World Humanitarian Day: Passing It On
My understanding of the meaning of humanitarian is: to try to understand others and their needs and to care enough to be motivated to do something positive to make their lives better.
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.