Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘work’

Equal Work Equal Pay

Gabriel —

I’m not sure if you were alive when President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act 50 years ago today.

I was a recent Trinity College graduate (here’s a picture of me with President Kennedy from just a couple years before to prove it):

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President Kennedy called the Equal Pay Act “a first step” to ending the widespread practice of paying women less than men for the same amount of work. And that’s exactly what it was: a first step.

50 years later, we’re still fighting this fight, and women STILL make 23 cents less on the dollar. House Democrats have proposed a solution — the Paycheck Fairness Act — but Republicans voted to block this legislation from even coming to a vote. That’s unacceptable.

Automatically sign your name to tell House Republicans to support equal pay for equal work.

Our daughters and granddaughters should know that they’ll enter the workforce as equals to their male counterparts. But it’s going to take a real effort to get this done.

Add your name to our petition right now and say you support equal pay:

http://dccc.org/Equal-Pay

Thanks,

Nancy

Real Life Superwomen

Dear Gabriel,

This summer, we will ooh and aah over comic book heroes in the movies – supermen and superwomen who use their fantastical powers to affect the lives of others, for good or for evil.

While we know these superheroes are fictional characters, there are, in fact, heroes walking among us. Meet FINCA’s Superwomen, the next generation of superheroes.

Catarina Yolanda Yac de Leon (Guatemala) – Born without a right arm, Catarina was taunted by other children who called her “good for nothing.” As she grew older, Catarina began making beaded belts to help earn additional income for her family. With a FINCA loan, Catarina has learned from other entrepreneurs, been able to buy more materials, and has sold almost all the belts she has made to date!

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Berna Naiga (Uganda) – Berna has been a rock of support for her family. Living with HIV/AIDS has not kept her from supporting 10 orphaned nieces and nephews, children of siblings who have died of AIDS. Thanks to a FINCA loan, Berna has maximized her many entrepreneurial talents, from raising cattle, to running small businesses, to managing rental properties. All while caring for her children!

While these women may argue that they’re “normal,” their strength of character and wills of iron in the face of adversity prove otherwise. FINCA is proud to stand with the next generation of superheroes – women around the world who are lifting themselves out of poverty.

However, no superhero is an island – everyone needs someone in his or her corner. Root for superwomen like Catarina and Berna today. Give a FINCA loan, and fly high with modern-day heroes.

Sincerely,

Soledad Gompf
Vice President
FINCA

Ranked #7 & #2 In Top 100

Dear Gabriel,

img2I am thrilled to tell you CARE was ranked #7 in the Global Journal’s Top 100 NGO list and #2 among NGOs that engage in humanitarian relief work. I am so proud of our field staffers and happy to see that their tireless work toward changing the world is getting the recognition it deserves.

As you may have read, we are grappling with a drop in charitable gifts coupled with high demands for our help in the field. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll consider making a tax-deductible gift to help ensure we can maintain our poverty fighting work at full strength.

It is your generosity that helps us address suffering in the fallout of crises – like violence in Syria and Mali. And it is your generosity that allows us to stay for the long-term, helping new mothers remain healthy, relieving hunger, empowering girls, and much more. Thank you, as always, for your support.

Sincerely,

Helene D. Gayle MD, MPH
CARE

1.1 Million Suffering

From CARE.org

UPDATE:

Today, 18.7 million people are affected by the crisis, more than 1.1 million people are suffering from severe malnutrition and an additional 3 million have moderate malnutrition.

CARE is on the ground in Chad, Mali and Niger, where millions of people are and in dire need of assistance, relief and long-term planning. Women and children are particularly vulnerable, especially those under the age of 2. CARE’s emergency response and recovery program has reached more than 750,000 people with emergency assistance by providing access to food via cash transfer and direct distribution, and improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene. At the same time CARE’s long-term development programs such as women-led savings groups and cereal banks help people build and protect assets. In CARE’s experience, empowering women strengthens community resilience during crises.

