Floating Doctors prepare to set sail
December 14, 2009 11:08 PM
The humid air gives no relief to Rachel Hipolite as she hauls large panels of plywood from the back yard of her home in Palm Coast, Fla., to the front drive way. After laying out all 14 panels, she and her housemate Jon Resnick begin dolloping white primer to each surface, stopping occasionally to wipe off small beads of sweat around their temples.
"When we're done, these will be the roof in the captain's bridge," Hipolite says between brush strokes. She's referring to "The Southern Wind," a 76-foot sailboat that will be home to her and 10 other people for a 12 month journey along the coast of Central America and the Pacific Islands.
Hipolite is one of six SF State students and alumni that make up this crew known as the Floating Doctors. After setting sail, the crew will spend approximately two weeks in ports along their route. Under the direction of Dr. Ben LaBrot, they will set up a free health clinic to provide care for the residents in the area as well as teach preventive health education before packing up and moving to the next destination. Until then, the Floating Doctors are working together to prepare for their trip.
When assembling the crew, Floating Doctors Vice President and SF State graduate Ryan McCormick didn't have to look too far to find people he trusted. Most of the crew are fellow classmates and other acquaintances he met while studying. In addition to Hipolite, Resnick and McCormick, other SF State crew members include Graham Litchman, Jamie Thrower and Michelle Stauffer. And as the crew multiplied, the living space shrank.
"We first lived in a hotel a couple of blocks from where our boat was docked," McCormick recalls. "We've moved closer and closer to the boat as time went on." Now, they live in a four bedroom house where "The Southern Wind" is anchored in the canal system directly outside their backyard--making work an easy commute.
But that's about the only thing that is easy about the work. The crew practically gutted "The Southern Wind" to accommodate everyone for the journey. The ship's interior had to be reconstructed to fit 20 bunks and still have space for the medical supplies they would transport from port to port. And being a non-profit means that each crew member contributes to the boat's reconstruction.
Michelle Stauffer, a cellular and molecular biology major at SF State, works with two others on rewiring the ship's electrical system. After they set sail, Stauffer will oversee nutritional health as well alternative medicines. Until then, she is enjoying getting to know her fellow crew members.
"We do everything together," she says. "We eat together. We work together. We have fun together. We live together. It's just so rewarding when you get to be surrounded by people who share your common passions."
Although Stauffer put her degree on hold to be able to join Floating Doctors, she is not the only one. Jamie Thrower is also currently enrolled at SF State, but decided to take some time off and set sail. Other than serve as Director of Public Health, Thrower will gather data for a World Health Survey from patients they encounter on their travels.
While Stauffer and Thrower realize the risk they took by deciding to delay the end of their college careers, they both have no regrets about their decision. "The things that I am going to be learning out with the crew are just as valuable to me and my career as getting my degree," Thrower says. "This experience will benefit me in the long run, even if it means an extra semester later."
Graham Litchman also notes that this kind of philanthropy can help defer payments of student loans. Litchman, the Clinical Director of the crew, is one class shy of his degree at SF State. But like his mates, he knows his experience with Floating Doctors will be unlike any other he could get in a classroom. "After class is over, you leave," he says. "Here, we live together and we have to learn to take things in stride sometimes."
Over all, the crew seem to have a good time with each other, which is important considering the hardships they will encounter in the near future. But they are confident they will be able to overcome any problems. "We're all a cohesive unit," Hipolite says about her shipmates. "We're a family, and I enjoy it."
Below is a map of the countries the crew will be visiting.
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