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Posted By: Bonnie Hudlet on October 7, 2010

Labels: Panama , Humanitarian Aid, Volunteers

Having a major in Spanish and an emphasis in culture has helped Project HOPE volunteer nurse Jill Blashka adapt to ship life and communicate and relate to the people she has cared for at the medical sites in Nicaragua and Panama. “Speaking the language is great, though it is not always perfect,” she says. “Here we hear a mixture of English and Spanish and the local language.”

A pediatric nurse from Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Jill is also enjoying the educational component of this mission.

“I am enjoying teaching and connecting with people, even it if it is just one person every day," she says. “I remember one lady I met on the first day in Nicaragua. I was doing some health education and talking to her about dental hygiene, hand washing, breast exams. The conversation sparked a concern for her and we then had an in depth conversation about a lump that she felt.”

With all the positive experiences she has had helping people, there are also patients she will not forget because she was not able to help. “It is hard, sometimes, because we have to understand that before we arrive in a country, people hear so many rumors that expectations are sometimes too high. They think we can provide a miracle…and sometimes it just can’t be.”

Jill's language skills and her specialties in pediatric hematology and oncology have not only benefited the patients she has cared for in Nicaragua and Panama, but have also come in handy on the USS Iwo Jima. One day in the ward on the ship, when a military patient had a severe bloody nose, Jill knew exactly how to provide care.

She has also witnessed the impact of civilian volunteers participating in the Continuing Promise mission. Project HOPE has rotated a new group of volunteers into the four-month long mission each month. Jill says the monthly rotations of new volunteers “brings relief and new life for the people on the ship who have been here since the beginning.”

A first-time volunteer for HOPE, Jill says she is ready for another mission. She would like to work with HOPE in Africa, and then Asia.

Her advice to other would-be volunteers is to be e prepared mentally for the challenges. “Expect short showers, little privacy and long days. Also expect an experience of a lifetime.”

In her very rare quiet moments, Jill seeks solace in the ship's anchor room. “It is a good place to go at night and allow for some time alone, allow the brain to empty, and realize that I am really here and it is an amazing experience and I am honored and blessed to be here.”

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