Carol Hansen has a different perspective whenever she’s back on home soil after helping impoverished people in developing countries.
A pharmacist at the Shoppers Drug Mart in Pitt Meadows, Hansen understands that in some cases Canadians don’t realize that they live in a relatively luxurious world.
For example: during her first week back to work in Canada from a humanitarian trip to Kenya, she listened to a customer grouse about the fact that the children’s antibiotic syrup didn’t come in any other flavour but strawberry.
“You have to check yourself and remember, ‘you’re in Canada, now’,” Hansen said. “You’ve just been at a country where you’re shoving tablets down three-year-olds’ throats, so you have to kind of have to think, ‘okay, you’re not in Africa anymore’.”
Hansen said she goes to developing countries to help people in their circumstance, just as she helps customers at the local Shoppers Drug Mart with their situations.
“Each experience is different, but each is meaningful and valuable,” she said. “I just have to remember not to have the same expectations in each culture.”
If you ask Hansen what drives her to volunteer in Kenya, Haiti, Thailand, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala, her answer is heartbreakingly simple: “People are poor. Children may die. I want to help.”
And help she does.
In fact, Hansen’s humanitarian efforts earned her a charitable work award from the Pharmacy Practice and Drugstore Canada.
A pharmacist for the past 32 years, Hansen has embarked on seven global humanitarian missions since 2003, providing pharmacy services to people whose lives are devastated by poverty, disease, and natural disasters.
“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “When you go there, it’s reward itself. When you’re sitting in a mud hut, eating food that somebody’s prepared for you over a fire in the ground you think, ‘Who gets to do this?’”
Hansen has worked as a pharmacist in Kenya and Haiti, but in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic she was there as a chaperone, assisting in the work there but also keeping her team members healthy.
In Thailand she worked to improve the living situations for women who have been removed from their homes or shunned by their communities because they are HIV positive.
Hansen said her strong faith compels her to do humanitarian work.
“I’m a member of a church in Coquitlam, the Hillside Community Church, and that’s what we do,” she said.
Helping is what Hansen is all about
Hansen returned from her latest mission in Kenya on Oct. 29.
She travelled with the Christian aid group Hungry for Life International to participate in mobile medical clinics in rural parts of that country, treating villagers suffering from typhoid fever, malaria, and respiratory infections.
Her roving dispensary consisted of two suitcases packed with donated pharmaceutical supplies she solicited in Canada.
Last year she travelled to Haiti to work in a medical clinic set up to help those recovering from the 2010 earthquake, which took the lives of more than 300,000 people and made more than a million homeless. Medical supplies in that country are extremely limited and Hansen had to find ways to be creative – making spacer devices out of plastic pop bottles, for example.
Earlier this year she volunteered in Thailand and just a few weeks ago she returned from her third trip to Kenya.
The conditions under which she dispenses medications in that country are dramatically different than what she experiences at home.
“In Kenya I dispense medications to hundreds of patients – sometimes 300 prescriptions a day – with no computer or trained pharmacy assistants,” she said. “We treated typhoid fever in women who have suffered for months with no successful treatment and within a week they were symptom free. We also saw children who would never otherwise get to a clinic because their families had no money or transportation.”
A driver would transport the extremely ill to the nearest hospital.
“We pay for a hospital admission which is $4, $1.50 a day, and see a child’s life saved, which would not have happened if we hadn’t been there at that time,” Hansen said. “It’s very rewarding.”
Hansen treated hundreds of people, many of whom walked several miles to visit the health centre where she was stationed.
“They may not be able to see you that day, so they’ll come back the next day and they’re so happy and so grateful,” she said.
There were situations in which children came into clinics suffering seizures from malaria. Their caregivers, which in some cases were grandparents because moms and dads had died from AIDS, had no money, and no means to get them to the hospital.
Hansen admits being somewhat crestfallen at the conclusion of a few of her earlier trips.
“The group I travel with [has] often done little interviews at the end of the trip, and the thing is, I’ve always been a little despondent because I think, ‘Oh, there were so many people we could have seen, I could have stayed here longer, did we get to see everybody we needed to see?’,” Hansen shared. “The thing they keep telling me all the time is, ‘focus on the ones that you were able to help rather than thinking about the ones that you weren’t able to see, because there’s always going to be some you can’t [see].’ That’s what makes it kind of hard.”
Hansen’s humanitarian efforts resulted in her receiving a charitable work award, which she accepted at the Commitment to Care & Service Awards Gala held Nov. 26 at the Ritz-Carlton in Toronto. It’s part of a national awards program hosted by Pharmacy Practice and Drugstore Canada.
About the award
The Commitment to Care & Service Awards honours community and hospital pharmacists, pharmacy owners and managers, pharmacy technicians, and pharmacy students for their innovative contributions to pharmacy practice.
Awards are presented in 11 categories: Advanced Learning, Charitable Work; Green Leadership; Health Promotion; Integrated Pharmacy Program; Lifetime Service Award; Outstanding Pharmacy Owner or Manager; Pharmacy Innovation Award; Pharmacy Technician Initiatives; Rookie of the Year; and Student Leadership.
The Commitment to Care & Service Award for Charitable Work is sponsored by Purdue.
Other sponsors include by Boehringer Ingelheim, CACDS (Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores), CAPT (Canadian Association of Pharmacy Technicians), Drugstore Canada, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, Mylan, Ontario Pharmacists’ Association, Pharmascience, Rogers, Sandoz, Takeda, and Teva.