Posted By: John P. Howe, III, M.D. on September 24, 2010

Labels: Nicaragua , Humanitarian Aid, Volunteers

Life is about relationships. And as far as relationships go, today was a banner day. New relationships were formed, and old ones renewed.

Along a winding, narrow, rocky road on the top of a mountain about two hours outside of Managua sits a small community called San Pedro. The people of San Pedro are fortunate in having a community health clinic operated by the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health. This is the setting where several new relationships were created today.

Dr. Samir Aguilar Parrales is the head of the MOH Regional Office in the Nicaraguan state of Chontales, where San Pedro is located. Dr. Parrales is passionate about seeing that Nicaraguans receive the best care possible. This was obvious as we watched him interact with members of the community.

Dr. Parrales greeted me warmly, and there was an instant connection. He said that words could not express the gratitude he felt toward Project HOPE and Merck for the generous donation of 1 million doses of PNEUMOVAX vaccine to protect people over age 50 from the pneumococcal organism, the leading cause of pneumonia.

Dr. Parrales gave me a tour of the bare three-room clinic. He introduced me to his dedicated nursing staff and to the gregarious Don Mario, the community’s leader. Don Mario was trained by the clinic’s staff to encourage San Pedro’s residents to get vaccinated. Don Mario, another new-found friend, is very persuasive. While at the clinic, I witnessed one of his community members being vaccinated.

Less than six weeks into the campaign, nearly 80,000 men and women over 50 have been vaccinated throughout Nicaragua. With spirited leaders like Dr. Parrales, the program will succeed and 1 million Nicaraguans will be less likely to develop pneumonia – Latin America’s #1 killer.

Today also brought the renewal of a relationship that is near and dear to my heart, as I sat down with a great leader and friend, Nicaragua’s Vice President Jaime Morales.

I met the Vice President when on my first visit to Nicaragua three years ago. We were standing on the dock at Corinto waiting for a helicopter to take us to the USNS Comfort where we would visit HOPE volunteer physicians and nurses. As we stood looking at the great white hospital ship in the distance, Jaime turned to me and said this was an emotional moment. Forty-one years earlier, he had stood on the same spot waiting to visit the original great white hospital ship, the SS HOPE. Then and there, a bond was formed between us.

Jaime has a warm smile and a countenance that exudes wisdom. It brought me no small amount of joy to share news of another group of HOPE volunteers, now aboard the USS Iwo Jima, treating Nicaraguans in need and, as well, to update him on our vaccination program.

Life is about relationships. Be they new or existing, relationships enrich our lives and give us the ability to do more for others – like make a difference in the lives of millions of Nicaraguans.


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