By John Tonin
Founded in 1986 by the Sisters of St. Joseph’s of Hamilton, The St. Joseph’s Health System International Outreach Program (IOP) will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year. It first formed through a small partnership with the government of Dominica and gradually expanded to start projects in Haiti in 1992, and Uganda in 1995.
Initially, the program sent Canadian doctors and nurses overseas to train local doctors and nurses. The program also donated equipment and supplies to countries where there were shortages. Today, the IOP also brings foreign medical professionals to Hamilton to train them in the latest in Canadian medicine so they can go home and share their new skills.
In 2010 the International Outreach Program received charitable status from the Canadian Revenue Agency. While there are other medical outreach programs in Canada, the IOP is unique.
By John Tonin, Mohawk College School of Journalism
The St. Joseph’s Health System International Outreach Program (IOP) is unlike any other program in North America. The IOP brings doctors from foreign countries to Hamilton to train them in the latest Canadian medicine. What differentiates the IOP is that it allows the visiting doctors to diagnose illnesses, prescribe medicine and operate on patients, compared to other programs that only allow the doctors to observe.
Ignite News had the chance to meet the IOP’s director of development Alan Sharpe to discuss what the IOP would like to accomplish.
Ignite News: What is the history of the International Outreach Program?
Alan Sharpe: The IOP has been around for 30 years. We were founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph’s and it was a program that sent doctors and nurses overseas to train doctors and nurses. The program also donated equipment and supplies to countries that had a shortage of doctors and medical capacities.
Five years ago we became a registered non-profit and we train doctors who train doctors in Haiti, Guyana, and Uganda.
John Tonin and his fellow students produced a 30-minute documentary on the International Outreach Program of St. Joseph’s Health System in 2015. John was a third-year student in Mohawk College’s Journalism Program.
Monday, on the eve of the commemoration of the 6th anniversary of the earthquake that struck Haiti, January 12, 2010 at 4:53:10 pm (local time), Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations addressed a message to the Haitian people.
Travelling to a new country has its own rewards. Seeing the sights for the first time. Smelling the unique scent of a place or tasting the food of a new locale all build memories and add a sense of newness to our memory banks.
But coming back to a place, for me anyway, has an element of accomplishment and connectedness that is far more rewarding. Having a sense of place really matters.
For the next two weeks, I have the privilege to work my way across Uganda for the second time in a few years. We have just arrived and already, I have a level of comfort and connectivity with the place and its people that I cherish as much as the work upon which we are about to embark.
I will spend my time with the dozens of physicians that have trained through the International Outreach Program and our unique partnership with McMaster University. It will be an opportunity for me to bear witness first hand to the impact these remarkable people are making on a country that desperately needs them.
And despite the opportunities that await them in other countries, these smart, young physicians are all committed to Uganda. Their participation in our program, through additional training in Canada, doesn’t want to make them flee what is back home. It emboldens them to change it. For their people.
What’s it like to travel seven hours through one of the poorest countries on earth?
It’s exhausting. Physically and emotionally.
Physically in my case yesterday because the road we traveled has to be one of the worst anywhere on the planet. Of the 7-hour trip, the last three are spent on what I can only describe as a bumpy garden path wide enough for two cars (barely) over terrain that has never been graded. There’s no worn-down flat part because this ‘road’ is made out of rocks (small boulders actually) and three times, we had to cross a river without a bridge. When the rains come, the road is impassable. And this is the only access from Port-au-Prince to La Pointe where we are staying. To dull the monotony of the return trip, I’ve convinced my host to let me drive home.
But the real drain is on your emotions. I found myself tired last night. Tired of seeing people live in miserable conditions. Tired of seeing little babies struggling for life due to malnutrition; one of whom surely died through the night. Tired of hearing doctors telling me stories that would make you cry. Tired that the world, despite uncountable efforts, seems so damn incapable of ridding us of this scourge. Of poverty.
And then the guilt sets in. I get to go home. I will eat tonight. I will sleep safely. And then…how dare I let myself get tired from just seeing their poverty. They’re the ones who have to live it.
The guilt is crushing. And it’s a useless emotion because in the end, it’s selfish.
The balance comes from, all of all things, the wisdom of the tacky serenity prayer you see on bumper stickers: know what you can change and what you cannot. Our work cannot rid this land of poverty, nor can it solve the crisis that is public-health here. We can however, help a little hospital work a little better. Patients there will get care that is a bit more timely, a bit more effective, and a bit more clean today than they would have a year ago. There’s a little baby boy that (hopefully) had his first birthday last week because two of our volunteers saved his life minutes after he was born last October.
I held that baby last year. I wish I could see him today. Maybe he’d give me the hope I crave.