrive each morning. Many say they have walked 7 or 8 miles to get to the clinic.

I speak to one of the military screeners, asking if it’s possible to get her in early. He shoots me a weary look. It’s a request he’s probably heard not once but dozens of times this morning. Everyone is sick; everyone wants to get in first.

While we wait, Roy, born in the south near Bluefield, tells me that health care is almost impossible to get. People have come today because they know the U.S. has the “best people and the best pills. It’s a big opportunity to get help.”

While talking, we are rapidly surrounded by people pressing against the fence who mistake me for a doctor or nurse. Five or six people clamor to speak to me at once. One man pulls his eye lids down, gesturing at me to take a look. Another shoulders Roy aside and speaks to me in Miskito, the indigenous language, while he pleads for help.

It’s a sobering moment. Earlier that morning, I casually slid on my Project HOPE t-shirt while dressing, giving it little thought. Suddenly it’s no longer a garment worn for work, but a potent symbol of hope.

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