LDS Volunteers Serve on Hospital Ship
By Haidi F. Fajardo, Philippines Area director of public affairs
Volunteers from LDS Charities worked side by side with service members aboard Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy as part of a humanitarian and medical training mission that blessed many lives in Samar, Philippines, this past summer
“Prepare in calm to respond in crisis” was the motto chosen by Pacific Partnership 2012 (PP12) Commodore Jim Morgan.
The PP12 team conducted six medical civic action programs, five biomedical equipment technician exchanges, 11 veterinarian civic action programs, four civil engineering action programs, and numerous other medical and community service projects in the region of Western Samar, across cities and towns from San Isidro to Catbalogan City.
From morning till afternoon, LDS Charities volunteers toiled along with the other civilian and service members performing operations from cleft palate reconstruction to cataract repair aboard the Mercy, which was docked a mile offshore. Medical and dental check-ups for adults and children were done, and free reading glasses, medicines, and walking aid equipment were distributed.
Thomas Weinz of the U. S. Department of State said that this mission “had the most number of operations done.”
The ship was anchored about one kilometer from shore. Patients needing surgery were flown to the ship by helicopter for treatment and stayed for a period of recovery, while volunteer doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel set up temporary clinics in schools to assess and provide medical services to patients.
For the Samar mission, 54 medical volunteers from LDS Charities rendered service. Some of them would proceed to other countries for the succeeding missions, while others would go back home but would be replaced by others from LDS Charities.
Aside from coordinating volunteers, the Church donated humanitarian relief supplies, including medical resources, vitamins, hygiene kits, newborn kits, school kits, orphanage supplies, quilts, toys, first aid kits, and blankets. These supplies were donated to various organizations in the countries where the missions were conducted. Seventy percent of the donations came from LDS Charities.
Elder Michael John U. Teh of the Seventy, President of the Philippines Area of the Church, assisted in the distribution of donated supplies and observed the medical missions conducted. He and his wife, Grace, also attended the dinner hosted by the U.S. Navy on board the Mercy and met with the volunteer group from LDS Charities led by Ret. Capt. John S. Jarstad, M.D.
As Elder Teh shook hands with each of the volunteers and thanked them for their sacrifice and for helping the Filipino people, including members of the Church, he spoke of the “marvelous experience it was for us to witness how thousands of our countrymen have been blessed.”
He added, “It was also a thrill to witness the cooperation engendered among citizens of many nations. We have people from all sectors of society coming together for a common cause, … forgetting themselves and willingly forgoing personal conveniences to alleviate the suffering of others. It is heartwarming to realize that people in general, consciously or otherwise, eagerly seek for opportunities to follow the example of Jesus Christ.”
Dr. Susan Puls, LDS volunteer medical coordinator, took charge of recruiting volunteers and coordinating the assignments and responsibilities. Her counterpart on the ground, Anthony John Balledos, who was involved in the program from the initial planning until implementation, made sure that everything was set and schedules were followed.
“Pacific Partnership has brought together the very best military, humanitarian, governmental, and nongovernmental agencies we and the international community have to offer,” said Rear Adm. Matthew Carter. “These groups are made up of tireless, dedicated, incredibly knowledgeable individuals.”
“They volunteer their skills and time because of the blessings and talents that Heavenly Father has given them,” added Mike Hughes, medical operations head for the LDS Charities group. “It … shows that we want to follow the example of Jesus Christ, which is to help our brothers and sisters who are less fortunate.”
Team leaders John and Patricia Jarstad expressed appreciation to the volunteers and highlighted the need to help others, to alleviate pain, and to see the joy as lives are changed, sights are restored, and ailments eased.
Dr. Jarstad specializes in cataract and laser vision surgery, as well as treatment of diseases of the anterior segment of the eye. For more than 20 years he has traveled to different parts of the world doing vision treatment, and he has been with Pacific Partnership on several missions. Dr. Jarstad and his wife, alongside other LDS Charities volunteers, will stay for three months aboard the Mercy while others come and go in different groups, each staying for six weeks.
After the Philippines, the remaining mission ports include Vietnam and Cambodia. The mission will continue to “build regional partnerships and collective abilities needed to respond to natural disasters.” Now on its seventh year, the Pacific Partnership is one of the largest annual humanitarian civic assistance missions in the Asia-Pacific Region.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides relief and development projects for humanitarian purposes in countries all over the world. Projects operate without regard to the nationality or religion of the recipients.
The humanitarian services arm of the Church sponsors five ongoing global projects to help people become more self-reliant. Initiatives include neonatal resuscitation training, clean water projects, wheelchair distribution, vision treatment, and measles vaccinations.
The Pacific Partnership 2012 is the largest joint humanitarian mission in the Pacific. The American hospital ship USNS Mercy completed a two-week mission in the island province of Samar before arriving in Subic Bay and then traveling on to Vietnam and Cambodia. Volunteers provided medical, dental, veterinary, engineering, and civic assistance to thousands.
The Church provided 70 percent of the donations of supplies and offered 50 percent of the volunteers during the Philippines stage of the operation. Fifty-four LDS doctors and nurses on board have volunteered for anywhere from six weeks to three months with the Mercy.
Lt. Cmdr. S. Maria Lohmeyer, mission spokeswoman, reported, “We evaluated 603 patients and we completed 271 surgeries on board, which is a very large number in such a short time.” She also said that the crew conducted animal vaccinations, built four classrooms, and renovated a playground and a clinic in Samar while the medical staff was busy with evaluations, surgeries, and eye examinations.
During the mission, 7,000 pairs of prescription eyeglasses were distributed. Medical kits and sports equipment were also donated to Catbalogan City.
More than a thousand military personnel and civilians from 13 countries participated in this mission, which was headed by Japan and the United States. Other nations included Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Korea, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Thailand.
Unity, peace, friendship, and sharing of cultures were some of the lessons learned from the 14-day medical mission and the more than three months of civic works in Samar.
Lt. Gen. Gerardo Layug, commanding general of the Eighth Infantry Division of the Philippines Army, stated in his closing speech that dedication to serve the people of Samar contributed to the success of the project, which included the collective effort and full support of all public officials and nongovernmental organizations.
Rear Admiral Matthew Carter, in his closing speech, applauded the humanitarian mission for being a symbol for unity among nations. “Pacific Partnership has brought together the very best military, humanitarian, government and nongovernmental organizations that we in the international community can offer,” Adm. Carter said. He thanked all those who participated and devoted their time to render medical and civic works throughout the duration of the mission.
Pacific Partnership 2012 stemmed from humanitarian initiatives following the tsunami that hit Indonesia in 2004, killing more than 200,000 people.