HOPE works in more than 35 countries worldwide. Please enjoy our blog as we document the successes and challenges of our work to provide Health Opportunities for People Everywhere.
Samantha Mangovski is from New York, but has Macedonian roots. She was part of an internship program for Macedonian diaspora with partner organization Macedonia 2025. She shares her Project HOPE experiences here.
During my day spent with the Project HOPE volunteers in Tabanovce, Macedonia, I learned that they provide more than just medical care.
On the morning of Aug. 9, 2016, I was preparing myself for a day spent in a transit center observing medical staff receiving and caring for displaced refugees from Syria. What I found was a lot more.
The first face I saw that day was of Aleksandar Jordanovski, a Project HOPE volunteer, as he beckoned me to the vehicle we would share. On our 45 minute drive from the heart of Skopje to the Tabanovce Transit Center near Kumonovo, I waited in the car as he made a stop around 8:30 in the morning.
As he opened the door to get back in the vehicle I noticed he carried what appeared to be a whole cooked chicken. As I joked with him about being overzealous for lunch, he revealed to me that actually the food item was not for him, but for one of the refugees. He then divulged a story of a man he had befriended who arrived at the camp after four days and nights of walking. The man had been separated from his wife who was prayerfully awaiting his arrival in Germany. This man also had four children whose whereabouts Aleksandar did not know.
Aleksandar stated this man had walked straight through Greece without stopping or resting for four days and nights consecutively. When he arrived at the center his feet were largely swollen. He was hungry and exhausted. Within the days to come, Aleksandar took the man into the city to see an ophthalmologist as the man needed glasses. He also makes a point to bring him his favorite foods from outside the transit center. Sometimes something as simple as a familiar meal is enough to provide a hint of normalcy when everything around you is unfamiliar.
For the refugees who have traveled far and wide on foot,
with and without shoes, in the rain and heat,
who have gone weeks without a hot bath or decent meal,
Project HOPE volunteers give more than just medical care.
They offer pieces of humanity.
As I was walking back to the ambulance I saw a male refugee exit the small facility. I politely asked if everything was alright when Angela Trposka, the resident doctor in the Tabanovce Transit Center, stated the gentleman suffered from depression and wanted to talk. I realized in that moment that when a crisis of this scale occurs the attention is naturally placed on treating physical health ailments first. I personally had forgotten the victims would require emotional support as well. But not Angela. In addition to her constant presence there to provide medical attention to the refugees, she also takes time out of her day to sit privately with individuals about emotional issues, depression and grief concerning the abrupt life change they experienced.
Throughout my day I witnessed acts of kindness that were not required of the volunteers, but given freely. For the refugees who have traveled far and wide on foot, with and without shoes, in the rain, and heat, who have gone weeks without a hot bath or decent meal, Project HOPE volunteers give more than just medical care. They offer pieces of humanity.
More than a week after Macedonia’s capital city Skopje was hit by torrential rains that killed at least 22 and injured many, part of the city and its neighbouring districts still remain under a state of emergency.
On Saturday, Aug. 6, 3.5 inches (93 mm) of rain fell in Skopje within five hours and water levels went up to five feet (1.5 meters) in the most affected areas.
A group of Project HOPE employees and local volunteers from HOPE’s Macedonian office quickly pitched in to help by cleaning out flooded houses and delivering much needed medicine, sanitary products and cleaning items to the victims.
The flood swept away part of Skopje’s Ring Road, carrying away people in their cars. Houses were flooded and partly devastated, particularly in the Northern suburbs of the Macedonian capital, leaving many without electricity for days.
"Everything was a mess,” said Baze Spriovski, a 43-year-old resident of Singelic in the outskirts of Skopje. “Televisions, the fridge, the sofa, everything was floating ... it was a nightmare."
Many people also lost livestock in the floods. Small agricultural farmers will likely not be able to produce any products for the next few years for reasons of soil contamination.
Special police forces, the military and KFOR forces have been present in the most affected areas in order to help and coordinate the delivery of drinking water and the cleaning of scattered debris from streets and gardens.
"This is a disaster; we have never experienced such a thing," said Skopje's Mayor Koce Trajanovski.
Today, 10 days after the catastrophe, the situation in the most affected areas is bit more stable, but the need for manpower, drinking water, supplies and medication is still urgent. Project HOPE is planning more visits to provide help, clothing and medication. Medical supplies available in the U.S. warehouse will be sent by air.
