HOPE works in more than 35 countries worldwide. Please enjoy our blog as we document the successes and challenges of our work to provide Health Opportunities for People Everywhere.
It was through a chance call from a colleague in Ghana that I first got to know about Project HOPE. My friend Jacqueline had volunteered for work in Sierra Leone, and was due to return for another stint but something had come up and she was looking for someone to replace her. Sierra Leone is my home country, and though I had left Freetown 14 years ago, with bittersweet memories of a serene childhood and searing images of a brutal civil conflict my heart surged at the idea of an opportunity to go back. Project HOPE was collaborating closely with UNICEF and the country’s Ministry of Health to roll out essential newborn care training across the country. Sierra Leone had suffered the gruesome hit of an unprecedented Ebola outbreak that had stripped the health sector of resources and manpower. Project HOPE’s instrumental role was to help in this badly needed restructuring of health services and support short and long term training needs.
Though I had left Freetown 14 years ago, with bittersweet memories of a serene childhood and searing images of a brutal civil conflict,
my heart surged at the idea of an opportunity to go back.
I work as a Pediatrician in a resource-limited teaching hospital in Cape Coast, Ghana. We have volunteers come in several times a year, but here I was, now having an opportunity to reverse the trend, to be a volunteer to others, and uniquely, to my country of birth. I was thrilled to give back with Project HOPE as the platform to channel my expertise.
The preparatory phase of team work leading up to the field work was fantastic. I was joining three American volunteers to spend up to three weeks in Sierra Leone as part of a team of expert trainers. The great part was that I didn’t have to ponder about what to expect in respect to climatic predictions and cultural perceptions. I didn’t have to acclimatize to the sweltering tropical heat or take anti-malarial prophylactic drugs. I didn’t have to worry about cultural “shocks” to process or dialectal dilemmas to cope with. What took me aback however was the quantum of tangible help that was needed in the health sector. In a country where the doctor : patient ratio is 0.02 physicians / 1000 population, and the country is still painfully reeling from the loss of many lives of health workers to the deadly Ebola virus, the subtle gains made in improving neonatal mortality had been rapidly lost. The fragile health system, now fractured by the devastating consequences of the outbreak, means there is little logistical support for neonatal and pediatric care. A visit to the Ola During Children’s Hospital, the only children’s hospital in Freetown, revealed how resources were stretched to beyond maximal limits in the provision of child care.
The doctor : patient ratio is 0.02 physicians / 1000 population,
and the country is still painfully reeling from the loss of many lives
of health workers to the deadly Ebola virus; the subtle gains made in
improving neonatal mortality had been rapidly lost.
The hands-on training experience was intense but provided new knowledge and skills and soon the thirty master trainers we had taken through the essential newborn care package in Freetown, were ready to roll out to the various regions in the country with a target to train one hundred and fifty district trainers. These trainers would then roll out the training package to the peripheral health units nation-wide. I accompanied one of the training groups to Makeni in the north of the country, and supervised the roll out of training to districts in the northern sector. Throughout, I was struck by the resilience and enthusiasm of all the Sierra Leonean health workers I came across during the training program. I could sense their passion to turn the tide and master the skills they had learned so they could teach others, and I could feel their innate gratitude to those who give of their time and talent to invest in their health needs. But more gratifyingly, I could sense the defiance among the participants and a desire to beat the odds and make every newborn’s life count. Indeed, that became our slogan through the training. Make every newborn’s life count. In what many have described as one of the worst places for a woman to give birth, Project HOPE was igniting flames of hope within the inner core of these health workers. Thanks to them, many Sierra Leonean babies would see the rising sun.
In what many have described as one of the worst places
for a woman to give birth, Project HOPE was igniting flames of hope
within the inner core of these health workers.
Thanks to them, many Sierra Leonean babies would see the rising sun.
It’s been a long time since I felt as satisfied as I did after the training. The catalyst call I had accepted a few months earlier from Jacqueline was now having its life-transforming effect. It had been almost 20 days non-stop on my feet. My tired limbs were aching and felt like giving way. My eyelids were begging to close. My body was profoundly exhausted. But my spirit was upbeat. Through the long journey back to the capital, I was unfazed by the scars of the Ebola outbreak I saw through the many villages we drove by. Project HOPE was planting seeds of hope. And it was unfolding right in front of my eyes.
Jacqueline Myers is an advanced practice nurse practitioner in an emergency department in Chicago and also teaches graduate courses at DePaul University. She recently returned after serving as a Project HOPE volunteer, lecturing at Sanda University in Shanghai.
I have been a practicing registered nurse for ten years and a nurse practitioner for the past three years. In additional to my clinical work, I volunteer with Big Brothers, Big Sisters in Chicago and enjoy the time I spend with the youth that I mentor in that program.
In February, I went on a trip to Lebanon with the Syrian American Medical Society. During this trip I provided medical care to refugees.
My most recent trip was to Shanghai. This was my first Project HOPE mission, but I want to participate in others.
