Using vacation time to help others

March 24, 2013

So, why does a nurse take vacation days to be a nurse?

Amy Smith of Rogersville, a nurse who practices at Monongalia General Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va., didn’t hesitate to answer: “It’s so worth it to go!”

Smith, 45, began a medical mission to Sudan Feb. 13 and returned Feb. 25. She is a veteran of such missions, traveling to places few of us would select as vacation destinations. She has been to Mexico three times, Tanzania two times, and the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Honduras. She went on her first mission to Pibor, a county in southern Sudan in 2010, and fell in love with the people, especially the kids. She went back in 2011, but a planned trip last year kept getting cancelled because of the tribal violence.

The roots of the tribal conflict in Sudan are centuries deep, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that spears and machetes were traded in for automatic weapons, and what was once tribal one-upmanship between the small but fierce Merle tribe and the neighboring Dinka and Nuer tribes escalated into bloodbaths. Peace returned, but not for long. Luckily, this time it would be long enough for Smith to do some good.

We were fascinated by her spunk and commitment – as expressed in a story Sunday in this newspaper – to help people in Third World countries often ripped apart by civil war and abject poverty. She served people who would never receive medical attention were it not for the unselfish and humanitarian efforts of groups such as the Sudan Advocacy Action Forum.

We recognize not everyone is cut out to pick up and trek off to faraway lands to help people in need. Yet, we cannot say enough about Smith’s courage and dedication. She indeed makes Greene County proud.

But, again, we ask the question: Why leave the relative safety of being a nurse in Morgantown for a war zone? It’s a hard question for anyone who hasn’t done it to answer. Smith explained, though, that being a nurse helps.

She graduated from Waynesburg College with a degree in nursing in 1990, worked in local hospitals and delivered end-of-life care for the grandparents who had cared for her. After their deaths, she started working equally hard to alleviate the suffering and maladies of those in poverty in other lands. Along the way, Smith has cataloged her adventures in photos that include images of her hugging a shy little barefoot girl in a bright pink dress, meeting a nearly 7-foot tall Dinka tribesman, and encountering soldiers who came to the clinic to be treated, sitting next to their weapons with watchful faces.

We would urge schools in Greene county or any organization in need of a speaker, to contact Smith to let her tell her stories in person. Education goes far beyond the classroom and we can think of no better way to inform an audience about what is going on in the “real world” than for Smith to stand up and tell it like it is.



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