Amy Champagne, a recent graduate of the University of New Orleans 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 welcome in Tongatapu, Tonga really set the pace for the rest of the week. A beautiful and talented Tongan woman greeted us at the Mu’a Health Center with a native dance. The dance was really quite elegant and graceful. The Tongan tradition is for the dancer to wear a dress made of tapa and beautiful bright green leaves as ornaments in her hair and around her wrists. The crowd of military personnel and patients roared with excitement. Some very brave members of Pacific Partnership 2013 joined in the dance, and the week began with smiles, dancing and laughter.
Inside the Mu’a Health Center the local priest said a long prayer in Tongan. Shortly thereafter, the Pacific Partnership personnel dispersed to their separate stations. Stations had been set up inside the health center for patient treatment including general practice, dental and optometry.
Project HOPE volunteer nurse Lisa Bassett was honored with the opportunity to meet Queen Nanasipauʻu Tukuʻaho of Tonga. She visited the Mu’a Health Center for an optometry check-up and received new eyeglasses. The queen was very grateful for the eyeglasses and arranged for lunches to be delivered to the health center for the rest of the week. The meals were delicious with pineapples so sweet that the core could be eaten. Sandwiches, watermelons and coconuts with straws were part of the meals as well.
Outside of the Mu’a Health Center an educational health fair was also set up. Project HOPE medical volunteers contributed to the mission in both the outside health fair and inside treating patients.
HOPE volunteer Nora Hussey, a retired army colonel and family nurse practitioner, wore many hats throughout her time in Tonga. She eagerly participated in health fairs and treated patients, while acting as a liaison with the military throughout her time in Tongatapu.
Nora, who was always willing to help, worked with a smile on her face, never slowing down her pace. Many of the patients in Tonga had similar symptoms as those in Samoa. The majority of cases were hypertension or diabetes. Nora suggested a current lifestyle change to patients along with many other wise words of advice for the improvement of their health.
“It would be sensible to reassess, request assistance for guidance, and move forward,” said Nora.
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