Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Project HOPE Volunteers Help in Haiti

Just before the USS Kearsarge continued on its way to the Dominican Republic three of Project HOPE's volunteers had the opportunity to join the US Navy in offering aid to the people of Haiti. Haiti was not originally scheduled as a stop but hurricanes forced the USS Kearsarge to change route in order to help the country whose washed out roads had made it impossible to get aid to certain regions. At the time Project HOPE only had three volunteers aboard as all the other volunteers had been originally scheduled to join the Kearsarge in Panama but due to the change they were diverted to the Haiti just in time to join the crew as it departed for the Dominican Republic. Below is an account of the team's work in Haiti.

Happy reading,

Working with the United States Navy in Operation Continuing Promise in Latin America, Project Hope volunteers on board the USS Kearsarge were diverted from humanitarian projects in Columbia and Panama to bring food, water and other relief supplies and emergency medical care to Haiti after the island of Hispaniola was the target of four major hurricanes: Fay, Gustav, Hannah, and Ike.

After an initial rapid assessment of Haiti’s needs by the Navy, areas cut off by washed out bridges and roads were targeted for aid. According to the Navy Officer in Charge, Captain Tim Shope, M.D., many of the villages had no lines of communication open and were accessible only by helicopter. “We evaluated the sanitation, medical, and food needs at each site, which then allowed us to work with the non-government agencies and the other military branches to set up emergency clinics,” he said.

One of the first Project Hope volunteers to see patients was Dr. Hilary Warren, a pediatrician from Boise, Idaho, who worked alongside medical personnel from the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) and the Canadian Forces. U.S. Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Army, and Air Force medical services are also present for this mission, as are members of the Brazilian and Dutch armed forces.

After landing on a mountaintop in a Navy CH53 heavy lift helicopter, Dr. Warren, a veteran of Peruvian and Honduran medical missions, was greeted by the Gros Morne mayor and a large group of enthusiastic citizens, including many children and animals. The colorful parade walked some two miles to a makeshift clinic, where over several hours the three doctors saw 206 patients, while veterinary teams administered basic animal care and vaccinations.

“We used one room of the school and turned around the wooden desks to make examination tables,” Dr. Warren said. “One of the Canadians served as a French interpreter and one of the locals translated Haitian Creole, when needed.

“Most of these people were living in a shelter in Gros Morne because they were displaced by the storms, but in general, although there was some malnutrition, this particular village was in pretty good shape. Because clean water was being provided, there was little diarrhea.”

With the overall hardship in the country, Dr. Warren said she saw many cases brought on by what she termed ‘the pain of poverty.’ “Adults often complain of non-specific pain saying they ‘hurt all over’. This is common in populations that spend their lives in backbreaking farm work, or other chores such as drawing water from wells and carrying it for miles on their heads,” she said. “Life is not easy here and by the time they’re middle-aged, their bodies break down.”

Family Practitioner Dr. Nancy Foote and Family Nurse Practitioner Linda Rothery worked nearby in the village of Terre de Negre. Along with another USPHS physician they established their clinic in a church that doubles as the village school, and were able to see about the same number of patients as the other site.

Both women bring a wealth of experience and compassion to their service. Dr. Foote, a family physician from Seattle spent over two years in the bush in Zimbabwe with the American Friends Service Committee. The Operations Manager, Medical Director, and Chief Education Officer for the Colombia, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago portions of Project Hope’s current mission, Dr. Foote spent most of her career caring for migrant and seasonal farm workers in eastern Washington and most recently worked as a Spanish medical interpreter for the University of Washington Medical Center.

Ms. Rothery, now enrolled in a doctorate nursing program at the University of Florida, is a former care flight nurse who was often sent to rescue injured coalminers in the mountains of Virginia. Upon graduation she plans to serve in international mission work.

After the Haiti mission was complete, Captain Frank Ponds, Commodore of the Kearsarge which is operating under the Southern Command Fourth Fleet, gathered the medical teams together for some well-earned praise. “This mission was seamless with a high degree of professionalism. Your passion and compassion resonates,” he commented.

-By Project HOPE Volunteer Inga Kimple

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