When you have a busy life, it’s hard to imagine helping others, but that’s exactly what Dr. Laura Hawkins is able to do halfway around the world. As a pediatrician, Laura juggles a busy schedule between her family in Houston, her practice at the Regional Hospital in Thunder Bay, Canada, and her coursework at the University of Texas School of Public Health. It’s a wonder she has time to volunteer, but she does so with all her heart and the skills of her profession.
Last November, Laura spent three weeks in Liberia on a health and hygiene mission trip for Living Water International (LWI), the Houston-based organization that has provided clean water to some 5 million people around the world over the last 15 years.
As a medical mission volunteer, Laura has traveled to Central America and Africa on specialized assignments to assess health and hygiene conditions in communities where LWI has a presence. The trip to Liberia was, primarily, to train 18 teachers in 15 schools on health and hygiene practices for their school children.
A country turned upside down by 14 years of civil war under the grip of President Charles Taylor is now embracing reform, reconstruction and reconciliation with Africa’s first elected female head of state, Harvard-educated President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
But in the aftermath of civil war, certain basic practices of society are still overlooked, like how to use a toilet and the importance of washing hands. Laura had a chance to instruct teachers on the importance of these practices while instructing them on disease transmission and prevention, oral hygiene, nutrition and sexually transmitted diseases.
She also had a chance to observe the need for clean water. In a country where it always rains, there’s very little drinkable water. Civil war strife ruined many of the local water wells. Of the 11 schools Laura visited, most fetch their water using 5-gallon containers carried in a wheelbarrow from wells on adjacent properties. One private school had no access to water at all.
It’s a tall order, but LWI has done a lot of work since it entered Liberia in 2004: approximately 1,200 ex-combatants have been trained in employable skills, 107 water well projects have been completed, and the organization is now prepared to drill a well a week in 2007.
Thinking about the short time of her visit, Laura said, “The needs are endless.”
Laura hopes to return to Liberia this spring to revisit the teachers, and see the impact of her training.