Lecturer Vered Kater was the 2010 recipient of the National Becky Bergman Prize for Nursing Creativity.
Read her story below:
If you ever find yourself in the faculty lounge at the Henrietta Szold Hadassah - Hebrew University School of Nursing and take a look at the notice board, you may be treated to a surprise. Amidst the invitations to conferences, and notices of upcoming events, you'll also see pictures of a smiling nurse surrounded by smiling children in front of what appears to be some type of African village. And indeed it is. The children and background change periodically but the smiling nurse is always the same.
For more than 20 years, senior faculty member, Vered Kater, who specializes in pediatrics and health promotion, has been using her vacation time to travel around the world and establish sustainable public health programs throughout the developing world.
With the help of various non-profit organizations like American Jewish World Service, Health Without Borders and Jewish Health International, Ms. Kater, a native of Holland, has implemented programs in over ten countries including Rwanda, Kosovo and Cambodia.
It all started at a Chanukah party about 20 years ago. Ms. Kater found herself sitting next to a childhood development specialist who was planning on going to Uganda in a few weeks to set up an early childhood program for refugee mothers in Jinja.
The woman had some reservations traveling solo to Uganda, which at that time did not have relations with Israel. Ms. Kater told the woman that she should really have a nurse on the program because education and health go hand in hand, and that would also solve her dilemma of being alone in Uganda.
The woman said, "Well, why don't you come with me?" and, "from then on", says Ms. Kater, "the bug got me. I couldn't stop. Of course, I had no idea what I was getting in to. Neither one of us did. At that time, there was no information available about health care or education in Uganda. I had to go to the university library to find any and all information about the country. That was it!"
She recalls that trip as one of her most challenging experiences, mostly because she had never done anything like this before; nor had anyone else. In exchange for airfare, insurance and (sometimes) board, Ms. Kater trains nurses, laypersons and a variety of caregivers, such as the women who took care of terminal HIV patients at their homes in Zambia.
All of her health promotion projects are specific and she teaches in such a way that the 'students' can continue on their own after she leaves.
Her programs include: teaching people working with homeless drug addicts in Bombay to avoid HIV infection; helping street children who live on railway platforms in India; basic healthcare and hygiene for Tsunami survivors, and establishing a clinic in a youth village for genocide victims in Rwanda.
"The most rewarding experience I think I've had was making my first CPR doll. When I went to teach first aid to a group in India I had a problem. You can't touch anyone below the belt (only in emergency care) so how can you demonstrate the technique. I went to a seamstress and explained that I needed a large doll, about the size of her 4 year old daughter. I put a garden hose connected to a balloon inside and voila, Priya, which means beautiful, was born ."
The people that Ms. Kater had trained ended up using Priya in their future trainings. Since then, she has made numerous Priya dolls. When an NGO found out, they volunteered to send her the typically used 'Annie' doll, but Kater refused. "If something breaks, the participants won't touch it, and it won't be accepted. And then what have you accomplished?"
Kater believes strongly in the sustainability of these projects, which she feels can only happen if the participants use supplies that are available in their own countries. She has been to many countries where upon rummaging through supply closets, she has found expensive highly technological equipment that has just disintegrated from lack of use.
Ms. Kater emphatically believes that nurses have a crucial role to play in elevating healthcare among impoverished communities. "Nursing is wonderful and we can do so much; if you go to those needy countries, there are so many people that can improve their own health if we teach and explain the importance of living healthy and teach the ways to do so. As nurses, we can do a lot to help people help themselves."
Vered Kater doesn't think that will stop any time soon. Her next project in Burundi started on the day she officially retired.