However the humanitarian situation is dire:

Floods in Niger: The monsoon season and above-normal temperatires triggered heavy downpours and flash floods during this year’s rainy season, displacing hundreds of thousands families more and devastating some farms already hit by a severe drought and acute food shortages. Rainfall was more than 150 percent above normal from late July to late August. As of September 12, 2012, the flood had displaced 527,471 people and killed 81 others. Most of homeless families ware located into school classrooms while some were leaving with their relatives. These conditions are still precarious as class will reopen early in October and at the same time rain continues in some of the affected areas.

Conflict in Mali: Exacerbating the situation is fighting in northern Mali which has prompted massive population movements within Mali and from Mali to Niger. Right now, more than 440,000 people are displaced. Some have stayed within the country borders, while many have fled to neighboring countries seeking refuge. Almost 70,000 Malians fled to neighboring Niger, putting more stress on the already vulnerable population. Out of the 4.6 million people affected by the food security and nutrition crisis in Mali, approximately 1.6 million live in northern Mali, where access is limited.

Locusts infestation threatens 50 million people; breeding under way: Desert locust infestation remains dangerous as more egg-laying and hatching are expected in the coming weeks. Agricultural crop production, food and nutrition security, and the livelihood of some 50 million people in Chad, Mali and Niger are currently at risk, according to the FAO. This threat is the most serious since 2005.

National action plans for desert locust operations have been developed in Mali, Niger and Chad in accordance with national contingency plans but additional funding is required to carry out these programs before harvests are completely wiped out.

Cholera outbreak: The advent of the rainy reason has increased the risk of waterborne diseases, including cholera. The situation is particularly worrying in Niger, where an epidemic in four districts along the Niger River has caused 71 deaths out of 3,423 cases reported since the beginning of the year. The region of Tillabéri, the most affected, has so far recorded 3,403 cases of cholera and 66 deaths. As of early July, no cholera cases had been reported in the refugee camps and sites hosting refugees from Mali throughout the country. To contain the epidemic, available water points are being treated and awareness campaigns being carried out using community volunteers and local radio stations. In Mali, a cholera outbreak was declared on July 2 in Wabaria district located by the River Niger (in Gao). As of August 10, 140 cases of cholera, including 11 deaths, have been reported in the Gao and Ansongo districts of northern Mali. CARE will continue to monitor the situation and work with our partners to respond as needed.

Sahel’s lean season: The Sahel region is currently in its ‘lean’ season, which is the rainy period between planting and harvesting crops. And while it has rained in the past weeks, millions of families still need support until crops can be harvested. In fact, for many households humanitarian assistance will be the main means of survival, according to the United Nations. Throughout the region, prices of basic staples (maize, millet, sorghum) have increased significantly – even doubled in certain places. Generally speaking, food is available, but people cannot afford it.

Coping strategies affect women and girls negatively: Food crises have severe effects on families and for the most part it is women and girls who take the hit. In certain regions, food crises increase the rate of divorces (e.g. in Maradi region, Niger, half of women divorce because of food insecurity); the head of family sees it as a way of having fewer mouths to feed. In other cases, food insecurity might contribute to early marriages; families give away their daughters (earlier) so they don’t have to feed them. Husbands and young men leave to find work abroad, leaving mothers to lead the family on their own. In harvest time, some husbands lock up the grain storage and ask their wives to make do for several months. Food insecurity forces many families to take their children out of school and help at home or find work; they soon become parents; they have children who don’t attend school either, and the cycle perpetuates.

CARE is responding in Chad, Mali and Niger with immediate and long-term programs:

Providing cash-for-work to help families buy food and protect their assets

Training nurses on prevention and management of malnutrition

Improving water and sanitation and promoting hygiene

Strengthening community cereal banks so families can buy food at reasonable prices, stocking animal feed banks and reinforcing community-based early warning systems

Working with women’s savings and loans groups to develop alternative sources of food such as community vegetable gardens and to increase community resilience

Helping people from Mali who have fled across the border into Niger with essential household items and hygiene supplies

“CARE is also putting in place long-term solutions so people in the Sahel region are less vulnerable to recurring crises,” explains Barbara Jackson.

CARE has worked in Chad, Mali, and Niger for almost 40 years, where we have successfully created and promoted women-led saving groups and cereal banks. In parallel to the emergency response, CARE is continuing our long-term development projects, which make people better equipped to handle future crises on their own.