As a Project HOPE volunteer in Shanghai, I met with small groups of students for conversations to help improve their English skills, including medical terminology. In addition, I was in the Renji Hospital observing students in the clinical setting. Based on all these experiences, I was able to submit a report comparing and contrasting Western vs. Eastern nursing programs. I found that nursing students in the U.S. and China receive a high quality of education; there are more similarities than differences in the way the nursing schools in both countries prepare nursing students. The differences seem to be based primarily in fundamental differences in our healthcare systems.
I also gave lectures on “Nursing in America” to the Sanda students in Shanghai. These lectures included information about American health insurance, a history of advanced practice nursing in the U.S., and what it’s like to work as an emergency department registered nurse in the U.S.
Because I enjoy teaching, working with the students in Shanghai helped me to remember why I wanted to be a nurse in the first place.
The students were great, very similar to American students. They were optimistic and ready to learn.They also had a wide range of questions, from American nurse salaries, to dealing with death in the hospital, to what my natural hair color is!
When most people think of refugees, they think of tent cities on the African savannahs, the communities of Cambodians and Burmese that sprung up on the Thai border, or the cramped shacks of Gaza.
But at a time when war, fraying national borders, and even the early impacts of climate change are triggering human exoduses into neighboring countries, there is a new challenge that the world must understand and confront.
It’s the plight of urban refugees. In fact, about 66 percent of the world’s refugees don’t live in camps, they live among us, often in places where the host community is almost as poor as the refugees themselves. Unfortunately, national governments and international aid agencies are not yet really able to work effectively in these mixed urban settings.
The deepening refugee crises around the world will be on many of our minds on World Refugee Day on June 20. The issue is becoming so acute, that governments, relief agencies and NGOs are now having to place it at the center of all their policy making on humanitarian and aid issues.
The situation is especially acute in the Middle East. The extraordinary humanitarian crisis sparked by the civil war in Syria, and Iraq before that, has seen hundreds of thousands of people flee the fighting, seeking refuge in neighboring nations and Europe.
The news media offers extensive coverage of the camps that have sprung up in Jordan — a country that already carried a huge burden after taking in refugees from the Middle East conflicts of previous generations, but not many people know that only 10 percent of the Syrian refugees who fled to Jordan live in those vast camps. The rest of them are spread across towns and cities.
This is a reality that creates complex challenges for NGOs, the UN, and host governments when they think about how to help refugees. It is also a situation that threatens to create resentment towards refugees from the communities in which they settle.
Think about it for a moment. Refugee organizations often concentrate more on the well-being of refugees than their host communities. For example, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is mandated to fund refugee relief, but not host community development. This could mean providing vaccines to refugees and not the impoverished local community, fostering resentment, reinforcing segregation, and in some cases sparking violence.
We are just beginning to recognize the emergence of such humanitarian dilemmas that come with changing patterns of refugee migration and settlement. However, we have not yet adapted to what will be a difficult challenge in the years to come.
When I started working with refugees, after shelving my previous career as a civil engineer following some time observing the acute humanitarian suffering unleashed in Sierra Leone by a terrible civil war, I would have assumed most refugees spend only a short time in a camp — six months perhaps or maybe a year.
I was shocked when I found out that all refugees stay in exile for many years, with some of them remaining in exile for more than 20 years (Somali refugees in Kenya, Burmese refugees in Thailand), and those that stay in urban areas tend to stay in exile for even longer and that means of course that not only are host nations struggling to deal with new refugees, they must cope with new generations of refugees who are born in host nations.
Today there are about 65 million refugees or displaced people around the world — 10 million of whom are what we call “statelessly displaced” — jargon for those unfortunates who have no rights, are badly in need of help, and now lack citizenship. Making matters worse, many urban refugees fall into this category.
The biggest refugee crisis right now is in Syria and its surrounding nations. The war has raged for almost six years and is nowhere near resolution. It has killed around 400,000 people so far and created 4.8 million refugees and 6.8 million internally displaced people.
Of the 4.8 million refugees more than a million have made it to Lebanon, 680,000 to Jordan and another 2.6 million are now in Turkey. There are numerous challenges to helping the refugees who live in camps, but we have worked in refugee camps before with success. However, the more diffuse distribution of Syrian refugees spread around towns and cities in neighboring countries creates a problem we are not yet well equipped to deal with efficiently. That’s because if funding is earmarked to deal with refugees, that money cannot be spent on host communities. And if foreign aid is intended to be spent on host communities, it cannot therefore be used to provide care to refugees.
In practice, in places like Jordan and Lebanon, this breeds tensions between refugees and people who live in communities that have taken them in. Before long, this is going to become a very sensitive political issue in the countries involved. That’s why we are going to have to start thinking out of the box. In these communities we should examine the challenge of expanding health care capacity for the local population and care for refugees as a singular challenge.
We owe it to these countries to do something to help. Leaders, policy makers, implementers, funders and academics need to rethink how we balance the healthcare needs of the refugee and host communities. This problem is only going to get more serious and will cause further misery for refugees who already have grim prospects, if the world doesn’t act soon.