Experts are anticipating that the consequences will be most visible in the next three months when epidemics of communicable diseases may spread.
I grew up in an Air Force community and was gratefully mentored towards my goal to be a nurse by an Air Force nurse. Talks of relocation and life in “foreign countries” were shared by childhood friends. I too wanted to travel, learn first-hand about lands, people, their cultures and their ways of living. Due to my role as a full time University-based nursing educator from 1974 to 2001, along with raising children, travel out of the Continental United States wasn’t possible. In 2001 I made a career move from the University to community-based specialty practice in developmental/behavioral pediatrics. While I love this specialty practice and the patients and families we serve, I am not involved in general pediatric healthcare. But, in this practice, I can arrange time off. Through a family member I became aware of Project HOPE’s varied volunteer and humanitarianism opportunities - many collaborating with U.S. Military and other NGO groups. The missions presented on the website were rich with opportunity to renew my basic skills, travel to unique (and real) – less visited places. To places I would be challenged to give care to children, perhaps more in need than those near home.
My best memory was my first mission, Pacific Angel 2011 staged several miles outside Pekanbaru, Sumatra, Indonesia. HOPE warned there might not be sufficient need for a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – which made me smile then and now. The primary mission was to see how rapidly the Air Force could set up a “Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief” unit - a pallet-bound tent clinic and city ready to travel and be functional, within a day. The clinic opened to over 800 patients the first day. Adults brought their children along as they were full time caregivers. As families learned their children could be seen, the volume increased by the hour, then over the days. Pediatrics became so busy the Family Practice MDs began seeing as many children as adults.
Each year since 2011, I have felt honored when accepted to a new mission. 2012 was Pacific Partnership aboard the USNS Mercy. I boarded in Manado, Indonesia to travel the Philippine Islands including Samar and Cebu. Living as do our Navy personnel opened my eyes to their discipline in service. When not at an Islands’ clinic examining, treating, and learning of that community’s ways of living, I volunteered aboard ship. I loved working the Mess line. There I had the chance to thank our Service persons for their dedication at home and abroad. It was exciting “manning the rails” as the Mercy steamed in to Subic Bay, Manila. 2013 was aboard the USS Pearl Harbor. I joined this multinational military and NGO mission in New Caledonia and traveled to Manado, a highly populated Marshall Island. In 2014 Typhoon Haiyan destroyed many Philippines lands. HOPE sent emergency responders to Tapaz Island. In September I examined children in the local hospital, met with community and military leaders of Tapaz to review the Island’s recovery and ongoing needs. Once again in 2015 I worked with Navy providers, this time aboard the USNS Comfort anchored outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I saw so many with so little resources since the 2010 earthquake. June 2016 was PacAngel in Kampot, Cambodia, a multinational, East-West sharing of health care information and hands-on care.
I am asked, “What is humanitarianism?” I am repeatedly humbled by families who wait in long lines in hot and humid weather for me to examine their children. Their thanks and signs of appreciation are my enduring gift. Seeing the resilience of children and compassion of their elders resets my moral and emotional compass and grounds me. How fortunate I am to be in this nursing profession I love. Earning the chance to share knowledge among national and international peers affirms my worth. Upon my return I want to kneel and kiss home ground with thanks for my opportunity to give of my skills and my time. Many parents, co-workers and friends want to hear of my adventures. I feel through telling my stories they gain empathy for others and may find a place or organization where they too can give in their special ways. Coming home, I am often physically exhausted, but days later I start thinking about my next opportunity.
J. Beryl Brooks, the Developmental Clinic Coordinator for Improved Pregnancy Outcome at Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, Georgia, is a medical volunteer with Project HOPE.
The 9/11 terror attacks in the United States broke our nation’s heart and shocked us to the core, but for me, the shock gave way to a sense of determination to serve as a volunteer for a medical humanitarian organization. With Project HOPE, I felt inspired to make a difference. If I could in some way help save a life, educate a nurse or inspire health professionals to build healthier communities, I was determined to do it.
My first mission with HOPE was a three-week assignment at ASRAM, a regional teaching hospital in Eluru, India where I helped enhance the skills of staff nurses. My second mission was a two-week assignment on USNS Mercy, the U.S. Navy hospital ship where Project HOPE often provides medical volunteers, working as a staff nurse on the pediatric pre- and post-operative unit while it was anchored off shore near Roxas City, Philippines.
