Posted By Julie Williams, Eli Lilly and Co. and Project HOPE Volunteer on May 16, 2013

Labels: South Africa , Chronic Disease, Global Health Expertise, Partners

Julie Williams is one of ten Eli Lilly and Co. employees who are spending two weeks volunteering at the HOPE Centre in Zandspruit, South Africa as part of Lilly's Connecting Hearts Abroad program.  At Lilly, Julie is Manager of Communications for Lilly Diabetes in Indianapolis.  At the HOPE Centre, Julie is working to improve the clinic's communications capabilities.

I came to the Project HOPE Centre in South Africa thinking that I would not have much in common with the people I would meet here.  How could I?  We live half a world and an equator apart.  In less than a week on the ground, everything’s changed.

For example, I noticed the young 20-something guys who have been working with our team are congenial and chatty, willing to tease and be teased.  They get along well with each other and charm the adults around them.

Where I have I noticed this before?  In my three 20-something sons when we all get together.  It makes me see them in a whole new light.

On our first day, I met one of the clinic staff on our walking tour of the community.  We shared family stories and really hit it off.  I hadn’t seen her for several days, and today when we met up, she put her arm around me and said, “What have you been doing? I’ve missed you.”

Where have I heard that before?  From my best friend at home when we’re both too busy to connect.  It makes me see her in a whole new light.

I spent time today talking with a 72-year-old resident of Zandspruit about the dress she was making.  Next to her she had a bag filled with projects at various stages of completion.

Where have I seen this before?  In my grandmother, who always had a sewing project on her lap whenever she was sitting down.  It makes me see her in a whole new light.

So when the elderly lady told me she has “sugar in the blood” (diabetes), high blood pressure, “takes the pills” (brown, white), and can’t see too well out of her right eye these days, I better understand why our volunteer work here at the Project HOPE Centre is so important.  She is someone’s grandma.

I better understand why it’s important that the young men volunteer at the clinic.  They are someone’s sons.

I better understand why the staff members at the clinic work so well together. They are friends.

Getting to know the people and patients at the HOPE Centre clinic has helped me see them in a whole new light.  In spite of our many differences, the most important things are the same.

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