The Boston Six
Six health care professionals from Massachusetts General Hospital are volunteering in the Philippines to help people in a typhoon-ravaged area.
Thanks to the polar vortex that sunk much of the US to record low temperatures, several members of Project HOPE’s Rotation Three were delayed while departing for the far warmer Philippines.When the group of six volunteers from Massachusetts General Hospital(MGH) arrived at Logan International Airport in Boston, most had never met each other because the hospital has so many employees, but they were all stuck in the cold together.
Jump ahead five days to their arrival in Tapaz in central Panay Island. After dropping bags at the house where all 19 current HOPE volunteers are staying, the MGH group went straight to the day’s outreach clinic at San Antonio Elementary School and got involved despite having just traveled halfway around the globe. Within a day they were over jet-lag and up to speed on the goals of the three-week mission.
Of the six members of the Boston team, five of them are first-time HOPE volunteers. The Center for Global Health at MGH generously supports their employees with two weeks of paid leave annually to participate in medical humanitarian missions. When the call went out at the hospital for potential volunteers with HOPE in the Philippines, they received over 400 applicants, all willing to use an additional week of vacation time to complete the required three-week deployment. Despite stiff competition, these six made the cut.
One of the new volunteers is Katherine Rushfirth, a Certified Nurse Midwife at MGH for over two years. Katherine has thrived in HOPE’s outreach clinics both in and outside of her usual midwifery and has functioned mostly in a primary care capacity seeing adult patients with assistance from the deep experience and knowledge of the other volunteers. She has also strived to share and learn from the great knowledge base of the local midwives as part of an international community of “women taking care of women.” Their ability to make the most of limited resources in a rural location has been inspiring because “every woman deserves to have a healthy and safe pregnancy.”
Allison Caravana-Lilly has delighted in her chance to be part of a team offering health care to small, rural communities, “barangay” in the Tagalog language. She’s been most involved in the registration process and keeping everyone organized, allowing her to work with patients suffering from conditions such as TB and goiter rarely seen at MGH. Though she has only had a few opportunities to practice her usual social work, helping draft the long-term activities of HOPE in the Tapaz region has allowed her to include important social priorities in those future plans.
The other volunteer social worker on this rotation, Elizabeth Parker, has also been busy helping investigate the current health care situation in the Tapaz region to best position HOPE in the months to come. She’s most impressed with how a concern for social welfare is already ingrained in the community-based health care system through door to door checks of rural, impoverished families to identify those most at risk. Before coming to the Philippines, she also did not anticipate the extreme warmth, appreciation and hospitality that would be displayed by the local hosts at HOPE’s outreach clinics.
The volunteer pharmacy tech on this rotation is April Madrigal, a native Filipino who moved to the US at the age of 13. Though she greatly enjoys her pharmacy work in Boston, April loves the appreciation and smiles she receives in her work at HOPE’s outreach clinics as compared to the frustration that often accompanies working through insurance problems at home. After arriving, April immediately got the HOPE pharmacy stock organized on a professional level to the awe of the rest of the volunteers. Her time in the Philippines growing up and visiting in the years since has mainly been in cities. So spending a few weeks in a rural, mountainous setting is a new experience that she is really enjoying.
Another new HOPE volunteer is Amanda Harwood, an emergency room nurse at MGH. She’s been floored by how resilient the people of this region have been after the typhoon and how kind and generous they are at the outreach clinics. Two girls wrote Amanda a thank you note, a token from this experience that means a lot to her. It’s been humbling to see what the people of Tapaz do with such a lack of resources and has broadened her understanding of global health care situations. This, and learning from the wide variety of experiences shared throughout the group, has inspired Amanda to absolutely work on this kind of mission again.
Dr. AK Goodman is the one member of the MGH team who has volunteered before with HOPE and has extensive experience in international medical humanitarian work. Her own projects in Bangladesh and elsewhere occupy all of her vacation time away from being an OBGYN Oncologist at MGH. Here in Tapaz, she has delighted in learning from the local population by trying to see their situation though fresh eyes and without preconceptions. AK has also been cross-training with other members of the HOPE team in ways for everyone to expand their abilities, even teaching Amanda and Katherine the basics of ultrasound prenatal checkups with the device that she brought with her.
The “Boston Six” are excited to make the most of their remaining time in the Tapaz region before returning to the winter season and hectic work back at MGH.