Posted By: Amy Champagne on June 27, 2013

Labels: Tonga , Volunteers

Amy Champagne, a recent graduate of the University of NewOrleans and former member of the U.S. Marine Corps, is Project HOPE’s Public Affairs Officer for the first rotation of Pacific Partnership 2013, a humanitarian mission to the islands of the South Pacific orchestrated by the U.S. Navy.  Our volunteers are traveling aboard the USS Pearl Harbor with the U.S. Navy.

Our volunteer work in Tonga continued as we woke up every day to ride the landing craft utility (LCU) for two hours to reach the shore from the USS Pearl Harbor.  The LCU ride was well worth it because the second we arrived at our destinations, we were greeted with such happiness.

At the Mu’a Health Center I had the opportunity to meet with the senior health nurse, Ana Pouhila.  Ana explained that the patient care being provided at the health fair was publicized prior to our arrival through newspaper, television and radio.  All of the publicity led to a large turnout.

Ana told me that the health issues most in need of being addressed by the Pacific Partnership team were postnatal care, family planning and general health issues.  We did our best to accommodate her requests by setting up stations at the health fair targeted to those specific areas.  We also had a doctor ready to answer questions at the fair and a psychiatrist who would speak to anyone willing to listen. This set up was a testament to the fact that how we taught patients to take care of their health was equally important as what the patients were taught.  The ability to listen, learn and teach in collaboration with a host nation and the military personnel is central to health care education and a value of Project HOPE.  It was quite an honor to see it in person.

One of our volunteers, who participated regularly, was Dr. Ray Majkrzak.  He saw many patients and allowed me to sit in on some of his visits.  I took note of the policies and procedures for a typical visit.  In a visit, Dr. Majkrazk, often helped by a navy nurse and a translator, sat down with as many as a dozen patients or more. Although his specialty is gynecology, Dr. Majkrazk treated all cases presented to him.  Each patient had the opportunity to ask questions, and their concerns were addressed.

There was often also a modest physical exam.  Patients were weighed and had their blood pressure checked.  For example, in a diabetes examination the patient may take off their shoes and socks for a foot exam.

(On a side note Dr. Majkrzak is very educated in constellations and held a few classes with his telescope. He explained constellations such as the Scorpion Heart, which happens to be the only red star in the sky, and the Southern Cross.  To an untrained eye like mine the Southern Cross looked like a kite but I could identify the star, which was all that mattered to me.  His classes were a huge success.)

By the end of the week senior health nurse Ana was impressed with our work effort.  Ana pulled me aside one day to say, “Americans being here is a blessing for us. We have learned from each other and hope you have enjoyed being in our kingdom.  This is only the beginning.  We hope to see you again soon.”

I thanked Ana for allowing us to be in her kingdom and expressed how much we all enjoyed being there.

As the Tongans would say, “malo aupito ofa atu,” which means “thank you very much, I love you."

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