Roadmap to End Global Hunger – Helene Gayle joined members of Congress – including Learning Tours alum Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA) – and leaders of the NGO community on Capitol Hill on July 24 to launch the Roadmap for Continued Leadership to End Global Hunger. CARE is playing a leading role in ensuring that the Roadmap, supported by an unprecedented coalition of 50 organizations, outlines a comprehensive strategy to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of U.S. global food security programs. For more information, click this link to a World Food Program USA story containing a quote from Helene.

Read more at CARE.org.

Natalie Portman Calls Us Out

Dear Gabriel,

For millions of the world’s poorest, struggling to survive on just a few dollars a day, FINCA is a shining light of hope—a chance to work their way out of poverty.

For 27 years, FINCA has been providing a hand up, not a handout, to the world’s lowest-income entrepreneurs so they can create jobs, build assets and improve their standard of living. By putting small loans directly into the hands of the working poor, FINCA helps people help themselves.

Yet as wonderful as it is that FINCA has made more loans this year than ever, the need for microlending services just keeps growing.

As a committed FINCA supporter, I am asking you to help us continue to provide these vital loans. Give today and your contribution will be matched – three times over!

FINCA expand its outreach to extremely poor people in some of the most desperate places on Earth. I hope you will be as generous as you can, because your gift will be quadrupled with matching funds.

FINCA’s loan clients are so resourceful. It’s amazing to see how hard these women work and what a huge difference a small loan from FINCA can make for them. Once they pay off their loans, the first thing they do is educate and feed their kids. Their determination inspires me to take action.

Please join me by taking an action of your own; please make a gift today that will go 4 times further than normal.

The deadline for these matching funds is November 30th, please don’t let them go to waste!

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season,

Thank you for your support!

Natalie Portman
FINCA Ambassador of Hope

Liberian Peacemaking

From Nation of Change and Yes! Magazine
by Seth Biderman
31 December 2011

Former soldier Christian Bethelson’s only job skill was killing—until a chance meeting on a muddy road transformed his life, and many others through it.

“I tell my children, ‘Watch who you marry,’” says 53-year-old Christian Bethelson. “I married an AK-47, and it stole 27 years of my life. Bad marriage.”

He flashes a smile. One of his front teeth is missing, knocked out during a torture session in military prison. He’s also got a scar from a bullet in his right leg, and a host of terrifying stories from the front lines of Liberia’s civil war, one of West Africa’s most brutal conflicts in recent history.

Like the nation itself, Bethelson is trying to leave behind decades of military rule and no-holds-barred warfare. It hasn’t been easy. Even in a quiet living room in sleepy Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he has come to develop his peacebuilding work and further his personal studies in meditation, Bethelson does not seem entirely at ease. He sits on the edge of his chair and gesticulates broadly, his heavily accented voice rising as he describes how he stumbled into the life of a soldier—a life he might still be living today, if not for the chance encounter on a muddy road that set him on a path to transformation.

Today, Liberia’s Grand Cape Mount County is a roll of forested hills, cleared in no obvious pattern to make room for rice fields, rutted dirt roads, and clusters of palm-roofed homes. Somewhere, a bird is always singing.

In many ways, the region has changed little since Christian Bethelson was born there on January 1, 1958. Then, as now, its residents were mostly poor families, descended from any number of the 16 tribes that were living in the area when freed black slaves from the United States arrived in the early 1800’s and—despite sharing a skin color—established a two-class, colonial society that left families like Bethelson’s with scant political power or opportunity for economic advancement.

As was common at the time, Bethelson’s father had multiple wives—nine of them—and Bethelson’s earliest memories are not of playing, but of working the fields with his many brothers and sisters, scrambling sun up to sundown to scratch out enough food for everyone. From an early age, Bethelson intuited that education would be the surest path out of such a hardscrabble life. With dogged persistence, he trudged long morning hours to get to the nearest school—when his father would permit it—and then hustled home in the afternoons, lugging firewood he would pick up along the way.

Studying mostly on an empty stomach, he managed to graduate from the high school in the county seat. He knew he needed more.

“I had to go to college,” he says. “Education is the oxygen of the world. I was choking without it.”

When he learned the government was offering university scholarships for young men who enlisted in the army, he immediately signed up—only to find out the scholarships had run out. He was obliged to serve anyways.

