Volunteers make a difference here and abroad

Debbie Jones
Debbie Jones, Volunteer Services Manager, Gilchrist Hospice Care

I recently had the privilege to travel to Arusha, Tanzania along with 2 other colleagues to visit with our partner hospice and palliative care team at Nkoaranga Lutheran hospital. This life enriching experience was beyond anything I could have imagined. The people in this region of Africa are compassionate, warm, loving and above all respectful for their fellow man. It was inspiring to see the depth of care they give to each patient we visited.  As our group worked side-by-side with the palliative care team, we walked away with a greater understanding of what it is to be a loving soul.  In addition to meeting the paid staff I also had the honor to meet 30 of the 42 volunteers that help support the team caring for over 800 patients in four geographical regions or wards as they call them.  Within those four wards there are 20 villages that are served by 42 volunteers who as the administrator of the hospital stated, “they are the eyes for the palliative care team.”  These men and women who are elected by their community to volunteer are seen as the “trusted leaders” of the ward they live in. They visit with patients daily and communicate back to the team in Arusha if there is an immediate need for the team to visit a patient. They also educate the villagers as they are trained to teach about HIV prevention and other diseases this country faces. Each month they travel, many taking two buses, to Nkoaranga Lutheran Hospital to give report and receive the small stipend (about $17.00 monthly) offered to do this work.  As our team was introduced to this group I scanned the audience to see bright smiles that filled the room with dedication and support to the program and those they serve.  When I asked why they do this work the answer was universal, they all agreed that it is an honor and privilege to care for people, their compassion clearly comes from the heart.

In thinking back on this experience and thinking about our own Gilchrist Hospice Care volunteers I see very little difference except for the small monthly stipend.  Our volunteers travel to visit patients, attend meetings and above all else have the same dedication, compassion, warmth, kindness, loyalty, and bright smiles that fill a room as they offer their time and talents. They too are the eyes for our program as they complete the circle of care and often remark how much more they get from doing this work then they give. I often hear what an honor it was to sit with someone who was actively dying or calling a bereaved client to see how things are going for them.  We are fortunate within our organization to have a strong volunteer program of 400 individuals serving patients and their families.  As I have so often stated, “it is rewarding and continues to be a delight working with so many dedicated and selfless individuals who never say no when we ask for help.”

Our volunteer opportunities are numerous.  We offer home care support, inpatient support, visits to patients residing in a Long Term Care Facility, end of life support through our doula program, administrative support, and bereavement support.  A new care giver program being developed will be in place by June.  Look for more information about that program when I post my next blog. 

 For more information on how to volunteer for Gilchrist Hospice Care please call 443 849 8239 or email me at dgeffen@gilchristhospice.org.


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