Stephen Kineke & Ann Schwanda

Tell us a little about yourself. What is your background and where are you from?

Stephen: I’m a Family Physician, retired after eight years in the army and 35 years in private practice in Clifton Park (near Albany, New York). Ann and I have done many medical missions, serving in Haiti, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and recently, Ukraine.

Ann: I’m originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I started as a nursing assistant in OB/NBN at 16 and received my BSN from Texas Christian University. I traveled to Wurzburg, Germany, as a civilian and worked as an OB/NBN nurse in a US Army hospital, where I met Capt. Steve Kineke. We married and eventually settled in Clifton Park to raise our three boys. Before retiring, I worked as a visiting Maternal/Child Health Nurse and a per diem school nurse. I’ve volunteered in creating a school-wide quilt project, as chair for a local Relay For Life event, and various other community committees.

How did you hear about Global Care Force?

Stephen: Ann was looking for volunteer activities and saw a Global Care Force (GCF) posting on Facebook. We did a medical mission in Haiti with another organization founded by Dr. Gary Morsch. The mission was so well run we were confident that GCF would be similarly efficient and able to deliver care to those in need.

Ann: I volunteered for COVID Care Force (CCF) in Oklahoma and through CCF for FEMA in Mississippi giving vaccines. I saw that CCF became Global Care Force and told Stephen about the Facebook post asking for volunteer physicians to serve in Ukraine. He applied, and we found we could both serve in Ukraine.

You both will return to Ukraine in October. It will be Stephen’s third time and Ann’s second time volunteering in Ukraine. Why do you keep returning?

Stephen: I am very upset about the suffering of Ukrainians at the hands of the Russians and feel compelled to help. I’m impressed by the resilience, bravery, and faith of the Ukrainian people, and I want them to know they are not forgotten. I worked with an excellent team that included pastors, translators, nurses, American and Ukrainian doctors and PAs. I look forward to seeing them again in October.

Ann: Because the work is not done. My mother is from Slovakia, and Ukraine is our neighbor. I want to help my neighbor. The people we met were so kind, generous and giving, and I want to repay them by giving whatever help I can.

Tell us about the other places you’ve volunteered and the cultures you experienced. What impacted you the most?

Ann: I volunteered in Haiti twice, Costa Rica three times, and El Salvador once in addition to those listed above. At each place I encountered people of great faith dealing with poverty and a lack of almost everything I take for granted. I have learned about the history of Haiti and how devastating the earthquake in 2010 was. In Central America, I found what it’s like to live with the constant threat of gangs and why so many people make the dangerous journey to the United States to protect their kids. But, what most impacts me is how kind and generous people are who are facing unbelievable obstacles. Also, I learned how to volunteer and support, but not take over.

Stephen: I enjoyed learning about Ukrainian history and culture. I especially enjoyed the music, whether in a church service or impromptu sessions of Pastor Sergiy O. on the guitar.

Can you share stories, whether a patient or staff member that impacted you? What memories will you keep?

Stephen: I will remember Dr Lev Prystupiuk, a Ukrainian endocrinologist who has devoted his time and skills to the missions. Of note is his putting himself at extreme risk while running a clinic in Bakhmut. I also won’t forget Pastor Sergei D. His humor, optimism, devotion to his family and to the mission are amazing. I will remember the children during a church service in Vapnyarka, coming forward during the service, asking for prayers for the soldiers and that their town will be safe from missiles. I won’t forget the generosity of our Ukrainian patients in the recently liberated towns near Kherson. Before fleeing, the Russians destroyed what they could not steal. As devastated as their lives were, the patients still brought us gifts.

Ann: I worked primarily in the pharmacy, so the bulk of my contact was with staff. Everyone I met demonstrated the depth of their commitment to helping others even though they themselves were in need. The patience and kindness they showed me as a volunteer made me feel as if I was making a difference to the people of Ukraine by being there. A checkpoint soldier thanked us over and over again when he found out we were there to work in clinics.

Is volunteering the secret to having a fulfilled life?

Stephen: Volunteering is good for the soul. I would recommend mission work with GCF to anyone. Not once did I feel unsafe, and I felt that my medical skills were well utilized.

Ann: I definitely agree that going out of one’s way to help anyone does make life more meaningful. Kids and elderly found a way to help through my quilt project, and I have a file full of notes thanking me for giving them the opportunity to help others. Not everyone can travel to another country to help, but as I told the hundred’s of students who worked with me through my project, anyone can ask someone who’s alone in the lunchroom to sit with them, open a door for someone, or just say hi to someone who goes unnoticed. Any act of kindness makes our community a better place.

If someone is considering volunteering with Global Care Force, what would you tell them?

Ann: DO IT!

Anything else about your experience with GCF you would like to share?

Ann: It is a wonderful opportunity to serve. In all my volunteer experiences, I get back much more than I give. Global Care Force gave us the opportunity to work together again to serve the people of Ukraine.

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