The Health and Educational Relief, (HERO), is a federally tax-exempt, not-for-profit 501(c)3 humanitarian organization dedicated to providing free, high-quality health care and educational support services in needy communities throughout the Caribbean. Our organization implements its primary mission by conducting annual medical and educational outreach programs staffed by volunteer specialists in all branches of medical and surgical care, nutritional, and therapeutic services. HERO also conducts an annual Literacy and Educational Support Program for elementary school students. Originally designed as a summer-long tutoring program to help struggling students achieve grade-level proficiency, participants are nominated for enrollment on the basis of their assessed need, and are additionally provided with backpacks and other school supplies at no cost to their families. Beginning in 2016, a year-long pilot project was added at two new centers to assist eligible students in preparing for standardized exams throughout the academic year.
In The Beginning
Founded in January 2000 by Guyanese-born physicians Dr. Wayne Sampson and Dr. Collie Oudkerk in Tallahassee, Florida, HERO was originally established under the name Health and Educational Relief for Guyana (HERG). The doctors had first been inspired to found such an organization some seven years earlier when, as recent graduates of the Howard University Medical School, they had volunteered at the local hospital in Guyana while on a private visit to the country. It was a revelatory experience, affording them the opportunity to witness at first hand the limited availability of quality basic health care for the general population. In 1999, Dr. Sampson returned to Guyana and proposed to senior government officials a plan to mobilize U.S.-based volunteer specialists to deliver sustainable medical and educational programs in needy communities. The proposal was well received by the Guyanese government and community and thus was H.E.R.O. formed.
Within a few years of incorporation, the scope of the organization’s work had expanded to include several other territories in the Caribbean; in addition, our mission had begun to attract the support and participation of other health-care professionals from diverse national origins. By 2010, HERG had “morphed” into HERO – a subtle evolution in nomenclature that more accurately reflected our transnational appeal and identity.
HERO’s inaugural medical relief mission to Guyana was conducted in December, 2000. In addition to Dr. Wayne Sampson and Dr. Collie Oudkerk, mission volunteers included Dr. David Keen and pre-med student Bayo Cary. It was a highly successful undertaking, in which hundreds of patients were treated, provided with medications, and referred for follow-up treatments as warranted. Since then, our annual missions to Guyana and other Caribbean territories including Jamaica, Grenada, Antigua