Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Project HOPE Volunteers Arrive in El Salvador

Jacob Steele, a former Public Relations Officer for the U.S. Navy, is serving as Project HOPE’s public affairs officer during the final leg of Continuing Promise 2009. Here are his first impressions :

Early flights, delayed connections. Bus schedules in turmoil. Planes, trains, automobiles, and ferries to get where we’re going—a floating hospital anchored in the Pacific Ocean, miles off the coast of the remote El Salvadorian city, La Union.

Yet all of the commotion of getting here was worth the journey—and was clearly anticipated by the staff and crew of the USNS Comfort. Captain Tom Negus, the Mission Commander, was at the ferry landing to greet the 18 new Project Hope volunteers coming onboard, and actually rode the shuttle back out to the hospital ship with us.

“I’ve been in the Navy for twenty-five years,” the Commodore told the doctors, nurses, dentists, and assistants that had gathered around him. “And I’m telling you now, this is easily, easily the most important mission I’ve ever been on. Welcome aboard—it’s an honor. I’m not blowing smoke when I say that this mission could not be conducted without each one of you.”

Captain Ware, the head Medical Officer, also greeted us and gave us the lowdown on the upcoming mission, our role, and how things had been going in previous ports.

The Project HOPE volunteers (or “Hopies,” as our lead medical officer, Dr. Iserson, affectionately calls us) were joined by 3 other organizations Sunday in checking onboard—from dental students at UCSD to the Dutch Army Medical Corps—to team up with the kaleidoscope of NGO’s and US Agencies that make up Continuing Promise 2009. Today was spent in gathering ourselves together, getting our bearings, and preparing to hit the ground running.

What is happening here (and has evolved only in the last five years) is something entirely new. Non-governmental agencies from across the globe are integrating cooperatively with one another—and with the military!—in order to do more than any organization could on its own. The doctors are ready. The nurses and educators are ready. The ground has been prepared by three months of hard work and experience gained. It's awesome and humbling to be part of what is bound to be a strong finish to such an amazing mission. Let’s get to work.


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