That was 1978. Two years later, tensions generated by a century of injustice came to a head when a young sergeant named Samuel Doe murdered the Americo-Liberian president and installed himself as the nation’s first indigenous leader. Liberians flooded the streets of capital city Monrovia in jubilation, celebrating what seemed a step towards a more inclusive, democratic society.

But Doe soon proved ill-equipped to lead the nation into a more enlightened era: He conducted a macabre firing squad execution of several prominent Americo-Liberians, allowed his soldiers unchecked power, and grew increasingly corrupt. He played off Cold War tensions to stay in favor with the Americans, and cracked down on political dissidence at home by sending Bethelson and other elite soldiers to places like Israel and Libya for the latest training in anti-terrorism tactics.

The oppressive measures backfired. Powerful rebel forces rose up, stormed the countryside and destroyed Monrovia, sending some 500,000 Liberians—20 percent of the entire nation—into foreign refugee camps. By mid-1990, Doe and 500 of his remaining soldiers had retreated into the Executive Mansion, where they held out for months under unimaginable conditions.

Bethelson was among them, and even today, his voice breaks as he tries to describe those final months of Doe’s regime.

“People were drinking blood. People were eating people. Chickens were more valuable than humans. I kept a round in my AK-47—I knew that if the rebels caught me, it would be better to be dead.”

Bethelson survived on chicken bouillon and hot water until international peacekeepers brokered a ceasefire, and he and others escorted Doe to the port for peace talks. But no sooner had they laid down their guns, than a rebel faction broke the accord and opened fire. Many were killed; Bethelson scrambled aboard the peacekeeper’s ship, a bullet in his leg. (Doe was soon after tortured and executed in the Executive Mansion by a rebel named Prince Johnson, who caught international attention by releasing graphic video of the event.)

Bethelson was taken to a military hospital in the neighboring country of Sierra Leone. Slowly, his physical wound healed. The emotional damage did not.

“I would get drunk, smoke dope, listen to Bob Marley. I was never in a good stage, never experienced happiness. I had been driven from my family, from my country, from my dignity.” He pauses, and then adds: “I had no conscience.”

What he did have were years of military experience and training—assets that quickly led him back to Liberia, now plunged into full-out civil war. Under the nom de guerre General Leopard, Bethelson spent the next 13 years leading rebel forces in ruthless battle against warlord Charles Taylor. He was imprisoned for three of those years, but managed to escape and return to the front lines.

It was not until 2003, when an uncertain peace arrived, that he finally set down his AK-47. His first move was to find his wife and children, whom he’d not seen in four years. He found them living in an unfinished house, half-starved to death. But the country’s infrastructure was destroyed, and there was no work to be found. The joy of being home soon faded before a crush of impotence, shame, and anger.

“My wife and kids would insult me, cuss at me, ask why I could not find food for them. I would leave early in the morning, go to the beach and get high, and return late at night, when they were asleep.

“At that point I hated myself for having no education, for having gone into the military, for having participated in the ways that I had, for having been a rebel general. I saw myself as a criminal.”

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Norway’s “Cushy” Prison

Here is a very interesting article our son posted on Facebook today. I read it after returning from my weekly volunteering at a state penitentiary in Salinas, CA. A lot of it makes very good sense. Essentially, healthy respected people treat other people with respect and hurt people hurt people.

MailOnline
Norway’s controversial ‘cushy prison’ experiment – could it catch on in the UK? by Piers Hernu. 8th May 2011.

Can a prison possibly justify treating its inmates with saunas, sunbeds and deckchairs if that prison has the lowest reoffending rate in Europe? Live reports from Norway on the penal system that runs contrary to all our instincts – but achieves everything we could wish for

On a clear, bright morning in the tranquil, coastal town of Horten, just south of Oslo, a small ferry slides punctually into harbour. I am to take a short boat ride to the sunlit, green island of Bastoy shimmering on the horizon less than two miles away. It is a curious place. There are no secluded holiday homes or elegant hotels with moorings for passing yachts. The 120 people who live there never visit the mainland, but then why would they?

