(USA) - Project Manager for Holy Family Surgery Center
April 29, 2009 - Honduras
Over the past nine months I have been volunteering with NPH as a project manager for the Holy Family Surgery Center. My job is to coordinate tasks in construction, surgical service provision, and maintenance. I act as a liaison between project leadership, NPHI Director Reinhart Koehler and Dr. Peter Daly, and various Honduran contractors and Ranch personnel in order to facilitate building projects. I also make preparations for the weekly surgeries that take place at the center with Dr. Cerna, and at times I help the NPH clinics with small tasks. This position began with past volunteers Ryan Baxter and Natalie Klinkenberger and has evolved with the development of the Surgery Center, and I have come to love and cherish the role I play here at NPH.
I still remember the day in early 2008 when I found out that NPH had offered me a position to be a “clinic assistant” in Honduras. I was thrilled. Though I had absolutely no idea of what my job responsibilities would be and could barely find Honduras on a map, I figured that the experience would align with my interests in health care and learning Spanish. With little second thought, I boarded a plane bound for the tiny Central American country.
Dan cleans the blood left over from removing a bullet
Upon arrival, I gradually became aware of some important facts: 1) that despite years of study, speaking Spanish was difficult, 2) that NPH Honduras had an unfinished surgery center, and 3) that it was my job to help get it running. I was just a bit daunted. Though I had initial guidance from the former volunteer, Natalie, there was a steep learning curve as I adjusted to the complexities that came with executing a largely unsupervised job of which I had little prior experience within a culture wholly unfamiliar to me.
To illustrate, a problem as small as replacing lost keys for a door in the surgery center escaped me for weeks, as I took time to realize that promises made by the door company over the phone and in person (of which my comprehension was shaky at best) were really only polite attempts to placate me until the next time I inquired, or grew tired and gave up. I was accustomed to more direct forms of communication. In Honduras, “tomorrow” often doesn’t mean “tomorrow” but rather “not today,” and “next week” can be the equivalent of “next month” or “next year.” I ended up taking out the locks and replacing the keys myself. I relished these opportunities to test and stretch myself in new ways and learn to face the challenges ahead of me as best I could.
With time, I began to learn my role, and many of my daily responsibilities and small marks of progress strengthened my belief in our work and helped me see the bigger picture about the importance of the Surgery Center. Dr. Cerna, a local surgeon comes once a week to the Ranch to perform small surgeries. While assisting, I saw how beneficial this project was to poor members of our community who had no other form of medical assistance.
During my time here, Dr. Daly has made many trips to the Ranch from his home in Minnesota. When he and his medical teams arrive here in Honduras, it has been invigorating to see how trained specialists donating a bit of their time can make such large strides in organizing supplies and equipment, designing patient flow, and creating partnerships with Honduran medical groups. Things really started to come together, culminating with Dr. Daly and his colleagues performing their first two operations on patients from the community in early March of 2009. I saw firsthand how the Surgery Center had the potential to do wonders and help people for years to come.
As I look on my final months as a volunteer, there is still plenty of work ahead of us. Right now we are making preparations for a May visit by Dr. Daly and his team of medical personnel, in order to offer more surgeries for those in need. This requires installing a potable water filtration system for the sterilizer, as well as a backup generator to turn on automatically in the event of a power outage, common during the rainy months of May - November. Long-term, we are trying to find reliable Honduran suppliers of reusable medical supplies necessary for surgery and to license the building appropriately for use on a regular basis. While my year certainly has had its share of struggles, they were far outweighed by the joys and blessings that came with working for NPH and the Holy Family Surgery Center. I will always be grateful for this experience.
Surgery Center Assistant