It’s the time of year when we think about New Year’s resolutions…typical ones might include losing weight, spending more time with family, quit smoking. But our Cancer Center nurses have given new meaning to the New Year’s theme – their recent trip to Guatemala to give their time and talents to help people build a new life, is something we can all admire.
During the holiday season, many of our holiday activities are centered around our homes -- decorating, cooking, and family gatherings. And, we often take for granted the many comforts of our homes, including simple things such as electricity, a warm bed surrounded by solid windows and walls, even running water. But, for many people around the world, these simple comforts are illusive luxuries. No group is a better example than the Mayan Highlanders in rural Guatemala. Families with seven children live together in one small make-shift hut with a dirt floor that turns to mud when the rains come, cornstalk walls, no doors or windows and no running water.
Help from Hopkins
Learning of their challenges from radiation oncology nurse Ron Noecker, R.N., a group of 13 volunteers from the Department of Radiation Oncology and Molecular Radiation Sciences and the Kimmel Cancer Center and friends, bonded together to donate and bring medical supplies, clothes, school supplies, and toys, and then volunteered their time and personal funds to spend a week in Guatemala, building a framework for a house and a needy family and helping out at the local village health clinic.
“We wanted to do something concrete and what could be more concrete than building a home for a family chosen by their own community to be the most in need,” said Ron. For Ron, this journey was a labor of love. He had gotten to know and deeply care for the people of that region while living and serving in Guatemala, prior to his becoming a nurse at Johns Hopkins.
His enthusiasm to help the Guatemalan Mayan Highlanders spread to his colleagues who willingly gave of their time, money and efforts to help as well. In fact, it was radiation oncology nurse manager Marian Richardson, R.N., who led the charge to gather a group together once she heard about some of Ron’s experiences in Guatemala and the needs of the people.
“I was not only moved by the rough living conditions, but how a community had worked to rebuild their lives after years of civil war had torn them apart. I couldn’t think of a better thing to do but help these people,” she said.
More than a Short-term Solution
To make their efforts go as far as possible, Ron connected with an organization in Guatemala called Men and Women in Action, run by Lois and Ken Werner. The group works with members of the community to help them organize themselves and set priorities for improvements. The Hopkins team was able to fit in with the overall efforts of the area’s leaders, thus making their short time in Guatemala have long lasting impact.
The project, which culminated in a week-long trip to Guatemala in October, was aptly called, “Guatemala Ezperenza,” which means “Hope for Guatemala.”
The initial goal was to raise enough money to build two homes at a cost of $2,200 each. Together, the team raised enough to build two houses and another donor matched the Hopkins team’s efforts so that a total of four new houses would be added to the village. The Hopkins team also provided funds to “Common Hope,” a foundation to help children stay in school and receive health care, as well as to “Wings,” a reproductive education service for women.
In addition to building out the frame for a house, the team of Cancer Center nurses and radiation oncology therapists spent time at the local clinic. Healthcare services are at the most basic level and clinic staff only sees patients monthly. Suzanne Cowperthwaite, M.S.N, R.N., NEA-BC, assistant director of nursing for the Kimmel Cancer Center, shared that many children have upper respiratory problems because they villagers’ huts have no ventilation and cooking is done over a central fire pit in the hut. Infections, easily treated with antibiotics, also were a problem. Gathering as many donated medical supplies as possible and then transporting them was a feat in itself.
“Charles King, materials and project coordinator for Oncology Nursing, was a tremendous help packing all the supplies,” Suzanne said. “We could not have brought all those supplies without him.”
Asked if she would go again, “I’d definitely do it again,” she added, “being there makes you grateful for what you have.”
Our Ten Service Superstars
Marian Richardson, R.N.
Ruth Bell, R.T.T.
Suzanne Cowperthwaite, R.N.
Andrea Cox, R.N.
M.E. Holland-Callender, R.T.T.
Jennifer Jones, R.T.T.
Peter Meagher, R.N.
Joy Stathakis, R.N.
Jill Sterndorf, R.T.T.
Ron Noecker, R.N.
Friends of Our Staff who also volunteered:
Ketly Bateau, R.N.