They spend their days happily winding around the network of paths that snake through the pine forests, or swimming and fishing along the five miles of pebble beaches, or playing on the tennis courts and football pitch; and recuperating later on sunbeds and in a sauna, a cinema room, a band rehearsal room and expansive library.

Their commune has handsomely furnished bungalows with cable TV. The residents eat together in an attractively spacious canteen thoughtfully decorated with Norwegian art. The centrepiece is a striking 10ft long model of a Norwegian merchant ship.

If it sounds like an oddball Scandinavian social experiment, you’d be right. Bastoy is home to Norway’s only island prison. I am here to scrutinize its hugely controversial approach to crime and punishment, and to do so with some knowledge; the last time I set foot in a prison was as a foolish 23-year-old man.

COMPLETE ARTICLE

Back to School Rwanda

Excerpt from Amakuru! News from the Rwandan Orphans Project. Written by Sean Jones and Jenny Clover.

Back To School

Notebooks and pencils in hand, the children of the Rwandan Orphans Project began the 2011 school year in various schools around Rwanda.

Most of the children – those in primary school and attending the ROP’s education catch-up program, stay in the Center where our five teachers give their lessons in kinyarwanda and English. This year the ROP is also providing education for about 25 secondary school students, most of whom attend a nearby school while a handful of others attend various academies around Rwanda.

The 2010 school year was a large success for the ROP. Many of our secondary school students passed their National Exams with the honor of Distinction and High Distinction, making them eligible for government scholarships and entrance into well respected schools. Our catch-up program had the honor of having the only students in the Nyarugunga Sector who reached High Distinction in the Primary 6 National Exams. This achievement is due in no small part to the amazing work of our teachers, who not only have the laborious task of teaching dozens of students but also play the roles of mentor, parent and disciplinarian to our ex-street children. The wonderful results attained by of all of our students is a testimony to their recognition that education is their way to break free from the cycle of poverty and have a successful future for themselves.

Aside from academics, the ROP is also sponsoring vocational training for ten young adults from the Center. These are teenagers who fell too far behind in their education and have struggled academically. But they refuse to give up and are working hard in these programs so they can learn trades and skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Some of them are learning mechanics, others hotel management, and yet others have gone into carpentry and even forestry. These vocational programs, along with our support for those still in school, allow the ROP to follow through on the promise that we make to all of our children to support their education as long as they are willing to work hard themselves all the way to the end. We are not only raising children, but future citizens and potential leaders of Rwanda.

Donations can be made to the:
Rwandan Orphans Project
4671 Cass Street
San Diego, CA 92109
or online at Rwandan Orphans Project.

Rwanda’s Children

Rwanda has made incredible changes and strides in the last 17 years, since the 1994 genocide. Most people who lived in the country previously, would not recognize the advances now made in education, health care, the environment, reconciliation, security and work. They still have a lot to do and have not always had completely fair open elections, but what the government and people have accomplished after having to start from scratch (in just 16 years) is remarkable. A lot of people don’t realize it is also a beautiful country (landscape and people).

I’ve been to Rwanda twice and worked at an orphanage there called the ROP Center for Street Children, which provides shelter, food, water, education, vocational skills and health care to homeless children. There are now over 100 kids at the center (age 5 to 18). It is run entirely by Rwandans, with a sister organization in America called The Rwandan Orphans Project, which helps raise funds to keep the center going. They pay for the water, food, teachers, nurse, clothes, rent, utilities, transportation and some secondary and college costs for the children.

These children are the future of Rwanda, East Africa, the African continent and thus the world. Please consider making a donation to this non-profit organization, which started out taking in children who had been orphaned from the genocide. 100% of the money raised goes directly to the center in Kigali (the capital of Rwanda). The administrative costs by the Rwandan Orphans Project in the US are completely done on a volunteer basis. READ MORE

There is a book I put together from stories the children at the center told me. It is called The Skin of Lions: Rwandan Folk Tales. All of the royalties from its sale go to the Rwandan Orphan’s Project. TAKE A LOOK

Health Care’s Invisible Glue

I once had the opportunity of developing intimate relationships with people of all ages and from all walks of life. They and their loved ones often shared deep secrets and lifetime memories. Challenges arose daily, imploring me to make an individual more comfortable or free of pain or to help someone deal with an emotional crisis. As the years progressed, I found that a simple touch, deed or word could profoundly affect the people I cared for.

