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Good Works

Doctors Without Borders film rings true to area nurse

  • Jane Hannon, shown at home with her dog, Keeka, has worked with Doctors Without Borders in South Asia and Southern Africa.
Jane Hannon, shown at home with her dog, Keeka, has worked with… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
December 13, 2009|By Joe Burris | joseph.burris@baltsun.com

Jane Hannon has her ticket for a Monday evening screening of a new documentary about overseas aid workers, "Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders." In fact, the Hampden resident will be among those in the audience who could speak first-hand about the film's subject matter.

A Johns Hopkins School of Nursing graduate, Hannon, 40, does work for Doctors Without Borders, an international humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people in more than 60 countries. The group focuses on those whose lives are threatened by violence, malnutrition or natural disasters.

Hannon performed work for Doctors Without Borders in South Asia and Southern Africa.

"The work I did for Doctors Without Borders was part of my primary drive to become a nurse," said Hannon, who is currently earning a nursing practitioner degree at the University of Maryland School of Nursing.

She worked in Zimbabwe last year during a cholera outbreak that strained the country's already-scant resources and sent scores of ill people to hospitals that were often understaffed and lacking running water.

"It was the shortest assignment I've done but also the most challenging," said Hannon. "Patients were rolling into small clinics and hospitals that didn't have the capacity to take care of them. Everything was in short supply. Some of the hospitals had electricity, but no light bulbs."

During an assignment in Bangladesh three years ago, Hannon took part in a basic health care and nutrition program that was launched in part for refugees who entered the country from Myanmar.

She arrived in post-civil-war Angola in 2003 and worked there for three years, taking part in a nutrition program that morphed into a basic health care program. She learned Portuguese, the country's official language, while working there and ultimately conducted assignments in Portuguese.

"I worked with the mobile clinic teams as well as offering health education on HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases," she said.

It's the kind of work that Hannon took an interest in while growing up in Long Island, N.Y., prompting her to do Peace Corps work in Belize 12 years ago. In 2005, she volunteered for Project Hope, working on a U.S. naval ship that provided relief for tsunami victims in Indonesia.

"I had never traveled outside the country, but I considered the Peace Corps a big challenge," said Hannon. "Having done that, I was sort of hooked on it and I became hooked on working overseas. But I wanted to be a nurse prior to going into the Peace Corps."

Her story is not unlike those of four aid workers chronicled in the documentary.

"Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders" offers a glimpse into what aid workers endure both physically and emotionally while behind the scenes in conflict zones of Liberia and the Congo.

The film will be broadcast via satellite from the Skirball Cultural Center in New York to nearly 450 theaters across the country. It will feature a live town-hall discussion hosted by ABC News journalist Elizabeth Vargas.

Locally, the film can be seen at such venues as the AMC Owings Mills 17 and the Cinemark Egyptian 24 in Hanover.

Hannon said she has not done a project for Doctors Without Borders since last year but continues to take part in local recruiting events.

She said she hopes the film offers people a chance to see the challenges humanitarian workers face when providing medical services in some of the world's most hostile environments.

She added, "I hope it compels people to action, to volunteer, donate, to speak to their representatives in Washington, to call attention to places where these things are going on year in and year out."

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