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A life of medical service: From Myanmar to South Sudan

The women of South Sudan

When I was a student and scholar of Minority Care International, I remember seeing the images of Ethiopia famine on television and women in Africa carrying the water on their heads from the wells for their daily consumption. Attending MCI’s weekly forums and hearing about ignorance, poverty, corruption, HIV-AIDS, violence, ethnic conflict, and climate change, I learned about the love of God and care for others. Of course, MCI does not just give, but it also teaches us to give back to the community. After I graduated from the University of Mindanao, became a registered nurse, and worked at the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) for a couple of years, I knew that I needed to do something, to witness, to give something of myself, and to be a citizen of the world. I must first do something good that will benefit the people who need it most.

Doctors without Borders serve the most needy communities in the world.

I remember that in one of the weekly forums, Dr. Aland Mizell shared with us that MCI believes every one of us has a place in society. Being poor and underprivileged does not really matter. What matters is that MCI provides opportunity for motivated young people to obtain an education that will enable them to make the most of their individual gifts. It is fascinating to see that each one has unique gifts with none having exactly the same ones. Today the blackboard is clean; the lessons still have to be written.

Education can help a student to become a nurse, a businessman, a banker, or politicians. Most things may be lost but an education, once gained, may not be taken away.

Women from South Sudan fetch water far from home, similar to the plight of women in the hinterlands of the Philippines without access to potable water near their homes.

Dr. Mizell mentioned about an international charity called Mercy Ship. He explained that the Mercy Ship is an international charity based in the USA that operates the world’s largest civilian floating hospital. Mercy Ship has a team of nurses, doctors, and surgeons, dentists, and crew members from all over the world, coming together and donating their time to help on board the hospital. As a ship hospital, they can sail directly to some of the world’s poorest people to deliver lifesaving medical care and to provide safe procedures in state of the art facilities in order to treat them. I realized I wanted to do volunteer work as a nurse. I observed the remarkable work that Mercy Ship undertakes to bring healthcare to needy communities around the world. I decided to volunteer with Mercy Ship because they have an excellent track record in delivering humanitarian aid and health care in the developing world, and because I wanted to use my skills to help those less fortunate.

His medical colleagues at the Samaritan’s Purse.

Dr. Mizell always reminded us that the best investment is in human beings. I have witnessed so many patients going through a life changing experience thanks to the help of MCI for investing in me so that I can invest in others. You don’t need to be a saint, a genius, or the next winner of the CNN hero or even the TV show talent program to bring joy to others with your gifts and heartfelt touch. We all should give without worrying about our imperfections and should not be discouraged by what we see as our limitations. Our gifts and talents are only as great as we allow them to be. If we feel the need, read books or take a class to improve our skills. But it is by using our gifts and seeing the happiness we bring that we gain the greatness confidence. Our gifts and talents will grow if we continue to share them. By helping others, we often help ourselves as well. When we stop giving, that’s the time we stop growing.

I believe that God wants us to invest the talents he has given us, and if we do, he will reward us with greater opportunity and deeper fulfillment. When I was done with my short-term volunteerism on Mercy Ship, I wanted to look for a career job like that, so I met some other doctors and nurses, and they told me good things about Samaritan’s Purse and recommended that I apply for the organization, and I did. They hired me as a nurse.

Samaritan’s Purse specializes in meeting critical needs for victims of conflict, disaster, famine, and epidemics throughout the world, often working through faith based groups on the ground. They provide food, water, shelter, medicine and other assistance. Samaritan’s Purse has a disaster response team on the ground to assist increasingly anguished Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar into Bangladesh. I was assigned to assist Rohingya refugees to

Medical professionals from countries across the world volunteer to provide service to those who need medical attention the most.

witness heart breaking stories and share with them hope I have.”