You may be thinking, “You must be a nurse, right?” No. “Oh, then you’re obviously a doctor or an intern?” No, but close.

I’m talking about life as a nursing assistant, better known by the pseudonym “aide,” “orderly” or “attendant.” Their work with elders in convalescent homes is legendary. Legendary because they continue to work in such facilities with little pay, dangerous under staffing and terrible supply shortages. Conditions are frequently better in acute-care hospitals, but even there they are often seen as appendages to doctors and nurses. Rare is the individual or organization that grasps the importance and necessity of their involvement in the health care system. They are the “meat and potatoes” of hands-on medical care in this country, the glue that holds it together.

Nursing assistants make a crucial difference in peoples’ lives. Frequently, they spend more time with patients than nurses and doctors combined. For some, their presence means the difference between fear and loneliness and even life and death. They are there when we hurt, sweat, laugh and cry.

Some individuals (health care professionals and the public) act superior or snobbish to aides, treating them as if they are lacking in brains or have no motivation to “move up” the social ladder of medicine. It’s not overt or cruel prejudice, it is a basic disregard for the job, the training required and the workers involved.

Let me take you inside the world of a nursing assistant for just one 8 ½ hour shift, when I used to work the swing shift on the cancer unit of a local hospital. This is the real stuff, the nuts and bolts of health care and healing. It’s what nurses used to do before they become inundated with paper work, passing medications and running madly to finish all necessary procedures and treatments and to fulfill all the other responsibilities demanded of them.

After receiving my list of assigned patients and finding out which nurse I’m working with, I begin obtaining patients’ vital signs and get an overall picture of how they’re doing.

The gentleman I encounter in the first room needs his oxygen adjusted and some fresh water and towels.

The next patient, Alice, needs an entire bed change. A 73-year old woman with breast cancer, she has become incontinent and soiled her gown and linens. She is embarrassed and painfully apologetic. As I cleaned her up she spoke of her fear that she was beginning to lose control of her life. When I left, Alice said she felt “clean, fresh and renewed.”

The third person I contacted that evening was Charles, a 60-year old man with leukemia. As we conversed, he asked if I was in training to be a nurse. When he found out I wasn’t, he said, “Oh well, this is a good job for you to start out with for your future.” Just then the charge nurse came in with a frantic look on her face and asked if I could get another patient on a gurney to go downstairs for x-rays.

After I located a gurney on another unit and got the patient ready, another nurse requested that I make a trip to the blood bank to pick up some packed cells (blood). When I returned from the lab, I found my team leader (nurse) at the medicine cart.

We sat down and looked over the “care” charts to decipher what protocol was desired for each patient. Some vital signs needed to be taken and some patients needed to walk, be turned, bathed or catheterized (a tube put in the urethra to empty the bladder). Others had doctors’ “orders” that entailed checking blood sugar levels or collecting sputum, urine or stool samples for lab tests. During report, the nurse suddenly stopped, turned excitedly toward me and said, “When are you going to nursing school? You would make a great nurse.” She looked downhearted when I explained that I had no desire to be a registered nurse or to go back to school. She said, “But you’re so intelligent!” I grimaced and said, “Thanks”. Was she implying that that nursing assistant’s are stupid?

When report was over, I finished the remaining vital signs, lifted one patient up in bed, helped another to use the bedpan and took Alice for a walk down the hall. While shuffling along we pretended we were dancing to, “Tea For Two.” Her eyes sparkled when she told me that she and her deceased husband had been prize-winning dancers in the 1940s.

I informed the nurse that a patient’s IV (intravenous bag) was almost dry and that a number of people had requested pain relief and various other medications. The dinner trays arrived and after checking to make sure they all matched each patient’s diet, we passed them out. One of my folks needed help eating (as a result of an old stroke), so I sat by her bed and slowly gave her a few mushy bits of her soft diet, so she wouldn’t choke. Meanwhile, a patient undergoing chemotherapy was throwing up just two doors down the hall. After emptying his emesis basin (vomit container), I went to supper. Believe it or not, I was famished. It had been only two and a half-hours since my shift had started, but it felt like two and a half days!

