Monday, November 24, 2008

Guyana and Beyond . . .

Here we are setting sail away from the beautiful country of Guyana. For the past 13 days, we have worked very closely with our neighbors and friends of this beautiful country in providing much needed medical care and support to its people in the remote townships of Mabaruma, Port Kaituma and Santa Rosa of Region One (far North East); providing medical care, treatment and educational seminars and surgeries at the St Joseph Mercy Hospital and conducting engineering and community relations projects and distributing Project Handclasp material throughout the northern and southern regions.

Our arrival was received with a wonderful welcome. The people of Guyana were excited and turned out in masses to provide physical and emotional support to make this mission a success. In early March, our advance team identified the scope and scale of the projects and determined the conditions necessary to support them. Upon our arrival, to our satisfaction, but not to our surprise, the government and the community had followed through on those preconditions enabling us to hit the ground running, or in this case, working. To our joy, this has been the case in every country; some more than others, but no less than a dedicated effort by the host country to do what needed to be done before our arrival so that we could start on day one doing what we had come to do. That’s partnership; that’s cooperation; that’s commitment.

In Guyana, we exceeded all of our expectations and projections. Specifically, the five engineering projects were a tremendous success:
1. East Ruimveldt Community Center [renovation and repair of the Center’s lighting, plumbing, landscape, structures, new 1,800 feet of security fencing and the installation of a new playground and] went very well. It was a face lift that turned the much used Center into a much improved community center, both functionally and aesthetically.
2. West Demerara Regional Hospital, eight miles from Georgetown, where they were in dire need of a more sanitary, secure and modernized food service area, we: enclosed an open air building with concrete blocks; installed doors and windows; installed new serving countertops, shelving, storage areas and cabinets for food preparation and serving; purchased and installed electrical outlets, lights, ceiling fans, kitchen appliances; built outside picnic tables and benches; painted the building, and conducted extensive landscaping work.
3. Houston Community High School, where I had the pleasure of talking with the children grades (7-12), teachers and administrators; our “TEAM”: repaired the gutter drain system; installed ceiling and floor tile; installed bathrooms fixtures; repaired and installed new plumbing; installed electrical lighting and fans; expanded the library and, built shelving and book cases.
4. Red Cross Children’s Convalescent Home we: replaced emergency escape slides that led from the second floor to the ground level; repaired and installed the evacuation staging area, and handed out teddy bears to the young toddlers and children that are orphaned or left there during the day or days while parents are at work. It is a great facility and a great concept in long term care.
5. South Ruimveldt Park which was just an open lot, we installed large play ground set and landscaped a dirt play ground area. Also, we installed benches and repaired the fencing gate and improved the drive way area. The community action leader was very proud indeed of our efforts, and the children; let’s just say, as soon as the ribbon was cut, the sounds of playtime rang out.

Our Medical efforts were no less successful. In fact, we exceeded, on a daily
basis, our projections in rendering both medical care and treatment and conducting medical education seminars. Aids awareness and sexually responsibility are common themes on the television, papers and through out print and bill board mediums. The preponderance of our medical efforts were focused in the North East area known as Region ONE. We were told, and we noted the difficulty in getting medical support to the regions due to the lack of roads and infrastructure. We noted, and were told that it can take hours by small boat (out board and row boat) to get from the outlying communities to the local medical clinic and a full day to get down south to Georgetown for medical care. Patients and their families stated that they often had to stay with friends or elsewhere when they arrived to Georgetown to get long term care and that it was a travel and logistic nightmare; compounding an already emotionally challenging situation.

