As the team said it last goodbyes to the Tongan people, they were celebrated by the locals with a feast. The children ran around delivering leis to the people in attendance, preformed a cultural dance and gave small gifts to the medical professionals.
Commanding Officer of the USS Cleveland, Capt. Robert S. Roth, gave a heartfelt closing speech on behalf of Pacific Partnership 2011, and thanked every organization that helped make the first leg of the four-month humanitarian assistance mission possible, including Project HOPE volunteers.
"It was fun, productive, and a very good exchange with the local nurses,” says HOPE volunteer Jo Anne Bennett, who was one of three medical professionals recognized for outstanding work during the closing of the main medical humanitarian site at Prince NGU Hospital. “I was very impressed to see how much they could do with much less than what we have in the United States. I was also impressed with their childhood immunization rate, which is almost 100%."
Together, the U.S. Navy medical professionals and Project HOPE volunteers treated 3,875 patients during the visit to Tonga and provided 3,885 educational contacts. Still, it is the individual Tongans the volunteers met that will leave a lasting impressions.
"The experience was great from every aspect, from the medical services that the team provided to the cultural experience,” says HOPE volunteer nurse Bridget Binko.
"The overall experience was outstanding,” adds Dr. Alan Jamison. “I really enjoyed the people here more than anything else. Their humor was excellent. They were very considerate and just very happy people.”
Examples of the Tongan people’s kindness abound. When a Project HOPE volunteer lost his phone, a bus driver from Tonga located the phone and returned it back to the volunteer. When transportation broke down, that was to return volunteers from a remote medical site to the ship, the local village came together and brought food for the entire medical team as they waited for back-up transportation.
"We were able to treat a lot of people, built some good relationships and learned a lot,” volunteer Bill Aiken says. “The people were very appreciative, which made it a lot of fun." Volunteers Aislinn Mangan and Maureen Kisicki echoed the sentiments of the of the other HOPE volunteers.
While the volunteers were sad to say goodbye to the people of Tonga, each is ready to push forward with more health education and care as the mission continues in Vanuatu.
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