The story of Miss Joanne

A large number of Ministry of Health and Human Services staff joined in the blessing ceremony for the Miss Joanne, the hospital’s new boat donated by Joanne Dufour and Dick Nelson of Washington state. Photo: Eve Burns.

The christening of a new boat at the Ministry of Health and Human Services this week is one of two projects at Majuro hospital that demonstrate the power of people-to-people connections.

Monday morning this week, the Journal received this note: “We have a boat dedication ceremony today at 4pm at the medical supply area. Could you send a photographer?” We said sure. That’s what the newspaper does.

So we showed up, dutifully took some photos and then asked, “what’s the story on the boat?”
We received more than the usual “donor so-and-so gave us some money.” Way more.

The boat is named “Miss Joanne,” which honors the donor, a former Peace Corps Volunteer like Secretary of Health Jack Niedenthal. The two connected because Joanne Dufour, a retired teacher and teacher trainer who lives in Washington state, read an article Jack wrote last year about the Marshall Islands and its battle with the dengue outbreak in WorldView, the magazine of the National Peace Corps Association.

Her contact with the Coalition Against Nuclear Weapons in Olympia and its wider connections in the Washington community had already introduced her to the Marshallese community in the state. She had also read Jack’s book, “For the Good of Mankind” about the Bikinians and nuclear weapons testing, which she described as “inspirational.”
A friend and former state legislator in Washington, the late Dick Nelson, had bequeathed her some money through his will last year.

“When I read your article in WorldView, something seemed to click and I had the feeling that your work would be something Dick would have supported,” Joanne wrote to Jack to initiate contact with him about funding health-related activities here.

This ultimately led to Joanne providing $62,000 to the Marshall Islands Medical Society, most of which was used to purchase exercise equipment for medical staff that will be housed in a fitness center in a new warehouse. The other portion was used for this boat that will be used for medical missions around Majuro Atoll and for events like this weekend’s women’s breast cancer urok tournament for the Majuro hospital team.

Jack noted that once he and Joanne established contact, it was the medical staff that decided how to spend the money.

And that’s the reason Public Health Chief Nurse Herokko Neamon was breaking a bottle on a boat with the name “Miss Joanne” to officially christen the boat earlier this week at the hospital.

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