Nurse Katie Farka will go to Ethiopia as part of a volunteer medical and educational team to Yetebon, Ethiopia, with the Gundersen Medical Foundation’s Global Partners

By Mike Tighe (La Crosse Tribune) |

Nurse Katie Farka was so smitten with providing a healing touch to people in Ethiopia that she sold her house in La Crosse, quit her job and will embark soon on a year-long volunteer mission that probably will stretch to two years or more.

“I have wanted to be a medical missionary since I was in nursing school,” said the 33-year-oldKatie Farka, a hematology and oncology nurse who has worked at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse for eight years.

After visiting Ethiopia several years ago with family, she told the La Crosse Tribune, “I was lucky enough two years ago” to be part of a volunteer medical and educational team to Yetebon, Ethiopia, with the Gundersen Medical Foundation’s Global Partners.

“I loved the area. It is probably one of three places in the world I find most peace-filled,” Farka said, flashing the wide smile that seems so ingrained in her that she probably even grins in her sleep. “The land is beautiful, and the people are friendly and grateful. It makes you appreciate every step of the day.”

Global Partners leaders, including administrative director Liz Arnold, so appreciated the talents that Farka brought to the venture that they picked her to lead a subsequent trip of volunteers to the African nation.

“Katie really embodies servant leadership, she is extremely competent as a nurse and she has a huge heart of compassion — qualities that make her perfect” for the mission role, Arnold said. “She has such a positive spirit and is willing to do anything.

“It is one thing to volunteer locally, but abroad, you have to be flexible and adaptable,” Arnold said.

“For anyone, leading a team is very different than being on a team, and you learn a lot about yourself,” she said.

Katie Farka will remain at her Gundersen job through March before taking a little time off and heading nearly 8,000 miles to Ethiopia. Her volunteer stint this time will be with Project Mercy, which has a school, a hospital and a clinic, in Yetebon, a rural village about three hours from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

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In assuming the outpost’s new position as community health development director, Farka will coordinate medical volunteers and students and do health assessments for the 1,500 students in the development’s K-12 schools. She plans to fold health education into the assessments.

“My passion here (at Gundersen) is patient education,” she said. “I’d love to be able to roll that into Project Mercy. Once you’ve taught kids, you’ve taught their families and then, you’ve taught the community.”

Not that Katie Farka doesn’t need a little teaching herself, she acknowledged, noting that Ethiopian children start learning English in fifth grade but that their facility with it can be sketchy.

“I need to know Amharic,” she said of Ethiopia’s official language.

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