Project HOPE, headquartered in Millwood, VA, promotes sustainable healthcare practices around the world through educational courses and localized community-strengthening efforts. With the help of volunteers, as well as a partnership with the U.S Navy, the organization develops domestic and international health programs, and even sends medical personnel into underserved countries and regions that have been negatively affected by natural disasters. Project HOPE presently operates in over thirty-five countries—delivering medicine, supplies, education, and even rehabilitative therapy to the areas that need it most.
In 2010, a massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti, destroying much of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Project HOPE organized over 100 medical personnel, and more than sixty million dollars worth of supplies and medicines. Last year, the organization was again called upon when Japan was struck by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, and a resulting tsunami that brought destruction and havoc to the island’s eastern shores. Nearly sixteen thousand people lost their lives, and property damage was in the hundreds of billions of dollars. At the request of the Japanese government, Project HOPE volunteers assisted medical personnel in areas that included infectious disease, psychiatry, and cardiology, and they still maintain a presence in Japan today.
We had a chance to sit down with Development Specialist Rachel Brodrick, and learn about how special it is to work for an organization that has been providing healthcare around the globe for fifty-three years.
YEP: Tell us about the history of Project HOPE—how it came about—and a bit about Helen and William Walsh.
Brodrick: Project HOPE got its start in 1958 when William Walsh returned from the war a changed man. After serving as a medical officer on board a World War II destroyer, and seeing countless children die from a lack of healthcare in remote areas across the globe, Dr. Walsh requested that President Eisenhower provide a U.S. Navy hospital ship for him to use as the foundation of an international medical diplomacy program. Once donated, the ship was called the SS HOPE.
The SS HOPE served as a peace-time hospital ship until 1974, during which time doctors and nurses on board provided much needed health care in places like Indonesia, Vietnam, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, and other depressed countries. At about the same time that the SS HOPE retired, a wealthy family in Clarke County, VA, decided to donate their property to Project HOPE, which is now the HOPE campus, in Millwood. My understanding is that Helen Walsh was right by her husband’s side supporting his vision and enjoying every minute of it. Sadly, Mrs. Walsh passed away last month at the age of 90. What a full life, though!
Wildly enough, in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit, the ship idea was resurrected. HOPE partnered with the U.S. Navy to provide disaster relief in the wake of Katrina and the partnership stuck. After a thirty-one-year lull, HOPE once again sends doctors and nurses on board Navy ships to remote areas all over the world—very cool to see the original vision for the organization make a comeback.
YEP: How did you end up working at Project HOPE?
Brodrick: Honestly? I was working for a boutique graphic design firm in D.C. and I woke up one morning and decided I didn’t want to do private sector work anymore. My heart just wasn’t in it, and because I’m someone who lives much of her life from the heart, I need to be invested in what I do. I started looking for non-profit work shortly after that revelation, at which time the Project HOPE job fell divinely into my lap.
YEP: What has surprised you the most since you began?
Brodrick: I would say the most surprising part of the job is learning just how detached the U.S. is from the rest of the world. I mean, I know it’s cliché to say, but we really don’t know how good we have it, especially in comparison to the Third World. I remember traveling through the Dominican Republic last summer on an assignment for work, and my translator (a young Haitian man) asked me what I did for fun back in the states. I said, “I like to run, do yoga, sit down at a coffee shop with a good book.” You should have seen the puzzled look in his eyes—he couldn’t fathom such simple joy because he’d never experienced any of those things. The everyday reality in the Third World is bleak.
YEP: What are some of the short- and long-term goals for Project HOPE?
Brodrick: Our health programs focus on five key areas: 1) chronic diseases, such as cancer and diabetes. 2) infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and TB. 3) women’s and children’s health. 4) disaster relief—providing emergency medical care, medicines, and medical supplies where needed. 5) health systems strengthening.
HOPE’s short- and long-term goals are to expand on those key areas in countries where we currently work, and in some that we don’t. Because I work in the development department, I’m constantly on the hunt for new health program opportunities, which happen when and where there is available funding.
YEP: Is there any way that people can support Project HOPE that isn’t mentioned on the website—particularly for local folks?
Brodrick: Currently, our only hands-on volunteer opportunities require that you be a medical professional (doctor, nurse, midwife, etc.), but in the future, we’re hoping to offer more generalized volunteer opportunities. If you want to get involved, though, you can follow us on Facebook, twitter, etc. We also encourage hosting local fundraising events (athletics events, cook-offs, pie eating contests, you name it!) because every penny counts in the non-profit world.
YEP: Tell us about the people who work in Millwood.
Brodrick: We are such a mixed bag in Millwood. First of all, the nickname for the place is “Deadwood”—because there is literally one stop sign, a country store, and a post office. Hard to believe that an international organization is run out of such a small town, but it works. Because of the natural beauty that surrounds us in Millwood, coming to work is like a little vacation (to me at least). Even though we are off the beaten path, we’re nestled in the middle of horse and wine country, which attracts people of all ages, backgrounds, and tax brackets.
As far as HOPE staffers go, we have D.C. transplants, D.C. commuters, Valley dwellers, Eastern Panhandlers, some internationals, and some Boston/NY commuters. Professional backgrounds cover the spectrum: retired doctors, ex-Hill staffers, retired military, struggling writers (me), former corporate executives, one-time Peace Corps volunteers, etc. Whatever the background, it is so neat to be surrounded daily by such a diverse group of world-traveling humanitarians.
YEP: Has HOPE created any alliances?
Brodrick: It takes a village to create change, and HOPE forms alliances wherever we go. We work with local Ministries of Health in each country, government organizations (like the U.S. Navy and Air Force), corporate donors, foundations, other NGOs, and more. Without other key players with the same goals in mind, we would not be the organization that we are today.
YEP: What lies on the horizon?
Brodrick: HOPE is gearing up for some really exciting new projects. We’ve recently partnered with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Health Fund in South Africa to build a much-needed children’s hospital. Right now there’s only one pediatric hospital serving 20.8 million children in South Africa, so a second pediatric hospital is a grave need. We are also expanding our domestic portfolio to include some health work in rural Mississippi—another area in need.
Some people sit on either side of the fence, either believing international aid is unnecessary when we have so many problems in our own backyard, or thinking the U.S. is too wealthy to merit aid from anyone. I tend to think that if there’s a need out there, no matter the geography or geopolitics, we should do our part. Project HOPE is in growth mode, so there are a lot of great things happening.
—To make a tax-deductible donation, call Rachel Brodrick at 540.837.9432, or email her at rbrodrick[at]projecthope.org.
For the full photoshoot, check out YEP’s Project HOPE Flickr Set.
Additionally, the grounds of Project HOPE are simply stunning, and rich in history. Download the Project HOPE History for some of the historical information about the property (did you know the inventor of Listerine once lived there?).