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People To People Diplomacy

Project Hope, a health care and training program to aid developing nations, marks its fiftieth year of service this year with a joint medical mission with the U.S. Navy to Liberia and Ghana. Its signature hospital ship has long been mothballed, but the countless volunteer doctors, nurses and technicians working together on international projects continue to provide invaluable humanitarian assistance.

The program’s vision was that of Dr. William Walsh, who as a medical officer in World War Two was moved by the poor health conditions he saw in the South Pacific. After the war he was personal physician to U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, and helped deal with the health care problems he remembered from the war.

He convinced the President to have the government lease him a decommissioned hospital ship. Staffed with medical volunteers sharing their skills and training, the renamed S.S. Hope made eleven voyages over the years on humanitarian missions to nations as varied as Indonesia, Vietnam, Peru, Guinea and Jamaica.

The ship was retired in 1974 and Project Hope turned to land-based aid efforts, setting up centers in thirty nations to deliver health care and medical supplies. True to its roots, though, it teamed with the U.S. Navy and went back to sea to care for survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. More humanitarian voyages followed to countries in Southeast Asia, in addition to its continued land-based health services.

As Project Hope begins its second fifty years, it remains dedicated to providing lasting solutions through medical care and training, and is a model of people-to-people diplomacy.