Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Harriet Hawkins

With over 50 years of nursing experience and a heart of gold, Harriet Hawkins is one of our heroes. She has been instrumental in launching MedGlobal’s Helping Babies Breathe program, putting her Master Trainer skills to use teaching midwives and nurses in Bangladesh and Pakistan. As the world celebrates the Year of the Nurse, we are proud to highlight Harriet’s dedication and compassion and hope that you get to meet her in person on a future MedGlobal trip.

Where are you located and what is your profession?

I live in Oak Park, Illinois and I’m a Registered Nurse at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

If you could witness any event of the past, present, or future, what would it be?

I would love to meet Florence Nightingale. At a time when ‘professional nursing’ really did not exist, she was a pioneer in making the work of the nurse ‘professional’. She also played a crucial role in the recognition of the importance of sanitation and hygiene.Hygiene is one of the things that is so difficult for people in developing countries. I would love to see the day that all people have ready access to clean water to drink and enough clean water and soap to be able to wash.

How would your friends describe you?

Busy, involved, a lot of energy, not afraid to speak up about what I believe or think.

Who inspired/inspires you, both professionally and personally?

My mother inspired me personally. She was always doing things to help others. Even when she was in a wheelchair and not able to do much, she would send my dad to church each week to pick up the church bulletins and he would bring them home to her to fold (this was before folding machines!). Professionally there have been many people who have inspired me. Rita, the nurse who encouraged me to try something new after leaving a job where I was very unhappy. Terry, the nurse who did not make fun of me my first day in the NICU and told me that I could do it and who continued to help me learn. Pam, the nurse who encouraged me to do public speaking, who asked me to teach some of her classes, and who asked me to write for the first Emergency Nursing Pediatric Course. Morgan and Kailin, young nurses who ask for my opinion and want todo so much with their career.

What countries have you volunteered in?

Vietnam, Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala, Ghana, Uganda, Bangladesh, Pakistan. I have also taught nurses in Sweden, The Netherlands, Greece, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. With MedGlobal, I have been to Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Why do you volunteer?

I was raised in a family that volunteered. Growing up, my parents volunteered at church, I was in Girl Scouts, and I volunteered at a summer camp for children with developmental delays. It is just what I do. It is what I believe that I should do. For 24 years, I have volunteered as a nurse at a clinic for the homeless in our area. I also volunteer at a not for-profit, fair-trade store. And I have been volunteering internationally since 2001. I have so much, and volunteering is a way that I can give back a little.

What is your most memorable moment on a MedGlobal trip?

In Bangladesh, we were trying to teach a student to use a bag and mask in a Helping Babies Breathe class. The student was really struggling and was unable to effectively ventilate the infant manikin. After spending time with the student and breaking the skill into small steps, the student was able to use the bag and mask to ventilate the manikin – and the student was so proud. Watching students acquire skills during class is an amazing thing. We all get so excited when they can master the skills needed to save a life.

After volunteering, how has your perception of Global Health issues changed?

There are multiple global health challenges. Until I volunteered in a developing country, I honestly had no idea how fragile so many communities are worldwide. Health systems must be strengthened to provide access to basic health care. Education must be provided to our health care workers as well as to our patients. Equipment must be provided so that health care workers can do their jobs. Before my first trip, I had no idea that many countries do not have lifesaving equipment. Or, if they do, they often do not know how to use the equipment that has been donated. So many countries have limited access to primary health care. When there is a crisis, like this pandemic) they do not have the resources to provide the care that is needed. Unless one has read extensively, talked to someone who has volunteered, or volunteered in a developing country, I don’t think most people really understand the crisis. It is real. It is heartbreaking.

Thank you for being a part of the MedGlobal community, Harriet!