Monday, November 24, 2008

Project HOPE Volunteers Finish Rotation in Guyana

I’ve been without a reliable connection to the Internet for a few days, so I apologize for the delayed update.

I wanted to give a final recap on HOPE activity in Guyana. While in Guyana’s interior, Project HOPE and the Continuing Promise personnel saw over 4,000 patients at three different clinics across the country. Optometrists handed out glasses, dentists cleaned teeth and medical professionals supplied medication to those in need. And there is a lot of need.

I also visited Georgetown Hospital to learn more about the surgery team’s activities, something I hadn’t had the opportunity to do while living on the Kearsarge. The HOPE volunteers had been training nurses and midwives while a urology team performed approximately six surgeries a day for the past two weeks. When I finally saw them in action on their last day in the operation room they were joking with each other and, literally, operating like clockwork. They understood each other and had a system worked out to make sure their patients were not under any longer than they needed to be. Their time together had formed a cohesive unit that was functioning at maximum efficiency. This group of volunteers came together from Alabama, Virginia, California and New Jersey to help the Guyanese people. It’s great to see a group of strangers from across the USA working together to help the rest of the world.

The visit to Georgetown Hospital also brought home closer to me. In a strange coincidence, the hospital’s scrubs were stamped with “Kettering Medical Center” – the hospital in my hometown of Kettering, Ohio. I’m guessing the scrubs were donated to a philanthropic organization, and by some twist of fate ended up in the cross-equatorial hospital I happened to visit while in Guyana. One of the nurses told me it was a sign that I should visit, so I’ll see you all for Thanksgiving.

The day after my visit to the OR, I stopped by the hospital ward to make rounds with Rob, HOPE’s urologist on this mission. The ward would best be described as a giant open room with wooden floors and rows of beds. While there I asked Anne, a pediatrician that had spent time in other developing nations, how this hospital compared. She said it was about the same and that hospitals like this were a glimpse into the past. It looked like something straight out of period piece set in a British colony. Despite its dingy look, those admitted were up and in good spirits. Some of the patients that underwent prostate surgery were without a catheter for the first time in three years. I can’t imagine the relief those people must feel.

And we were relieved that everything went well. With a day left for tourist activity, some of the HOPE team went out to Kaieteur Falls – an amazing site to behold. Over a celebratory dinner, I had a chance to see the joy on the faces of the medical team and hear the highlights of their trip. Everyone was happy to lend their services and was looking for future volunteer work.

For me, I was happy to visit another part of the world and use my professional skills to help others – something public relations representatives do not usually get to do. I enjoy photography and Project HOPE gave me the opportunity to make good use of my hobby. I would also like to thank the Navy personnel that helped shuttle me around Guyana, in particular Mass Communication Specialist 1 Crawford of the Public Affairs Office. I hope I wasn’t too big a pain in the neck.

I’ll read your comments when I get back and hope you’ll continue to follow the HOPE blog. You never know when I’ll have more entries.

Photos and Blog Entry by John Bobosh

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Project HOPE Volunteers Helping Patients Understand their Health

Today I visited the Mabaruma clinic on its closing day. I watched three of the Project HOPE members help patients. One of our staffers, Rachel, spent three days on location and was happy to have spent a few nights in the community. That opportunity allowed her to meet the locals and get a feel for the problems they faced. Supplies and food options are really limited in the area, and asking a person with high blood pressure to radically change their diet might not be an option.

Just like the Santa Rosa site, the doctors were doing their best to treat any ailments with the supplies available, and diagnosed over 300 people while there. A lot of the people came in with skin infections we don't see in the United States. Apparently this is really common in developing nations, as living conditions may not be optimal and medicine to treat these problems is not readily available. The doctors on site were doing their best to treat any ailments with the supplies available, and saw over 300 people in the three days there.

I was told the hard part comes after the patients leave. Just like in America, getting the people to stick to their doctor's recommendations is hard to do. Most of the locals have no formal health education and have trouble understanding the impact of their eating or hygiene habits on their well being. High blood pressure and diabetes seemed common with this population, but these people tended not to stay the doctor's recommended course of action. The locals seemed to think that one dose was enough to cure their problems. They do not realize that they need to continue taking their medication, filling prescriptions or make a behavior change to cure their ailments. The HOPE staff has been working hard to explain that people need to stick to the health plan provided by their doctors.

Low literacy in outlying areas of the country also contributes to poor health education. Teaching proper diet and health maintence activites requires a person to be on location. Medical professionals cannot hand out pamphlets to the people because many of the people cannot read the information. This creates a huge challenge, as the Guyanese Government cannot afford to send out people to talk to every individual in the government.

