“I know it makes no sense, but you have to have a sense of humor about these things,” Dobson said. “I waved goodbye to my bags in San Francisco and I haven’t seen them since. You just can’t let something like that get you down.”
Dobson, a pediatric nurse who works for Kaiser in Oakland, traveled to seven African countries in seven weeks, but she wasn’t on safari – she was on a mission with Project Hope, a global health education and humanitarian aid organization that offers medical aid and training to people around the planet. Dobson’s Africa Partnership Station 2012 tour encompassed the West African coast, including Liberia, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Benin and Togo.
Africa Partnership Station 2012, coordinated with the U.S. Navy, was a unique mission. While the Navy was organizing humanitarian efforts in the region, Project Hope volunteers visited hospitals and set up makeshift clinics in schools. Volunteers worked with local doctors and nurses to educate them about how to provide the best medical care without technological resources.
“There are days when we diagnose people in the area and offer aid,” said Dobson. “But the most important thing is to give local doctors and nurses the skills so they can continue to offer quality care after we’ve left. These doctors and nurses are book smart, but they lack hands-on experience, and that lack of training can affect how they diagnose patients. We provide them with training so they can offer sustainable medical services.”
Dobson first joined Project Hope in 2008 for a trip to Liberia. In the past four years, she’s traveled to Vietnam, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Haiti, Cameroon, Trinidad and Cambodia on Project Hope missions and is already planning a mission for next year, when she hopes to go to the Philippines.
Dobson, who also works as a critical care transport nurse for American Medical Response, never envisioned being a nurse. She earned a degree in biology, and when she realized the job market for biologists was tight, she pursued a nursing degree as a fallback plan. She’s been a nurse for 29 years – and loves it.
“I never imagined I’d become a nurse, but maybe this was part of the plan for me all along,” Dobson said. “I first got interested in Project Hope after the tsunami disaster in Indonesia. I didn’t get to go on that mission, but after that first trip to Liberia, I was hooked. I love getting to go to these parts of the world where people have very little, and help teach them how to care for each other. I feel like this is what I’m meant to do.”
After traveling to 14 countries with Project Hope, Dobson has a new outlook on life and the way she handles herself as a nurse. Each homecoming is an emotional experience because she’s reminded of how lucky she is to live in a land blessed with the luxury of modern technology and access to high-quality medical care.
“The people we see have so little, and they’re so grateful when we come into their villages,” Dobson said. “The countries’ political leaders might be anti-American, but the people are so welcoming. They want to hug us and take pictures with us. Seeing their gratitude really puts things into perspective.
“For example, I met a man who was critically disabled. His legs were mangled and he crawled into our station using mostly his hands. With his condition, he was beyond our care and there wasn’t much we could do, but we gave him a pair of sunglasses to protect his eyes and he left with the hugest smile on his face. The man couldn’t walk, but that small gift meant the world to him. Something so small makes a difference. It’s moments that like that redefine life’s big picture.”
While traveling around the world, Dobson gets to do some sightseeing, visiting local villages and markets (including a voodoo market in Benin). She samples local cuisine, and while on board the HSV-2 Swift, ate alongside Navy service members. When she wasn’t assisting in surgeries or teaching local doctors and nurses about neo-natal care, Dobson read books on her Kindle and worked on crossword puzzles. She also maintains a blog to let family and friends know what she’s up to and how she’s doing.
Inspired by Project Hope, Dobson plans to commit herself to global health care organizations when she retires, but that’s a few years away. In the meantime, she’s completing a master’s degree in clinical nurse leadership at the University of South Alabama. She also plans to seek a master’s degree in international health.
“I’m a lifelong learner,” Dobson said. “I’m just thrilled that I can share my skills with others and make a difference, so I want to learn as much as I can to be as helpful as I can to as many people as possible.”
To learn more about Project Hope, visit www.projecthope.org.