Monday, August 23, 2010

Volunteers Stay Busy in Colombia

Today was our first day of seeing patients in Coveñas, Colombia. To mark the occasion, Colombian officials hosted opening ceremonies, where several distinguished guests spoke. Meanwhile, the Project HOPE team worked hard to set the bar high for themselves on the first day. The venue for the opening ceremonies was a large stage, blocking nearly the entire street in front of the school that had been selected for the site. Speakers stood twelve feet high to either side of the platform. The backdrop was a huge banner that read “Promesa Continua 2010,” showing a Marine helping a smiling mother and child.

The event commenced with moving renditions of the Colombian and American national anthems. Commodore Negus and Captain Tanner took their seats beside two Colombian colonels, the mayors of the nearby towns, and Ken Yamashita, director of the relief group USAID. The mayor of Coveñas, Arnaldo Julio Ramos, expressed his gratitude for Continuing Promise’s efforts and extended a warm welcome on behalf of his constituents.

Commodore Negus spoke next, presenting a detailed greeting in Spanish, but the body of his speech in English.

“(Our) commitment (is) as strong as the magnificent ship that has brought us to your shores and as powerful as the spirit of the people we have come to serve,” the Commodore said.

Mr. Yamashita brought the ceremony to a close, expounding upon his desire for increased political and economic opportunities for all Colombians.

Afterwards, the international pop singer Fonseca delivered a special concert from the stage.

The music and the cheers of the crowd filtered into the school buildings, providing an invigorating rhythm for the work inside.
“I get to speak with patients! I love it!” said HOPE team member Matya Cooksey. All of the team’s physicians had to rely on Creole translators in Haiti. Now, Matya, Melissa, and Michael converse freely with their patients in Spanish.

Team nurse Susan Eilermann conquered the language barrier in a different way. She used straightforward sign language to communicate to her charges how to properly use an inhaler.

Some patients arrived at the clinic with newborns for well-checks, a basic procedure to confirm that the baby is healthy. Others with problems such as malnutrition and parasites. There will be no shortage of Colombians needing HOPE’s aid.

By the end of the day we had treated at least 500 patients. Not bad for our first day. We’ve glimpsed how smoothly our system can run, and we’ll be pushing ourselves to improve it at every turn. ¡Vaminos!

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

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