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International humanitarian

Q&A with Tribute Award recipient Christopher Nolan

Campus and Community |

By Lisa Pendergast

Helping others isn’t just his career – it’s his calling.

From a young age, Christopher Nolan, BN’08, MN’14,  has felt compelled to give back to his community. Whether it was volunteering at the senior citizens’ home or the local food bank, that work has always been a part of his life. Now a registered nurse employed by the Government of Nunavut, he is the supervisor of a health centre in Hall Beach, a small fly-in community in one of the most remote places in Canada’s Arctic.

Since 2009, Mr. Nolan has been travelling to Tanzania with the Ottawa-based Canada-Africa Community Health Alliance (CACHA). He spends two weeks there each year offering free health care to more than 400 patients a day.

Contributor Lisa Pendergast spoke with Mr. Nolan, this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Community Service Award.

LP: You have been volunteering since you were very young, how did you become interested in volunteerism?

CN: Growing up in rural Newfoundland, volunteering offered a way of becoming more involved both in school and within the community. The older I got and the more education I achieved, the more I was able to build and lend a unique skill set that made me useful and able to provide medical humanitarian relief. Volunteering and becoming involved with various organizations, initiatives and committees both locally and internationally has opened so many wonderful opportunities that allow me to fulfill my desire to be a socially responsible and accountable individual.

LP: How did you become involved with the Canada-Africa Community Health Alliance (CACHA)?

CN: In early 2009, I was introduced to a pharmacist from Newfoundland who was living in Ottawa and had spent some time volunteering with CACHA in Tanzania. That same evening, I did some research on the organization, applied and within the coming months was at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Moshi, volunteering with the organization providing free medical care to some of the world’s most disenfranchised and impoverished individuals.

LP: What were your first impressions when you arrived in Africa?

CN: Prior to visiting Africa I had spent time in Central and South America doing humanitarian relief work. While I expected something similar, I did not expect to feel an overwhelming sense of calling or belonging that I felt when arriving in Africa. Being surrounded by such need is a very humbling and eye opening experience that I wish everyone could encounter in their lifetime. You realize instantly how fortunate we are to live in Canada, and you realize that even small efforts to aid or improve someone’s way of life, their health and well-being, or their children’s health and well-being is something that one cannot measure.

LP: What makes you want to go back to Tanzania each year?

CN: Over the years I have made life-long friends and connections with Tanzanians and they are a major reason why I continue to return and volunteer in that country. Every fall I return to Tanzania, and immediately after I return home I’m looking forward to the following year. The more often I return, the more comfortable I am in the services I help provide, and as a team we are constantly working to further advocate and empower those we work beside, and patients we encounter. The need for humanitarian relief continues, and I consider myself fortunate to be able to lend my hand and mind to hopefully make a difference.

LP: Did your time at Memorial influence your volunteer work?

CN: Most definitely. Memorial University and the School of Nursing have been supportive of my international development and humanitarian relief work throughout my years of study. In fact, the School of Nursing allowed me to conduct a portion of one of my clinical placements in rural Mexico, and even in my current studies within the nurse practitioner program I have completed clinical hours in Tanzania. Memorial, as a university, influences its students to look beyond borders, and that alone is a source of encouragement and influence.

LP: How do you feel about being awarded the Outstanding Community Service Award?

CN: I am so humbled and grateful to be awarded the Outstanding Community Service Award. I do all that I do, not to be rewarded or acknowledged, but to lead a fulfilled life which I alone can be proud of. I accept this award knowing many great individuals have been awarded it in past years, and consider myself lucky to be in such remarkable company. Changemakers and socially accountable humanitarians are scattered throughout our great province and country, and every day they are making a difference both within our communities and abroad. This award is a symbolic gesture to the importance of volunteerism and one I accept with a grateful and humble heart.

Mr. Nolan will be honoured during the 35th annual Alumni Tribute Awards on Thursday, Oct. 13, at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland in St. John’s. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online or through the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development at 709-864-4354, toll free at 1-877-700-4081 or email rsvpalumni@mun.ca.


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