Since the organization’s establishment in 1958, Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) has been working to make health care available to people around the world. Recently, medical volunteers and Navy personnel hopped on Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) to embark on a four-month mission to the Carribean and Central and South America. The team had already visited countries such as Panama, Belize, Guatemala, Peru, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Colombia.
During Comfort’s stop in Buenaventura, Colombia, a young patient received a special gift from one of the ship’s crew. On August 27, Equipment Operator 1st Class (SCW) Manuel Gradillas, a Seabee assigned to Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 202, presented a specially designed wheelchair to 12-year-old Buenaventura native Ana Renteria, whose arms and legs have been paralyzed since she was six.
Equipment Operator 1st Class Manuel Gradillas presents a specially
decorated wheelchair to Ana Renteria while her caregiver Maria Renterialooks on.
USNS Comfort is on a four-month deployment to provide medicalrelief
to patients in the Carribean and Latin America. US Navy photo by
Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kelly E. Barnes.
Commander Rebecca Kiser and Lieutenant Commander Josie Brenner were the ones who came up with the idea to design Ana’s wheelchair. They approached the Seabees to look for an artist, and Gradillas, who had become friends with Ana the instant they met, volunteered. Despite having to wake up early the next day, he worked hard on his gift until the wee hours of the morning.
Ana’s appreciation was evident in her smile as she was given her new wheelchair. It was painted with flowers, birds, butterflies, and Ana’s name in yellow, her favorite color. Gradillas couldn’t help but get misty-eyed. “This is what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “It’s the reason I’m here.”
Despite diversity, it is still possible to form bonds, proving that friendship transcends age, nationality and borders. Kudos to the Project HOPE volunteers and Navy personnel for their generosity and tireless work.
For more information on Project HOPE, visit www.projhope.org.