From the Executive Director’s Desk: Top Moments from 2017

This year was an exceptionally busy and productive year for Health Volunteers Overseas. We celebrated our 30th Anniversary, launched several new projects, and renovated our Washington, DC headquarters to accommodate our growing staff. We had the honor of being included, for a third time, in the DC-based giving guide, the Catalogue for Philanthropy. HVO’s Director of Program Design and Evaluation, April Pinner, MSPH, RD, and I co-authored an article, Health Volunteers Overseas: 30 Years of Leveraging International Partnerships to Strengthen Health Worker Capacity, which appeared in the open access online journal Frontiers in Public Health Education and Promotion. Most importantly, we continued our work to transform lives by bringing educational and professional development opportunities to health workers in resource-scarce countries.

As I look back on all that was accomplished by our exceptional global health community over the last 12 months, I am filled with pride and a sense of optimism. I feel that HVO is poised for future growth and continued success in the global health sector. Below are just a few of the moments from the past year that I reflect on fondly as I eagerly look towards 2018.

The HVO 30th Anniversary Symposium: Celebrate. Collaborate. Grow.

In April, we invited the members of our global health community to join us in Washington, DC for a one-day symposium dedicated to celebrating HVO’s impact and collaborating to plan for the future. While it is hard for me to pinpoint a single “favorite” moment from that day, I do remember looking out across the room and being struck by the number of people who had traveled great distances—from across the US and even around the world—to attend this event. That moment crystallized for me just how important HVO is to our members, volunteers, leaders, and supporters. Just as many attendees had played an integral role in HVO’s founding, maturation and growth, so too the organization had played a role in their personal and professional development.

Another highlight from this day was observing the numerous in-person meetings that occurred for the first time between professionals who had corresponded and collaborated virtually for years. The collective energy was palpable as individuals bridged geographic and professional barriers to connect over a shared enthusiasm for education and health equity.

The 2017 Golden Apple Awards

Announcing and distributing the HVO’s Golden Apple Awards is a pleasure I look forward to annually. This year, I had the honor of delivering two awards in-person during the HVO 30th Anniversary Symposium. Judith Hembree, PT, PhD, was recognized for her exceptional dedication to HVO’s physical therapy training project at Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti. Julia Plotnick, RN, MPH, FAAN, RADM, USPHS(ret), was honored for her lifetime commitment to furthering the global practice of nursing and nursing education. Another favorite memory from notifying the 2017 crop of honorees was connecting with David Goldstein, MBBS, FRACP, MRCP(UK) who received the award in recognition of his efforts to further HVO’s oncology project in collaboration with Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Hue, Vietnam. Like his fellow honorees, Dr. Goldstein was surprised and delighted to receive the award.

I find that the HVO Golden Apple Award is particularly meaningful to recipients because they know they were nominated by one of their peers—most often a fellow volunteer or a colleague they worked alongside at an HVO project site. I always make sure to let honorees know who nominated them because I believe this adds an extra layer of meaning to the award.

By the way, we are currently accepting nominations for the 2018 awards. I look forward to honoring another group of outstanding HVO global health community members!

Meeting with Leaders from EsSalud Health System in Peru

Over the summer, I traveled to Peru to meet with leaders from EsSalud health system—one of the final steps in reestablishing our partnership. In the past, HVO and EsSalud enjoyed a very productive and cordial relationship. We sent about 60 volunteers a year to Peru to support EsSalud staff and trainees in a variety of specialty areas. I was able to meet the new leadership at EsSalud and to finalize a new memorandum of understanding. We are now in the final stages of launching projects in orthopaedics, hand surgery, physical therapy and anesthesia, and we hope to begin recruiting volunteers in early spring 2018.

While in Peru, I had the opportunity to reconnect with many former colleagues from EsSalud. They were delighted to see our partnership reestablished and look forward to engaging in an ongoing educational exchange in the coming years. I also had the opportunity to meet with Samuel Allen, DDS. Dr. Allen is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Peru who received training and mentorship from HVO volunteer David Frost, DDS, MS, among others when he was a student and resident first starting his career. HVO now has the pleasure of supporting Dr. Allen in his efforts to launch an oral health training project in Chiclayo. It was thrilling to observe Dr. Allen—a former HVO trainee—implement the HVO model in-country to benefit local students and oral health care professionals.

Inclusion in the Catalogue for Philanthropy Class of 2017-18

This year marks HVO’s third inclusion in the Catalogue for Philanthropy—a DC-based organization that connects select non-profits to prospective donors in the Greater Washington region. As part of the selection process, HVO underwent an extensive external review by Catalogue staff and received a seal of approval. Like our accreditation with the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance accreditation, our selection as a member of the Catalogue for Philanthropy Class of 2017-18 signifies HVO’s credibility and dedication to our mission to donors both inside and outside of the DC region.

Our acceptance into this most recent edition of the Catalogue for Philanthropy also presented me with an opportunity for reflection. HVO has grown significantly in terms of size and scope since we were first recognized by the Catalogue. We are now one of the larger organizations in the “small non-profit” category. It is easy to become so caught up in day-to-day operations of your own organization that you fail to pause and reflect on the progress you have made. Our inclusion in the Catalogue for Philanthropy Class of 2017-18 was one of many opportunities for reflection that presented itself this past year.

As 2017 draws to a close, I am grateful for the tremendous growth HVO has experienced in recent years, and I look forward to the continued expansion of our global reach.

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