Tomorrow Project HOPE is donating several tons of medical supplies to the Guyanese Government. I'll be on hand to take pictures and hear what the Guyanese officials say.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Project HOPE Volunteers Help and Bond with Children in Guyana

I finally made it out to one of the three Project HOPE sites in Guyana. It was great, maybe because I haven’t seen dry land in five days or maybe because it was really good to finally see the people we were here to help.

The day started at 0500 with a quick breakfast before mustering in the ship’s hanger bay at 05:45. By 0600, I was on a 45 minute helo (the military is wearing off on me) ride to Santa Rosa - a small, remote area in the northern part of the country. When we arrived on location, all the local children, were gathered to watch the helicopter land. Anne, a pediatrician, was only other HOPE volunteer at this site today.

Anne used to work in international health training and programs with the World Health Organization and USAID, so she has plenty of experience with treating patients in developing nations. I watched her interact with patients, mostly children, for the better part of the day. She treated over 60 patients in 6 hours. A lot of patients had skin infections, dietary problems, chronic pains and other things common in developing nations. Most of these things were treatable on the spot, but more serious maladies were taken back to the Kearsarge for surgery or, unfortunately, turned away because the necessary treatments were unavailable.

I’ve been hanging out with the medial staff, military and HOPE, on this trip on the ship and finally saw them in action. I am truly impressed with their dedication to treating patients. These are wonderful people that are truly out to better the world, one patient at a time. I’m proud to say that many of these people come from America.

At the end of the day, the people not spending the night gathered on the airstrip for our return trip to the Kearsarge. The local children again came out to watch the helicopters come in and pick us up. The boys, all under 12, began to play marbles. I started talking to these guys about the rules of the game. They were all really shy and soft spoken. I sometimes have a hard time understanding the Guyanese Creole they speak, partially because some of their colloquial phrases are foreign to me and partially because I they speak in a near whisper.

After talking to Vivian, a young boy that lived near the hospital we were visiting, I pulled out a deck of cards and asked him if he knew any card games. A short while later I was teaching 40 children how to play a card game.

Photos and Entry by John Bobosh

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Project HOPE Volunteer Reports from the USS Kearsarge

Unfortunately, I haven't been off the ship yet. But Project HOPE volunteers and their lifesaving work continue to be covered in the local Guyanese media. I've included a couple media clip links below.

I think I will be on the ship one more day before making landfall. Then, I'll be able to provide more details on HOPE volunteers’ activities. Over the next 10 days I'll be in Mabaruma, Georgetown, Port Kaituma and Santa Rosa - all Guyanese locations where Project HOPE volunteers are working. I'll send more detailed information and pictures once I meet up with HOPE volunteers that have been in the field the past couple days. I'm sure they have some amazing stories to share.

Life on the ship continues to impress me. The people on board are quite diverse. The Navy's Continuing Promise Mission to Latin America, which Project HOPE is a part of, involves service people from all branches of the US military. Canada, France, Brazil and the Netherlands also lend medical staff from their military to support the mission. During my free time I've had the opportunity to get to know the military staff much better.

The Kearsarge crew has all been really friendly. Any time I get lost below deck, which happens a lot, they point me in the right direction. In my exploration, I've seen most of the ship. Several of the crew asked for Project HOPE t-shirts which I was happy to provide.

-John Bobosh

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Project HOPE Participates in Media Event in Guyana

We are currently off the coast of Guyana. Today I met with the local Guyanese media. There was a press conference held aboard the Kearsarge, and all the groups participating in the Continuing Promise 2008 Mission, including Project HOPE, to Central and South America gave brief summaries of their activities in the region. I may have even been on a TV newscast in Guyana. Scan the web for any updates on Project HOPE in Guyana. Tomorrow the President of Guyana will visit the ship. I hoping for an opportunity to meet with him!

-John Bobosh

Project HOPE Volunteers Arrive in Guyana

I, along with other Project HOPE volunteers arrived on the USS Kearsarge by helicopter this morning to begin our mission in Guyana. Some of us will be will be based on the USS Kearsarge during our two week mission, while other medical volunteers will be based in Guyana itself.

As we approached the ship from the air, I noticed its size. The ship itself is huge; when we landed there were several other helicopters, all with adequate spacing, also on the flight deck. I was curious about the name of the ship, so I searched the net for Kearsarge. According to Wikipedia, Kearsarge is a mountain in New Hampshire and comes from a word that means “notch-pointed-mountain of pines” in the local Native American language. Somewhat appropriate, as this titan of the sea is covered in radio antenna and other pointy objects that could be taken for a mountain covered in pine trees from a distance.

