Nine students and faculty members from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s nursing and engineering programs have arrived home after participating in Pacific Partnership 2012, the largest humanitarian mission in the Asia-Pacific region.
This partnership has been put on by the United States Navy since 2004, following the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. The U.S. Naval Ship Mercy, a Military Sealift Command hospital ship, carried military and civilian members who were responsible for providing aid to Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam. It docked in Hawai‘i on Sept. 2 and will return to home port in San Diego on Sept. 14.
“We were part of the NGO [non-governmental organization] group so we were the volunteers that had all kinds of faith-based charities, we had medical-based charities that came on board, and then we had all the people from the host nations: patients, doctors, and nurses that were coming to learn from our experts on board,” said school of nursing and dental hygiene instructor Gary Glauberman. “So it’s just like a floating United Nations of people all there to help out on this humanitarian mission.”
Four faculty members and three nursing students from UH Mānoa were responsible for education outreach by providing information about hand-washing techniques and practices of public health through conferences.
Two graduate engineering students partnered with the Construction Battalion to work on basic infrastructure projects, such as the building and renovation of medical clinics and schools. Water filtration was also a large part of the project, as the engineers worked to construct slow sand water filters, which are a more effective way of purifying water from natural sources.
The UH members had to complete their projects in a short time, as the ship was in port at each country for about two weeks.
“It seems like the things we were doing was go in, help do something, then leave and you don’t get to check back on them,” said environmental engineering graduate student Gabriel El-Swaify. “You don’t know if they’re adapting the principles you taught them.”
Civil and environmental engineering graduate student Monique Wheeler agreed, saying, “It was in and out in every single port and when you’re focusing on water, that’s kind of impossible; you need a lot more time.”
Participants found the time constraints frustrating but saw it as a chance to grow. “I learned a lot about cross-cultural exchange, I learned a lot about being patient and waiting and, if things don’t go according to plan, just being flexible,” El-Swaify said.
Though their visit was brief, it was enough to open participants’ eyes. Glauberman explained, “[The health professionals were] working in such low-resource environments; it’s difficult for them to do the things they know how to do without the supplies they need, the money they need and the facilities they need. They’re very highly trained; it’s just hard for them to do their job.”