MOUNT VERNON — When Miriam Witt received an email May 29 seeking volunteers to go to Venezuela to provide medical aid, she finagled her way out of work and onto a plane.

Within days the Skagit Valley Hospital registered nurse was stationed near the Venezuela-Colombia border, watching as a wave of Venezuelans filled the streets.

“It was a zoo,” said Witt, a longtime Mount Vernon resident. “It looked like it should have been roads, but cars couldn’t move because there were so many people … so many.”

A humanitarian crisis defined by unprecedented inflation rates, food shortages and a collapsing public health system has caused roughly three million Venezuelans to flee the country since 2014.

It wasn’t the first time Witt had seen such devastation.

Since graduating from nursing school at Skagit Valley College, she has worked in refugee camps in Jordan and twice volunteered to offer medical assistance to earthquake-devastated Nepal.

Witt didn’t always want to be a nurse, but witnessing medics at work on a 2007 trip to Kenya changed her mind. When she returned, she immediately changed career plans.

Now 29, Witt works full time as a nurse and teaches part time at Skagit Valley College. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in nursing education at the University of Washington-Bothell starting this fall.

Still, she put everything aside for helping out in Venezuela.

From June 8-15, Witt and a team from Third Wave Volunteers worked in medical clinics alongside Operation Blessing, an organization devoted to disaster and hunger relief.

Her group was admitted into the closed-off land of the ingenious Yukpa tribe, where it educated the people on tuberculosis and took care of their medical needs.

Witt later worked in a medical tent that offered relief to adults and children walking to the border via the mountainous roads of Venezuela.

Along with medical aid and hunger relief, organizations also offered a station where these travelers could sit and rest while volunteers, including Witt, washed their feet.

Witt recalled one woman who walked up to the station with her daughter.

“When I asked the mother what was going on with her, she began to cry. She cried because her daughter was suffering with asthma and they had such a long journey ahead of them,” Witt said.

Witt told the woman she was safe and free to cry.

And the woman did.

As her feet were washed and as she walked through the clinic to get her daughter an asthma inhaler, the woman let down her guard and began to sob.

“I don’t have children, but I thought to myself, I can’t imagine walking on feet with children with chronic medical conditions for days on end for basic human needs — safety, food and shelter — while hoping medical supplies will be there on my journey,” Witt said.

On this and previous trips, the most difficult part for Witt has been coming to terms with the fact that it is impossible to help everyone.

“I have learned on these trips that I can’t save the world, even though I want to,” she said. “I have learned there is serious power in the power of one. I believe we all create ripples into the universe that affect much more than our own selves. I believe that borders don’t divide us: we all have the same sky above our heads. And it’s a damn beautiful sky.”

— Reporter Zoe Deal: 360-416-2139, zdeal@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Zoe_SVH

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