HARTINGTON — A Hartington family decided recently to honor their deceased parents in a special way.
Loran and Mary Lou Noecker were honored by their children when they helped build a medical clinic and community center in their names in the northern part of Chimaltenango, Guatemala.
“My brothers and sisters asked people around the community for the funds to help build the clinic,” Ron Noecker said.
Once the funds were raised, they all traveled to Guatemala, Feb. 1-8, to build the clinic. The group included: Ron Noecker, Rose Koch, Ken Noecker, Don and Carla Noecker, Brian and Dawn Noecker, Duane and Kathy Noecker and their son, Andrew, and their other son, Ross, and his fiance, Emily Summers.
Rose Koch said she was hesitant to make the trip at first, because she had never travelled internationally before.
She is glad she went, though.
“It unfolded into something totally amazing that none of us realized,” she said. “What good had been accomplished, and Ron introduced us to other organizations that are doing good there.”
The group worked for two full days, Feb. 3-4, to get the building’s foundation in place.
The clinic is located in a very remote area. It took over an hour just to travel 15 miles down the road to the clinic, she said.
Koch said she felt humbled by the people of the community, who genuinely appreciated the work they were doing.
Once the construction of the building was complete, community residents lit off fireworks and then “came out from nowhere to celebrate with us,” she said.
It’s an experience she would love to share with others some day.
“I would love to go back and be a part of another project in a couple of years. We realized how privileged we are to live in the U.S., and being a part of that in helping their place to be a better place,” she said.
Ron Noecker’s journey from a Bow Valley farm to Guatemala followed a long, winding road, filled with faith, fulfillment and varying career decisions
After serving as a Catholic priest in Northeast Nebraska for several years, he decided it was time for a new direction in putting together good works for people.
So, just over 15 years ago, he left the Omaha ArchDiocese to move to Baltimore and enter nursing school at Johns Hopkins University following a sabbatical a year earlier in Guatemala.
“I fell in love with the country even though it has such great needs,” Noecker said.
He was working at the Rainbow Café during his sabbatical and admits he had thought about serving the world at large. Following a casual meeting with Peace Corps workers at the café, he was encouraged to consider Johns Hopkins University when he mentioned he was thinking about getting into nursing.
“I did feel this larger call and the needs to the poor,” Noecker said. “I really feel that nursing care can bring some help, especially to these small communities. It’s a little bit easier to find nurses than to find doctors.”
After working in oncology while in Baltimore, Noecker relocated back to Guatemala and eventually founded Nursing Hearts Inc. (https://nursingheart.org/) in 2012, with the stated mission, “to improve the health of underserved communities in Guatemala and develop nurses to face global public health challenges by personalizing programs through trusted partnerships.”
At that time, no organizations sponsored nursing in Guatemala.
“I wasn’t understanding how much it was going to take, and things have worked out,” Noecker said. “Someone helped us from the States early on – an anonymous donor. Now we get 50 percent from the groups that come through a program fee and the rest we try to raise.”
Ultimately, a Florida Atlantic University representative called and asked if they could send some nursing students to Latin America to get some experience in the field abroad. Guatemala was the perfect fit.
“We have steadily, organically grown,” Noecker said. “We started in little communities. The first year I was here, we built three of four clinics – they were simple structures. It’s important how we get them built in a community – they need to have skin in the game. We work with an organization and they work with communities that approach them about getting one built.”
One of the primary focuses of the organization is programs that deal with cervical cancer prevention.
“Cervical cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer in Guatemala,” Noecker said. “Mostly because there is not preventative care – especially among the indigenous populations. Cervical cancer is a slow growing cancer, they don’t even know it’s there.”
They have developed a technique learned at JHU to detect the virus in a single setting with nurse practitioners. Undergraduate nursing groups that come to work for Nursing Hearts will do public health projects and wellness projects in schools.
Now about 170-180 nurses will be in Guatemala doing work at the clinics at any given time. Noecker has now passed on the leadership of the organization to work with a private philanthropist to serve the poor all around the world.
“This has been a miracle experience, and this fulfills one of the purposes God had for me in life,” Noecker said. “The hope is that we help the Guatemalan nursing world build up its standards. There are plenty communities in need.”