Teen’s faith affirmed in the midst of suffering

Victoria Hoelscher, a graduate of Holy Trinity Catholic High School and member of St. Mary Parish in Temple, treats the head wound of a young patient in Ghana. She spent six weeks in the West African country working in a hospital and helping children in orphanages and schools. (Photo courtesy Victoria Hoelscher)

By Mary P. Walker
Senior Correspondent

When Victoria Hoelscher describes her summer as the best of her life, she is not talking about a resort vacation. The six weeks she spent in Ghana as a medical intern challenged her faith, clarified her career goals, and taught her that those who are materially poor can be rich in joy and love.  
A graduate of Holy Trinity Catholic High School and member of St. Mary Parish in Temple, Hoelscher received a full four-year scholarship to Barry University, where she is majoring in biology and chemistry. This scholarship also included an “enrichment fund” that she could use to study abroad. 
Having volunteered in hospitals in her community, Hoelscher wanted an educational experience in a medical environment where she could help those in need. She searched online and found Projects Abroad, an organization that matches volunteers with worthy projects. 
She accepted a medical internship in Ghana, a small country in West Africa, and was there from May 11 to June 21.
Hoelscher spent three days a week in the Koforidua Regional Hospital and two days a week visiting orphanages and schools. 
“I was able to work in the pediatric ward, surgical ward, operation theater, laboratory and emergency ward, and my faith was tested in almost each of these areas,” Hoelscher said.
The government hospital serves the poor, and its resources are strained. Patients have to wait for hours or even days for tests. With only three operating rooms, there are also long delays for necessary surgery. In the meantime, they suffered in pain waiting their turn. When they needed medicine, their families had to go out of the hospital to a pharmacy and buy it –– if they could afford the cost. Often members of an extended family pooled their money to purchase the medicine. 
“If you were poor and couldn’t afford the pain medication, you just didn’t get it,” Hoelscher said. 
She also witnessed children suffering and dying of preventable diseases because their parents did not know the signs of a serious illness and did not bring them to the hospital in time for treatment. 
It was impossible for Hoelscher not to compare the health care typically available in the U.S. with what she saw in Ghana. She questioned how a loving God could allow such suffering, especially when it involved children. 
“It pained me that all I could do for the suffering kids was to hold their hands and talk to them in a language that they did not yet understand,” she said.
Through prayer, she realized that God was giving her and others the opportunity to give aid and comfort, and be part of a solution to these problems. 
“This experience greatly tested and strengthened my faith while opening my eyes to a part of the world that could still use much help,” Hoelscher said. 
Life in Ghana is hard. Although there are modern cities, many Ghanaians live in mud and stick houses, have only two sets of clothes, and eat rice and soup at every meal. Yet, Hoelscher noticed that for them, faith and family are much more important than material comforts, and they seemed to be happier than many families she knows in the U.S.  
“I found myself wishing that every family in developed nations could watch these families and see what true happiness is. In the Bible, it speaks about how the poor are extremely blessed, and I experienced this firsthand!” Hoelscher said.
While there, Hoelscher was quickly welcomed into the family life of the community. She stayed in the home of a woman who treated her like a member of her family –– teaching her to cook and giving her chores to do. Every night she played with the neighborhood children and felt as if she were part of their families, too.
Hoelscher also shared in the challenges of the community. Although the house had electricity and running water, these services would go out for long periods. As a result, they could not rely on the modern appliances we take for granted. A rooster woke them up at about 5:30 a.m. She washed her laundry by hand every morning so that it could dry outside during the day. Getting to the hospital required about a half mile walk to a place where she could hail a taxi, and about a mile walk to the hospital after the ride. The household went to bed when it got dark. 
Hoelscher hopes that by sharing her experiences, others will feel empowered to use their talents and financial resources to make life better for those who are suffering from poverty and illness. She reminds us that although we may not be able to solve these complex problems, Christian compassion and even small charitable donations can help. 
Before the trip, Hoelscher thought she might want to become a missionary surgeon. Now she describes herself as “100 percent sure,” and cannot imagine not going back to Ghana.  
“I was given the opportunity to serve many people in small ways and in the process realized what God is calling me to do with my life,” she said.

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