Mandy Hengeveld has always had a passion for environmental conservation and international development. She spent most of her twenties working on coral reef conservation projects in South East Asia.
On one of her projects, a teammate became trapped under a fallen coconut tree. “We were in a very remote area and I was the most trained person there with any medical background” says Mandy, “but all I had were my lifeguarding skills.” She decided then and there that she needed to increase her medical knowledge, and decided to pursue a career nursing.
She was accepted into the UBC program and has since graduated and worked in both the cardiac surgery and cardiology units at Vancouver General Hospital and is now working in emergency at Lion’s Gate Hospital.
In April, 2010, her passion for global issues was again put into action when she travelled to Haiti to assist with the relief efforts following a devastating earthquake. Just before she began nursing school, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami struck Indonesia, causing tremendous devastation. “If had already been a nurse I would definitely have gone” she says. “So when the earthquake hit Haiti, I knew I needed to be there. It has been in my blood, and part of the reason I wanted to pursue nursing in the first place.”
A colleague that had gone to Haiti in February helped her secure a spot. Mandy had a month to prepare. She gathered medical supplies and did fundraising and awareness, setting up tables in the lobby at Lion’s Gate Hospital and selling raffle tickets to try to get the word out that Haiti was in need.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect before going,” she admits. “I had an idea, but you can’t really know how it’s going to be until you get there. The experience was more positive than I thought it was going to be and I felt really supported by people back home in Vancouver.”
The team flew into Port Au Prince and travelled about 30 minutes east to Fond Parisien, where they established home base at the Haiti Christian Mission. The Mission was located in a two-storey building with a medical clinic on the ground floor and living quarters above. Although they were outside the actual earthquake zone, from Fond Parisien they were easily able to travel back to Port-au-Prince to set up mobile clinics for people living in tent cities and in the more devastated areas.
“It was good to be outside of the city” says Mandy. “Even though there were tent cities in the area we stayed, I think it would have been harder to be in Port Au Prince – there was so much devastation and chaos.”
One of the benefits of working with the Haiti Christian Mission was a sense of security. They had a translation school and the translators accompanied Mandy’s team to the clinics. “Being with the local people really made a difference” she says. “There was one local person for each team member. We never felt security was an issue. People were happy to see us; they knew we were there to help.”