The transition to Navy life has been a good one. I have yet to lean over the railing to check out the name of the ship. But it seems, just as I’ve established my sea legs, I’ll be headed back to Guyana. The HOPE volunteers on the ship will start surgical and clinical rotations tomorrow, helping diagnose locals and perform treatments not available from local doctors. Many of the surgeries are simple outpatient procedures that we in the United States take for granted, such as hernia surgeries and cataract removal. All seem excited and eager to start work. Some of my

Project HOPE shipmates will be shuttled to remote locations in Guyana for several joint missions with the Navy over the coming weeks.

But before we start our mission we have a celebration to attend. The Marines celebrate their birthday today and we’ve been invited to dine with the Commodore. I’m told this is a quite the honor. I’ll let you know how it goes.

-John Bobosh

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Project HOPE Volunteer

As some of our Project HOPE readers know we don't just recruit medical volunteers for our missions. We often try to have a volunteer communications/public relations volunteer to serve as our Public Affairs Officer (PAO) on board too so they can provide us with images, stories and capture the moments on these missions. Below is a blog entry from our newest PAO John Bobosh. He will be aboard the Kearsarge as it works in Guyana.

Happy Reading!



Allow me to introduce myself. My name is John Bobosh, and I’m the communications liaison for Project HOPE’s current mission in Guyana. Over the next two weeks I’ll do my best to relate to you what I’ve seen and share stories from the various members of our medical staff. My goal is to provide insight into Project HOPE’s operations in other countries and maybe even inspire some of you to volunteer or donate to this wonderful cause. While I attempt to do this, I’m also going to try to fill you in on Guyana’s history and current situation so you all have a better understanding as to why organizations like Project HOPE are needed around of the world.

Current location: My apartment, Washington, DC.

I just wrapped up a two year stint in the Johns Hopkins University Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. I went in angry (at the price of a credit hour) and came out a lean, mean communication master ready to ruin anyone’s poorly conceived public relations strategy. I currently work for a public relations firm in the District, as the locals call it.

Like any good student, I did a little research on my destination. Guyana passed through the hands of several sovereign nations throughout its history. First the colonized by Dutch in the 1500s, it eventually became apart of the British Empire before receiving its autonomy in 1966. Because of this chronology of imperialism in Guyana, it is the only South American country that speaks English as its primary language. What luck I’m in, because it is my first and, despite my Spanish teachers’ best efforts, only language. It seems most of the Guyanese people also speak a form of Creole. I’ve read up on Guyanese Creole and it seems like I should be able to pick up a lot of what the locals are saying – in theory anyway. In practice, I’ll likely have to ask everyone to repeat themselves three times. I’ll figure out if I’m a capable linguist on my arrival.

To this day it remains part of the Commonwealth of Nations, a group of former British colonies that adhere to a common standard of civil liberties. Because of its history, the demographic makeup of the country is quite diverse. Approximately 43% of the population is of Indian decent (as in from the country India), 30% come from the African Diaspora, followed by people indigenous to the region (20%), and finally a very tiny percentage (less than 1%) of are Chinese or Caucasian. In short, people in Guyana descend from all parts of the globe.

I also looked at other census information. According to the CIA’s World Fact book, Less than 800,000 people live in the country. The infant mortality rate in Guyana is approximately 30 deaths for ever 1,000 live births. To put this in perspective, it is five times higher than in the United States of America – meaning that medical standards are not considered the most modern. The gross domestic production totals something near $1 billion US, mostly from the mining of minerals and precious stones, a fraction of a percent compared to America’s $14 trillion. While the average family income is less than $3000, literacy in the country is very high, at 99% literate.

After reading all these, my mind is at ease. The country itself seems rather peaceful and pro America (something you have to worry about these days). I’m still a little apprehensive about living on a Navy cruiser for a couple weeks, but I figure it will be an experience I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Project Hope Medical Volunteers See Patients in Dominican Republic

A team of 10 medical volunteers from Project HOPE contributed their time and skills in October, in the Dominican Republic, as part of Continuing Promise 2008. A humanitarian initiative with the US Navy and other humanitarian organizations providing health care and health education to communities in need in Latin America.

Temporary clinics were set up at several locations in the country, including in Dominican Republic Naval bases and sports complexes. Each morning, hundreds of people lined up, some before dawn, to be screened and treated. Dentists, ophthalmologists, and optometrists treated some people on site.

Other personnel included pediatricians, dermatologists, general surgeons, family practitioners, nurses and nurse practitioners, medical educators, a midwife, and for four-legged patients, veterinarians. Several of the HOPE volunteers were also fluent in Spanish, which greatly facilitated the treatments.

