Improving Global Health Through Personal Connection

Today’s guest blog comes from Pauline Mlynek, Senior Financial Operations/Treasury Analyst at Eli Lilly Canada. 

Pauline Mlynek bio pic

I’ve had a passion for service for as long as I can remember, so when I learned that I could have the opportunity to volunteer in a totally different country through Lilly’s Connecting Hearts Abroad program, I jumped at the chance. I’ve always had a fascination with the culture of the Far East. The sights, the language, the food! Given the opportunity, I picked Thailand as my country of choice.

As part of Connecting Hearts Abroad, Lilly sends employees like me to help support communities in need in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. We team up with local organizations to offer solutions and bolster patient support systems to help address healthcare challenges.

At first I was unsure of how my background in finance and accounting would help me give hands-on volunteer assistance during my time in Thailand. Through our local partner organization I was placed in a rural area outside of Bangkok and put to work helping in a local hospital and healthcare centre. My main role was to accompany and assist healthcare practitioners while they made home visits to patients.  Pauline on-site

We worked mostly with people with non-communicable diseases; common conditions included diabetes and hypertension. Often our patients suffered from mobility issues and had no means of getting to the hospital to receive proper medical care. They were sometimes bedridden and unable to leave for essential medical services like dialysis.

Despite a formidable language barrier I eventually found that my passion for physical exercise helped me connect with the people we visited. One of my favourite memories was going in to assist a man with limited mobility who happened to have a swimming pool in his backyard. With a little creative thinking, and the help of local practitioners, we were able to set up an exercise program for him in the pool. The gentle resistance of the water turned out to be a great workout!

During our visits, I learned that medical care can sometimes be a community-wide effort. It was common for children to stay with family members and take on the role of caregiver for aging parents or grandparents. In the small, tight-knit communities I visited, patients would often have neighbours and close family check on them when possible.

Volunteer roomWhile I was aware of cultural differences, some of the challenges I observed were not that different from those at home. I realized diseases like diabetes are not exclusively Canadian problems. It was an eye-opening experience to see such a different approach to addressing these familiar health challenges.

My two weeks in Thailand came and went far too quickly. More than anything, my experience taught me that small gestures and commitments can go a long way. Something as simple as a comforting touch of a hand or a quick visit to a neighbour can have a profound impact on someone’s life. I’m grateful for the lessons that the people of Thailand taught me during my stay, and thankful that I was able to carry these lessons home with me.