During our discussions, medical nurses, administrators, doctors, NGO volunteers and other country doctors discussed their frustrations in not being able to deliver the care that was needed in that region. But to a person, they were all tremendously elated by our presence. I won’t breakout the individual medical project numbers, however, I will present the overall contributions that we [U.S. Guyana, NGOs and others] achieved as a “TEAM”.
1. In North East, Region ONE area of Mabaruma, Port Kaituma, santa Rosa and the city of Georgetown we:
1. treated 6,642 patients
2. conducted 69 surgeries for the mission (36 afloat, 33 ashore)
3. treated 1,649 animals
4. dispensed 10,057 pharmaceuticals
5. conducted 1,111 educational training sessions
6. our Project Hope partners conducted over 33 surgeries in Georgetown (St Joseph Hospital)

It has been a tremendously successful country visit, and we hope that we have done some good. Now let me turn your attention to two special cases in Guyana that sort of captures why we are here and why we do what we do above and beyond the lofty goals and objectives that define our mission…of partnering and working with our neighbors and friends in Central and South America and the Caribbean to help further security, stability and prosperity within the region.

• We had the blessing and fortune to perform a special surgery on a three-year-old girl whose eyelids had been partially fused closed since birth and could barely see. As we were to understand, she had been taken around the country and outside the country to seek medical care and treatment to correct the birth defect, without success.
When she arrived on the ship, she was reserved, shy and obviously conscious of her condition. She rarely smiled and would not look you in the eye. Her father, clearly a man of faith and filled with hope, expressed his gratitude for our offer and thanked us regardless of the outcome. Two days later, after the operation, I visited the small girl in the medical ward and there, in place of the shy and reserved young child, was a vibrant, smiling, playful and confident child filled with a clear view of the world that awaited her.
Her Father, as you could imagine, was overwhelmed and overjoyed for what had been given to his precious gift…his child and as it was clearly evident….his world. Words can not express or explain the feelings of the moment; but I will try….happy, relieved, overjoyed, and blessed. As I scan Merriam-Webster, I am sure there are many more adjectives to choose from...However, I will leave it to you to fill in the blanks with your own words.

• On 18 November, while we were in the Santa Rosa area conducting our medical project site visit, it was brought to our attention that a 15-year-old girl there was complaining of a pain in her side. The doctors diagnosed it as appendicitis. Due to her extreme pain, they decided to have her transferred to Georgetown…which as I stated earlier could take a full day or days to get there. When we heard of her condition, our doctors provided a second opinion and diagnosed her situation as more emergent than urgent. They immediately called for a helicopter to fly from the ship and medically evacuate (MEDVAC) her from Santa Rosa to Georgetown; turning an 8 hour or all day journey into a 60 minute trip.
When we delivered her to the Georgetown hospital, it was determined that her appendix had ruptured and had she not received immediate medical care, she could have died. She has since recovered is getting back to normal.

This was not the first time we had conducted a medical evacuation. During our transit from Trinidad to Guyana, we were called upon to use our helicopters to pick up and transfer a Norwegian crewmember who had suffered a heart attack from their vessel at sea to Georgetown hospital. Using a stokes litter, because we could not land on the small craft, we had to lower our medical team onto the small boat, stabilize the patient and then hoist him and the team into our helicopter for onward transfer to the hospital where he too made a full recovery. Again, these are clear and logical examples why our unique capabilities and capacities are best suited for this type of mission…you just never know whether it will be a small rescue mission or a large scale Disaster Relief mission similar to Haiti that will present itself.

So we have now finished in Guyana and preparing for our journey home. As we wrapped up in Guyana, the relatives of the 15 year old girl came to me and thanked us for our support. They simply said, “I know that you all are doing a lot here in Guyana, and we appreciate it; but what you did to save her life is the most precious thing that you could have ever done.”

Although, I understand the sincerity and compassion from which their comments are stirred, I am sure that at some level, we all feel the same about every single structure repaired or medical service rendered…this was a most important thing that we had done, together.

So now allow me to turn my attention back to my “TEAM”. There is still much to be done, and I must return to the business at hand. Thank You!!!

1 comment:

chase66 said...

I am so incredibly happy to know more about projects and missions like this. The projection of soft power is more important today than it ever has been. I'm bookmarking your blog and will check back periodically. Many thanks -- jcc