On the way to dinner, I picked up a magazine which had a feature story entitled, “What Do Nurses Want?” I got my hot, soggy food, set my tray on the table and turned on the television. The channel I selected dramatized the story of a big-city hospital. As usual, the only characters given any airtime were, you guessed it, doctors and an occasional nurse. Everyone else in the show (housekeepers, technicians, secretaries and nurses aides) were shown as auxiliary personnel who did nothing but get in the way of the featured players.

After devouring my food in the allotted half-hour supper break, I returned to the unit and picked up the patients’ dinner trays. As I walked by Room 264, I saw Sam (a patient with advanced renal failure) falling headlong towards the floor. I leaped through the door and grabbed him just in the nick of time. Sometimes I felt like I was in one of those old commercials were people dove to catch a spill before it hit the carpet. Sam was getting more confused and said he had to go get things ready for the rabbit cage. I maneuvered him back to bed and eventually convinced him to stay in his room for the rest of the night. It took another hour before he realized he was in the hospital, after frequent reminders of who, what and where we were.

Then Michael put on his call light and literally screamed for help! Michael was a young man with AIDS who was in the hospital for treatment of a lung infection. Upon entering his room I found him tense, angry and perspiring profusely. He asked various questions about medications, IVs and food. Everything was worrying him. Was this working right? Was that being done on time? Was he getting the proper nourishment? After sitting and listening a few minutes, it was apparent that he was concerned about something other than mere food. At first, I answered his questions, then I asked him if he could tell me what he was really afraid of? He began to cry. He said he was overcome with feelings of abandonment from a dear friend and the emotional loss of some of his family members as a result of his illness. Fifteen minutes later Michael and I were laughing about the absurdity of life and the beauty of loving and sincere friendships. He only rang for assistance one other time that evening, to have someone turn out his light and say goodnight.

I left Michael’s room, made a fresh pot of coffee for family members and staff, fixed someone’s bed and TV and then took Jackie her evening snack of fruit and juice. Jackie and I had known each other for a few years, as she’d had frequent admissions for chemotherapy, such as her present three-day stretch. She always called it her “dose of poison” for the month and described her hospital visits as, “A working, masochistic vacation!” We spoke of her family, hopes for a cure and her latest garden project. Then she asked about my children and work. After a pause, the familiar questions began. “When are you going to go study medicine?” “Isn’t this just a job you’re doing to get through medical school?” Patiently, I said, “No, I’m not going to school right now.” It seemed futile to explain once again that this was my profession.

The remainder of the evening involved collecting and measuring fluid totals from each patient and spending time with the family members of a man who died at 9:00 p.m. His death was not unexpected, but the grief his family experienced was far greater than they had anticipated (as is often the case). We called the doctor, minister and mortuary. I got his body ready by taking out the IVs, putting in his teeth and folding his hands on his chest with as much dignity as possible. I finished charting on all the patients around 11:30 p.m., said goodnight to my co-workers and friends and called it a night.

Another “routine” shift had passed. As I drove home in the darkness, I thought about the perceptions people have of nursing assistants. Our society says it cares about the young and old, yet it places little value on those who care for the sick and aged or teach our children. Such failure to match words with deeds is, at the least, hypocritical. Why don’t people respect and reward those providing the hands-on care of their father or mother as much as they value the doctor who diagnosis the illness or the nurse that starts the IV or hands out the pills? If appreciation for the work nursing assistants’ do is ever acknowledged by good pay, healthy and safe staff to patient ratios and mutual respect, I think I’ll pass out from the shock.

Doctors and nurses are prime assets in delivering good quality health care. Without them, many would flounder and perish. I’ve seen them work long hours with great heart and dedication. But they are not the sole providers of care, nor do they have an exclusive patent on providing expert and passionate service. They do not work in a vacuum devoid of others’ energy and skills. Without secretaries, housekeepers, laundry workers, department managers, volunteers and countless other technicians, assistants and personnel, the health care system would find it impossible to function, let alone provide adequate or quality care.

Life tends to go in circles. Who will be there when you are feeling sick and miserable or someone in your family is? A nurse, maybe. A doctor, perhaps. Most likely, it will be one of my colleagues, a nursing assistant.

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