Posted By: John P. Howe, III, M.D. on July 31, 2010

Labels: Haiti , Humanitarian Aid, Volunteers

As I look around at the lush, green mountains that surround the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Deschappelles, Haiti, I can’t help but be reminded of a similar pastoral setting many thousands of miles away— the Project HOPE  headquarters in Millwood, Virginia. A country apart, the hospital and HOPE share in an often-intertwined vision of humanitarian aid and health education.

That the two organizations have led such parallel lives throughout the years is not a coincidence. Indeed, they were founded within two years of each other: Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) in 1956 by Dr. and Mrs. Lawrence Mellon, while Project HOPE was founded in 1958. A generous donation in 1977 by Rachel “Bunny” Mellon helped make possible the Project HOPE headquarters at Carter Hall, her childhood home in Virginia.

Fast forward to 2010. After the January 12th earthquake, HAS became one of the two leading centers for trauma-related surgical amputations and subsequent rehabilitation-- thanks to the generosity of the Hanger corporation (whose headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland is just steps away from our Health Affairs Journal offices).

In keeping with our shared mission, HOPE contributed to the hospital’s response to the earthquake. Currently, HOPE volunteer nurse, Jill Caporiccio of the Massachusetts General Hospital, is coordinating activities at the Hanger Clinic. With HOPE’s participation, the clinic has fitted over 400 Haitians, young and old, with prostheses, allowing them to return to normal lives.

Meanwhile, Haitian-American Certified Nurse Midwife and Project HOPE volunteer Carine Richard has been busily building the hospital’s midwifery program at its local dispensaries scattered throughout its 600 square mile service area.

Ian Rawson (stepson of Dr. Mellon), who now heads the hospital, shared an observation about Haiti today during an afternoon visit with patients. And it is one that I found very compelling. He observed, “Haiti is always in chronic crisis-- whether it be malnutrition or tuberculosis. Sometimes it is in acute crisis as well, from earthquakes to flooding. In the face of tragedy, the Haitian people are not rigid. They bend like bamboo, coming back with the best of resilience.”

His perspective has great relevance to HOPE. Where there is crisis there is HOPE. For us, the crisis may be acute, quiet or unseen. As our recent experience with HAS demonstrated, we are able to respond quickly to make a difference to those in need, no matter the crisis.

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