Thursday, April 23, 2009

In A World Filled With HOPE

Project HOPE's David A. Eddy, Operations Officer Now Serving on the USNS Comfort Continuing Promise 2009 Reflects on His Time in Haiti

The morning sun had begun to rise, and the land before my eyes had an ancient, yet somewhat civilized beauty about it from a distance. With the morning haze hanging over much of the land, and the rich salty waves pounding against the side of the ship one could only think of the thoughts that Christopher Columbus must have had when he finally spotted the land he had always envisioned. Columbus found what he was looking for because he had a decided heart. It was that quality that led him to his historical discovery and one that will surely lead our volunteer health care providers to their greatest of rewards.

Eager with anticipation to improve the world as we know it, we prepare ourselves for the vast adventure of traveling by boat with 30-35 people on board to a land who’s people are waiting for us to arrive with the eagerness of a five-year-old child waiting for his parents to hand him his stick of cotton candy. For the people of Haiti know that our arrival means, free, hospitable, and quality medical care to those in need, even if they must stand in line for 8 to 10 hours to be seen. This, my friends is the mission of HOPE, with volunteers from all walks of life that possess a plethora of skills to heal and treat those in need far less fortunate than ourselves. It is this professional and selfless desire that the Project HOPE team, with many others can fulfill a commitment to the people of this region called Continuing Promise.

We as a people must always remember, “A promise is a promise.” It’s a commitment regardless of the conditions. So now we are back once again to fulfill our promise and ensure that our integrity as a nation of nations can never be questioned, and to once again solidify our passion to care for those in need.

This is our journey. A journey that will last for the next 120 days, as we partner with the U.S. Navy leadership, staff, and healthcare professionals on the USNS COMFORT ship to perform this humanitarian assistance mission of vast proportion. But it’s far more than just an American Navy mission that includes the Army, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, but an international mission of hope that includes the Canadians, Dutch, French, Chileans, El Salvadorians and Nicaraguans and Non Governmental Organizations (NGO). Project HOPE is one of several NGOs that choose to join in this endeavor, because we understand the needs and the outcomes of our personal intervention.

Some things have changed within Project HOPE since its founding father Dr. Walsh received a ship from the Navy called the USS Consolation and converted it into America’s first humanitarian hospital ship, called the SS HOPE. Eleven voyages took place on that vessel providing medical care to what was then called Third World countries. The ship and its crew of volunteers not only provided state of the art medical care to the sick and injured, but health education training to the host nation’s medical staff to ensure that unnecessary suffering would stop by the hand of their own clinical personnel. This, after WWII started a process of showing the world, through actions not words that America would always be ready to help those in their moment of need.

The only thing different today is that we choose to join the Navy on their ships, for the same cause first imagined in 1958 in the minds of a few, honest, passionate and caring leaders, to make this world a better place. While the SS HOPE is no longer in operation, the vision of HOPE still rings true.

After more than 50 years you might ask us, are we up for the challenge? You bet!

Volunteerism in our country is still at an all time high, even during this time of our county’s economic struggles. The volunteers that come from all over are not only America’s heroes, but an exceptionally rare breed of professionals that are as selfless a servant as our men and women serving our Nation in uniform. To say that I’m enamored every day with the commitment and talent of the 20 volunteers that surround me would be an understatement. From our HOPE Medical Director, Dr. Harry Knaster to yet another physician, to the young and older nursing professionals that gave up a minimum of four weeks of their time to support the cause it’s often difficult to fully comprehend.

While all the above may sound incredibly entertaining and fascinating, it’s not without its costs. You see, life on these missions is not for the weak minded or physically unfit. It takes tremendous stamina at all levels to endure the daily grinds of these long, long days that just seem to blend into one another. The immense heat, traveling by boat from the ship to land on choppy waters, to traveling by bus to the different sites is taxing enough for most individuals. Regardless of how many hours you put in, there is always that one child standing in tears. That one mother that can’t stand erect and looks in her 60’s but is only 29 years old. And that one man left standing in line that can barely see his hand in front of his face.

It takes extraordinary people to deal with these conditions, and we are fortunate enough to have a bench that’s deep and competent.

Ship life is not much easier. The USNS COMFORT is so large that everyday you literally climb 225 to 350 steps to just move about from one location to another. If you aren’t fit when you arrive, you will be when you leave.

We tell all our volunteers up front when they arrive, that this mission will test their skills, physical stamina, and mental strength in the most austere conditions. In essence, it will test your commitment to humanity.

While we’ve been living the dream and know we are up for task, question is, are you ready for the HOPE challenge?
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