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Local family embarks on medical mission trip to Bhutan

The Byer family from left to right: Isabelle, Jennifer, Bill, Lily and Stella (front).

(ROCKWALL, TX – Feb. 3, 2017) Traveling has always been something near and dear in the hearts of Bill and Jennifer Byer. In fact, Bill said he and Jennifer have a sort of love affair with the Himalayas – it’s where they first met, after all.

“I was attempting to ride a bicycle from Lhasa, Tibet to Kathmandu, Nepal, and we happened to stay in the same guest house,” Bill said. “Being the only North Americans in the room, we met, chitchatted and really connected.”

On Feb. 27 Bill and Jennifer will once more travel to the Himalayas to the land-locked kingdom of Bhutan, this time with their three young daughters in tow, on a family medical mission trip as volunteers of the Health Volunteers Overseas program (HVO).

HVO is a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve global health through educational programs training local health care workers in resource-scarce countries. According to its website hvousa.org, HVO has helped expand access to health care in numerous countries through the completion of more than 10,000 volunteer assignments. HVO support includes clinical education, curricula development or updating, faculty mentoring, co-teaching of new content, professional development, funding attendance at professional meetings or workshops, developing protocols, and/or providing access to educational materials such as textbooks, manikins, journals, internet access and more.

Bill, who works as a CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist) at Hunt Regional Medical Center in Greenville, said they learned about the Health Volunteers Overseas about six years ago while he was in anesthesia school, and that over time they steadily warmed up to the idea of doing volunteer work for the program in Bhutan.

“When we had kids, we knew we always wanted them to be able to travel and see the world but through a kind of service, giving-back modality. When I went to anesthesia school we heard about this program, and it’s always been in the back of our minds,” Bill said.

The kingdom of Bhutan is located within the eastern portion of the Himalayan mountain range between Tibet to the north, Assal to the south, West Bengal to the east and Sikkim to the west. The majority of the population live on small family farms, with farming being the most common occupation of the Bhutanese people.

While in Bhutan, Bill will be working with HVO teaching anesthesia students at the National Referral Hospital in Thimphu, the capital. Jennifer and her three daughters – twins Isabelle and Lily (9) and Stella (5) – will help students at a local school with their reading skills, and will also visit with the children hospitalized far from their homes in the Pediatric Department at the National Referral Hospital. Isabelle, Lily and Stella will also have the opportunity to assist a veterinarian in the care of cats, dogs, and monkeys.

“The twins are mostly excited about working with the veterinarian and the monkeys,” Jennifer said. “And Stella’s just excited about getting to help people.”

Even before she met Bill, Jennifer always looked for ways to serve others in her travels abroad. She grew up in New Brunswick, the only constitutionally bilingual (English-French) province in Canada, and has taught English as a Second Language (ESL) in Japan, Nicaragua and Nepal, and locally in Atlanta.

“I think it’s important to learn more than one language,” Jennifer said. “English seems to be the only universal language, so I think it’s fun to be able to share that and teach that to other people, especially kids because they pick it up easily.”

Jennifer said she’s very much looking forward to teaching another one of her passions – yoga – at a preschool located next to the hospital during her time in Bhutan. Jennifer is a certified yoga instructor and owns a mobile studio called YoPlay Yoga for Kids, which provides yoga instruction to kids of all ages in Rockwall and the surrounding DFW area.

The Byers set off for Bhutan on Feb. 27 and will be gone approximately seven weeks.

As a Bhutanese visa for non-tourist volunteers requires an in-country stay of 36 days, the trip will mean a five-week unpaid sabbatical for Bill. The Byers have set up a GoFundMe and appreciate any offerings made to help offset this expense. To donate to the fund visit gofundme.com/ByerstoBhutan.

Story by Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News. Photo courtesy of the Byers. 

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