Michelle Martinez Torrez
Why did you want to volunteer in Ukraine?
The Ukrainians that need our help are regular people like you and me. I felt a deep Calling to serve in Ukraine by utilizing the medical training and skills I have been privileged to learn.
Tell us about the experience of volunteering in a country at war.
The situation in Ukraine changes from one moment to the next. I can only speak for the places we visited in February. Schools are still closed (or destroyed). Several women patients mentioned how much they missed their husbands/fathers/brothers, their country, and a sense of belonging and familiarity, so they decided to return to Ukraine. One mother and her child expressed how being back in Ukraine, regardless of their living conditions, made them feel much closer to their soldier husband/father and other loved ones.
During the last clinic days, we witnessed the recent destruction that was left behind. It was different from anything we had seen until this point. It was like touching wet paint. Civilian homes, elementary schools, and buildings obliterated. Signs of mortar damage to vehicles, homes, and landmarks made these unrecognizable; there was no way to guess what existed over those ruins one year ago.
The communities we served throughout Ukraine are in a completely different world, filled with destruction, death, and pain. They live among mined fields that once contained explosives. The same fields Ukrainians used to grow their crops and feed their cattle.
What stories can you share, whether a patient or staff member that impacted you? What memories will stay with you?
The patients who sought medical care in our last clinics had just been freed from Russian occupation 10-12 weeks prior to our arrival. These clinic days were filled with so many emotions, stories and photos that the Ukrainian patients shared with us. In a way, this was a good start towards their healing journey from the PTSD they presented with.
The quiet pain, desolation, and suffering that the Ukrainian patients carried in their eyes and body language; regardless of their age or the reason for their medical visit, is something I will never forget. The resilience, unity, and strength displayed in the communities we served, despite the heaviness upon the nation that lingered in the atmosphere, made a powerful impact in this season of my life.
Some people (outside Ukraine) ask why so many Ukrainians chose to remain instead of evacuating. The reality is that the majority of the patients and people living in these austere towns were unable to escape due to their advanced age (70+ years-old), disability, and/or lack of mobility. Most Ukrainians that remained were displaced from their homes due to destruction. Some found refuge in nearby churches while others returned to live among the memories at home only to find themselves living among the ruins.
During one the last three to four clinic days is when we were the closest to an active line of duty. Some nights I went to bed with sirens going off in the distance. I brushed my teeth in the morning while hearing a loud alarm going off and warning everyone in the streets to take cover. There was nearby drone action that I became aware of via a phone app that kept me informed of my surroundings. I will not forget the night I opened the window in my room to get some fresh air before bed. Curfew was in place so the streets were dark. I could see almost every star shining in the dark blue sky. Suddenly, I realized I could see a thick fog-like cloud in the air. It smelled like thousands of fireworks had been recently detonated. In that moment I realized that so many of the respiratory complaints I saw earlier in the mobile clinic were likely caused or worsened by the gunpowder mixture flowing in the atmosphere.
If someone is considering volunteering with Global Care Force, what would you tell them?
If you’ve read this far, you’ve considered supporting Ukraine through Global Care Force, perhaps by donating money or serving on medical missions. Make the decision TODAY! You will meet and connect with many people, make it a point to learn something from them, and be ready to leave pieces of your heart planted all around the globe. In everything you do, give it your all. Choose to find happiness and wonder all around you, no matter where you stand. I learned this by watching our Ukrainian brothers and sisters!
“13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
How did you hear about Global Care Force?
I have followed Global Care Force’s medical missions in the USA and abroad through their newsletters. I learned about the need for a medical provider for the Ukraine February Mission in mid-to-late January. I provided my potential availability to serve in Ukraine, and it matched the needs of the team. After praying and fasting, I was on a plane seven days later to Poland to meet the February Global Care Force team! I felt peace about going, even without understanding all the security details. The peace I felt was all the confirmation and the information I needed to go into Ukraine and do what I was Called to do.
Tell us a little about yourself. What is your background, and where are you from?
I am a bilingual NCCPA-Certified Physician Assistant currently practicing in North Carolina. I am originally from Mexico. Before becoming a PA-C, I served in the US Armed Forces. I’m dedicated to providing quality and compassionate medical care while helping patients lead healthier lives. I am passionate about helping bridge the gap between access to medical care and underserved populations.
Anything else about your experience with GCF you would like to share?
Most of the towns where we served, food, electricity and potable water were scarce. Medications at times are available for purchase but come with a high price. Businesses are closed, there are no jobs or money, and the choices are between food and basic needs like firewood to stay warm versus medications.
I wish you could see the genuine happiness and love from the patients who received us! I wish you could hear their voice of gratitude when receiving a month’s worth of multivitamins, toothpaste, and other crucial medications. It allowed them to feel seen and loved once again. Even the simplest things like receiving a pair of warm undergarments brought the hope and strength needed in that specific moment to help them stay in the fight to rebuild what’s left behind for when their loved ones return!
Interested in Volunteering in Ukraine?
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