The Rohingya Muslims’ crisis was a humanitarian and human rights nightmare. Our team was exploring ways we could best assist the people and meet their pressing needs. To provide good health care to refugees, Samaritan’s Purse built a surgical ward at a longtime partner hospital. Also, Samaritan’s Purse was working to provide food, tarps, and clean water safe for drinking, along with non-food items to help alleviate the harsh conditions there. I saw firsthand the value of my work because these people are very vulnerable people who need our help. What they needed was hope. I saw suffering and heard story after story first hand. The Rohingyas told me how their family members had been killed, their land seized, and their homes and villages burned as they fled from the waves of attacks in Myanmar. These people went through hell, but when you go through hell, what you need is

hope, so that’s why we were there offering them hope. I told them that I am a Christian, but we care and love them because God loves them. We pray God will intervene for them. Samaritan’s Purse gave me another assignment to a country in the Middle East and had some visa requirement for non-American citizens and that delayed my assignments.

I had already met some staff from Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) on the field, and they told me they

Jerwin said that the resilience and endurance of people in South Sudan are a motivating factor for him.

are hiring, so I applied and went through a couple of interviews and was hired. I wanted to use my medical background in places and for people that have so much less than we do. I found out more about the work and values of Doctors without Borders and decided it was something I would love to be part of. On my first mission to Sudan, it didn’t take me time to realize that this experience would be truly challenging. Sudan has been wracked with Civil War, when most of its infrastructure was destroyed. Lawlessness, disorder and tribal warfare are big problems in Sudan. I was not used to being around citizens with guns, to work in the absence of a government, of laws, or hospitals, yet Sudan is a beautiful country.

People are great and their resilience and endurance are a motivating factor for me. I treated patients with the least possible resources. We performed miracles, and I witnessed a few miracles myself. We were doing surgeries inside a tent in the middle of nowhere without oxygen, without monitors, and without high tech equipment, and yet despite the limited resources, we still managed to save lives. I was the only proud Filipino nurse with Doctors without Borders training group of a local medical team at the refugee camp.

Sudan is facing crisis with the civilian war population targeted by rebel groups. On a daily bases, we witnessed the aftermath of horror and situations which deeply affected aid workers. It was frustrating to realize that even the most basic medical treatment remained inaccessible for parts of the population. But not only was medicine hard to get but also basic needs and even food as well. We found out a village did not have anything to eat and that they just eat grass and roots to keep them live. And yet, I was amazed by the kind and openness of the population. They were using a donkey as an ambulance, because they did not have any other means to bring a sick person to get the care for him or her. I was overwhelmed that in a place where people have nothing and are stripped of their most basic resources, they still have happiness.

Giving back to others is ingrained in him by his mentor Dr. Aland Mizell, president of the Minority Care International.

I have learned in my three assignments in Benin, Bangladesh, and Sudan to be content with what we have. I have learned to appreciate what we have in the Philippines. On a professional basis, working with the Doctors without Borders helped me to adapt to any situations that arises, as there will always be something new to understand. Our knowledge will be pushed to its limits. It was very hard for me to see children dying from totally preventable diseases and people without access to clean drinking water, or clean water to bathe or cook with or without shelter. I believe everyone has the right to health care. I believe that a person’s dignity if nothing else, even if the face of death, is important.

That’s what makes me hopeful, and I am more proud and thankful what MCI has invested in me, and I am trying to share with other. Hoarding our gifts and talents gives us nothing back to the world or to God from whom we have

Although danger lurked in every corner, Jerwin believed in his mission to serve people needing medical attention even in the most horrifying conditions.

received so much blessings. I am very proud to be a Filipino serving and helping others who are the most needy ones.

I still want to do more. As a nurse, we serve as an advocate for our patients, a caregiver, a counselor, a change agent, and a clinician. Even though, sometimes in my mind, I wish I could have done more, and believe that I am not doing enough for them, I hear patients say, “Thank you,” or seeing them satisfied with care and love I have given them makes me happy. It makes me feel that I have used my life purposefully. Whatever God is involved with always produces good fruit. When we look at our life, we see increase, we see multiplication, and we see productivity. We see ourselves birthing new ideas, new strategies to win the lost souls into God’s Kingdom. That is God’s ultimate desire for every one of us. Service and compassion are above all else. Dr. Mizell said, ‘A young person is a sapling of power strength, leadership, and intelligence that if trained and educated properly, he or she can become a hero by overcoming obstacles and acquiring a mind that promises enlightenment to hearts and order to the world.

By Jerwin Capuras

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