In May of this year, I was in Bo District, Sierra Leone doing assessments of the district hospital and rural primary health clinics. The HOPE team taught two American Academy of Pediatrics Programs called Helping Babies Breathe and Essential Care for Every Baby. I was honored to work alongside other team members including Dr. George Little, a Neonatologist from Dartmouth Medical Center in New Hampshire, Dr. Jacqueline Osibey, a pediatrician from Ghana, and Mariam Sow, our program coordinator.
Sierra Leone is in great need of humanitarians, especially in health care as it has one of the highest rates of maternal and newborn mortality in the world. The country is still recovering from the devastating Ebola epidemic, which had a terrible impact on the country. Progress had been made in reducing maternal and newborn mortality by providing free access to maternal health services until Ebola struck and crippled the health system. The epidemic caused a severe shortage of health workers and a lack of adequate supplies. This meant that thousands of women had only limited access to maternal health services. The use of child soldiers in the country’s decade-long civil war was another painful memory for the health professionals I met. These nurses and health experts are my heroes. They persevered during conflicts and global health emergencies, coping with a lack of resources or paychecks at times. They are true humanitarians.
Prior to volunteering with Project HOPE, I served for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal as a health educator. I also did a two-week assignment with a group from Alabama providing health services in two rural health clinics in Honduras.
My best memories as a humanitarian so far have been seeing the excitement and confidence in the eyes of staff in Nepal and Sierra Leone when they reported their successes in resuscitating newborns using the skills they learned from the programs that I helped to present.
To me being a humanitarian means trying to understand others and their needs and caring enough to be motivated to do something positive to make their lives better. There is always a need for help and medical expertise in underserved communities, and I have skills to share. I have been very fortunate in my life and do not take that for granted. So I’m just passing it on.
Susan Tussey is a family nurse practitioner from Pennsylvania, who spent two weeks aboard USNS Mercy in the Philippines in late June and early July as a medical volunteer for Project HOPE as part of Pacific Partnership 2016.
I spent two weeks as a medical volunteer aboard USNS Mercy in the province of Albay in the Philippines, moored at Legaspi City. The mission met the goal of working with partner nations to exchange and share best practices in health care, disaster preparedness, dental care, optometry, nutrition and veterinary care.
I joined two family practice physicians in several in-patient units on the Mercy as well as provided medical care alongside local providers in community health exchanges (CHEs) in three different locations: Ligao City, Duraga City and Tabaco City. Aiding with patient care at each visit were translators from LDS Charities, student nurses from Bicol Regional Medical Center, Blood Donor Nurses and the Philippine Army Nurse Corps. Between patients we were able to share the differences and the similarities with each nation’s health care population and education curriculum.
The age range at the CHEs ranged from infant to elderly, and basic health care (prevention and treatment of minor conditions) were provided. Because of financial strain, health care was often the last expense for the folks attending the CHEs.
Some interesting conditions were present that are not usually seen in the United States. One that stands out was a 9-year-old girl who had been brought in with a heel condition that had been present for six months. It turned out that she had probably stepped on an object that penetrated the heel and had a massive infection that required surgical intervention. Yet, she was not complaining one bit. After several lengthy discussions with her mother and grandmother regarding the urgency of seeking care in a hospital, it wasn’t totally clear that they would eventually seek care. Just as they were leaving, they asked to have another area checked and raised the back of the girl’s dress to expose a bump on her lower back. Amazingly what it appeared to be was an unresolved 10 cm oval-shaped meningocele – a condition that is usually taken care of at birth. She did not seem to have any neurological impairments from this and advised them that this also needed evaluation by a neurosurgeon.
The children we saw were in general very stoic, polite and cooperative – somewhat different from typical child health visits in the U.S. Most everyone at the CHEs received a hygiene kit with items that included toothbrushes, toothpaste, washcloths and soap. The Dental department brought along the “tooth mascot,” which was a big hit with the children. Some glasses were available from optometry, and physical therapy was available for musculoskeletal complaints along with nutritional advice and information.
The Filipino people we treated and trained were very appreciative of the collaborative efforts. They share their typical foods such as pancit, pork adobo, banana fritters, rice and foods not readily available in the U.S. such as mangosteen, santhol, and pili nuts. Meanwhile the Mayon Volcano, the longest active volcano in the Philippines, lurked in the distance. It majestic, perfect cone and constant steam trails hover over the area.
Overall, the experience was very humbling, but rewarding. I was glad to have been able to make a small difference in the population.
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