For more on Rabih Torbay's insights on how to address the plight of urban refugees, listen to his interview on the Global Health Checkup Podcast:
HOPE volunteer experiences cultural differences and similarities at Vietnam hospital
HOPE volunteer Christine Booth changed careers after 25 years to become a registered nurse. She currently works on a medical surgical floor in a hospital outside of Rochester, NY. She recently served on a Pacific Partnership land-based mission trip in Vietnam. She and 10 other HOPE volunteers implemented side-by-side training to local health care professionals and provided patient care.
Nursing is a second career for me. Previously I was employed in the property management industry for 25 years becoming a Vice President/Asset Manager overseeing a portfolio of 10,000 apartment units in several states. But I had become disillusioned with the corporate world and saw numerous openings in the local newspaper for nurses. I started working as a patient care technician to see if nursing would be a good fit. Within six months my father was hospitalized with a stroke that left him paralyzed on the right side. My mother and I cared for him for three years until he finally succumbed. While sitting at his bedside one day, I made the decision to return to school and begin the process of becoming a nurse.
I graduated four years ago and decided to go on this mission in an effort to help those less fortunate than myself. Although I have been on three medical missions in the past, this is my first medical mission with Project HOPE.
While in Vietnam, I worked alongside the Navy nurses on the burn/wound ward of DaNang General Hospital. The hospital ward was divided into groupings of six patients to a room with a small bathroom to share. The windows opened up into a hallway where the patients’ clothes were hung to dry. The two patients I cared for lay on metal beds covered with a straw mat. Next to them were the provisions for their stay: water, snacks and meals provided by their family. The Vietnamese families are extremely involved with patient care and play an active role in their recovery.
I was surprised to find that two of my patients were suffering from injuries as a result of the Vietnam War.
My first patient was a young man who was employed as a soldier. One month earlier he had stepped on a landmine and was severely injured by the explosion that severed his left arm, which was now amputated below the elbow. He was also blinded by the blast and had several wounds on his right arm and hand. His brother stood by his side and cared for him.
The second patient was an older man who had been returning to the hospital for the past 40-plus years for ongoing treatment for a non-healing wound on his left shin from the Vietnam War. He had a prosthetic on his left leg and a glass eye on the right. His son was there to help with his care. While changing the dressing on his wound, his family handed me a tube of Aspercreme (a topical pain reliever) to apply on his leg. The cost of this over-the-counter ointment was 700,000 Dong – the equivalent of $30 U.S. dollars. According to www.wageindicator.org, the average monthly salary of a Vietnamese worker last year was $145. I didn’t have the heart to tell them the medicine would not heal the wound but only reduce pain and discomfort to the area. I applied MEDIHONEY (a medical-grade honey-based product for the management of wounds and burns) and covered the wound hoping this one application would stimulate wound healing.
I would definitely go on another mission trip with Project HOPE in the future. As I do on all my trips abroad, I saw firsthand that people are people. Regardless of our cultures – mothers, fathers and children all experience the same challenges, joys and sorrows.
Neonatal Nurse Provides Expertise and Learns Much Along the Way
Kylee Nelson is a Project HOPE volunteer who served at the University Clinical Center for Pediatrics in Skopje, Macedonia, where she provided training to nurses through continuing education and side-by-side modeling. Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, Kylee graduated with a degree in Biology from Clemson University and then completed an accelerated nursing program at Emory University in Atlanta. She is now a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse.
I always knew that I wanted to go abroad somewhere and help out, however I had no idea what that entailed. Last summer (2016), I started feeling the need to get out of my own bubble and my own comfort zone and see the world in a different way, by helping those who truly need it. I also knew that by helping others, they would be helping me. I wanted to learn from others and see how people around the world operate different than I'm used to operating. That is when I started researching places online and found this amazing opportunity with Project HOPE. Although this is my first Project HOPE mission, I hope it is not my last!
I am the first volunteer from the U.S. to come help in the NICU here in Skopje. It was evident from the start that there is a big need for more education for the nurses. I have been able to do some research and put together a few PowerPoints to share with the nurses. It is always so rewarding when what I teach them actually clicks, and I see them making changes in their day-to-day care of the babies.
I have given the nurses the educational tools and resources to find answers to questions that they might have. I have also tried to express that while things can go wrong in the NICU, it is still a team effort and if they are starting to become overwhelmed, they should just ask for help – there is nothing wrong with admitting that you need a little help now and again.
When it comes to what they have taught me though, I have definitely received so much more than I ever could have imagined! What they have given me has been so valuable. They have showed me what teamwork, hard work and dedication is truly like. Unfortunately, they don't have the greatest working environment in terms of space and equipment (that will be changing with the opening of the new NICU), but they make the most of it and put their hearts and souls into their work every single day. They have taught me patience and the value of not taking little things for granted. I will be forever grateful for the time that they have given me and everything that I have learned from them along the way.
Get news from the field and updates on how your donations are being put to work.
Read and share stories about Project HOPE with your personal network.