Project Hope volunteer Maria Morris, a nurse educator and current student in the University of Texas-Houston Nurse Practitioner program, had the opportunity to teach CPR to medical students at the Universidad Autonomo de Santo Domingo, the oldest university in the Americas. Speaking to about 100 students in the university physiology classes, plus an interested number of doctors, Maria was able to give the latest live-saving techniques, using both adult and infant dummies.

“Many had no experience in modern CPR so this was a good class for them. After giving them some basics, they practiced on the dummies for most of the time,” she said. “This is valuable knowledge that they could take away from the lesson. We did several scenarios, such as choking and being injured in a car accident. The students were so enthusiastic about learning; it made it fun for everyone.”

Licensed midwife Lillian Sanpere of Tallahassee, Florida counseled several pregnant women who came to the Bayaguana Sports Complex for treatment, about healthy eating and good prenatal care. “In general, they seem to be well-cared for and like most women, just want some added assurance or vitamins,” she said.

Because volunteers were living and at times working on the USS Kearsarge they had to quickly became accustomed to life aboard the a ship, including climbing steps and ladders to various levels, sleeping in narrow berths, and getting their ‘sea legs’, often during the choppy seas of hurricane season.

Linda Rothery, a family nurse practitioner, summed it up this way. “I never thought I would ever get to do something like this. I’m so glad I came. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”

-By Inga Kimple

Monday, November 3, 2008

Project Hope Volunteers Visit HOPE Clinic in the Dominican Republic

Several Project Hope volunteers, participating in the 2008 Continuing Promise campaign, were able to visit one of the nonprofit’s clinics in the Dominican Republic in October. Doctors Lydia Segal and Nancy Foote, PACU Nurse Julia Taylor, Midwife Lillian Sanpere, Family Nurse Practitioner Rena Rovere, and Public Affairs Officer Inga Kimple, made up the team. As part of a joint mission by US armed services, the US Public Health Service, several foreign countries and other non-government agencies, the group flew the first leg of the journey in a US military helicopter, and then were driven from Bayaguana to Monte Plata by van.

“Maternal Child Clinic of the Order of Malta, one of two such clinics supported by Project Hope and the religious order in the Dominican Republic, has been offering services since August 2003. First begun as a facility for mothers and children, prioritizing the most vulnerable, the facility now also sees the general, underserved population three days a week,” said Teresa Narvaez, Project HOPE Dominican Republic Country Director. “Here in Monte Plata we have a great need for our services.”

To commemorate the visit by the U.S. volunteers, a health fair was held. Patients were able to see both the visiting doctors and regular staff, have some general health questions answered, and receive printed health literature.

The clinic, which typically sees from 80 to 100 patients a day, is actually able to process up to 300 lab tests in its state-of-the-art laboratory. With its clean, open and airy waiting rooms and examination areas, everything is cheerful and efficient. The facility also has dental and optometry offices and a well-stocked pharmacy. Patients are asked to pay on a sliding scale for prescriptions and supplies. But there are no doctor fees.

“The doctors live about an hour and a half away in Santo Domingo,” said Clinic Coordinator Angela Alban. “They want to help and generally stay a year or two. Then the long drive gets to be too much and we have to replace them. But we use them a lot while they’re here. We also have an endocrinologist who comes in on a regular basis.”

As part of its original mission the clinic offers general medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, childhood vaccinations, and sonograms. Health education, home visits and various types of follow-up in the community are also an important part of the routine.

During lunch, the visiting Project Hope volunteers were treated to a sampling of Dominican Republic typical fare: seasoned chicken, potato and carrot salad, rice and beans, and a visit from the clinic’s major donors. Señor Cesar Medina, a cattle rancher and farmer, along with his wife, Francia, gave the plat for the clinic and continue as major benefactors, Alban said. In the near future, Medina will also develop a housing project and various businesses behind the clinic.

“When they built the clinic, there was nothing here. Now the government has put in the new street and bridge and the sports complex across the street,” Alban said. “It has really added to the area.”

The volunteers also met Ruben Ottenwalden, another Project Hope volunteer, who returned to his native Dominican Republic after living 30 years in the United States. Ruben, whose real name is “Bienvenido” or ‘Welcome’ in Spanish, has, along with his wife, adopted several children and feed about 35 more, several times a week.

“People thought I was crazy to return here. But, sometimes what we feed them is the only food they have all day,” he said. “We just try to do what we can.” A few days later, the volunteers were able to meet with Ottenwalden again in Santo Domingo, to pass on several bags of clothing and supplies, as they lightened their luggage for the return trip home.

-By Inga Kimple