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Inside CSULB
Vol 57 No. 7 : April 2005
Vol 57 No. 7 | Apr. 2005
Hesitant at First, Hilpert Travels to Help

Photo of a woman and her bicycle

Donna Hilpert While most individuals spent their Christmas vacation relaxing with family and friends, Donna Hilpert was halfway around the world helping the less fortunate in a hospice in Kompong Cham City, Cambodia. In fact, she has done it for the past two Christmas holidays. And, while she found it extremely rewarding, if truth be known, she just might have backed out of going if given the opportunity.

“I never wanted to go to Cambodia,” said Hilpert, a member of Long Beach's Bethany Church, which sent her group on the most recent excursion from Dec. 27 through Jan. 13. “My friend would always ask me to go and I'd say no.” Finally, she gave in and signed up. Still, she was reluctant.

“After I signed up I thought 'oh my gosh what have I done? This is an awful place; you can get sick, really sick,'” said Hilpert, a Buyer III Lead in the CSULB Purchasing Department. “I had to deal with my feelings of regret and fear of going that far. I'm no spring chicken and there was the potential of being harmed or getting sick because of the water or food. The sanitation is pretty close to zero.”

Did she think about backing out? Yes, but she didn't. “That first year, I did wonder if there was any way I could get out of this, but there was no way to gracefully do it, so I went.”  

Hilpert came to Long Beach in 1987, soon after receiving an Associate of Arts degree from Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif., 45 minutes from her then-home in Nevada City. A new grandchild in Oceanside and what would have been an even lengthier commute to Cal State Sacramento en route to a bachelor's degree were deciding factors in her making a move to Southern California that fall. In addition to joining her church that year, she became a full-time student at CSULB, working on a special major combining technical writing and public relations. She earned her bachelor's degree in 1989, began working in the purchasing office as a temp in 1990, and soon became a Buyer I, II and then III.

Since the late 1980s, she has watched groups from her church go on what they call “short-term” projects every summer, traveling to such places as Hungary and the Ukraine. Last summer groups from the church went to Romania and Nicaragua. This year, 45 applicants will make up troupes scheduled to go to visit five locations – Russia, the Ukraine, Peru, Chicago and China.

It was in 1995 when Hilpert became friends with Diane Moss, a missionary who runs the two facilities in Cambodia – House of Hope and Sunrise Hospice. It was there Hilpert and her group spent their days, simply being supportive of and providing comfort to individiuals in the hospice and their family members.

“Diane is supported (financially) by my church and she is under a mission board that has a team over there,” said Hilpert. “She e-mails us regularly to keep us informed on the work and needs of the House of Hope girls, the Sunrise Hospice clients, and the Khmer staff at both facilities."

The first year Hilpert went to Cambodia, it was just she and one other woman from her church, and they had never met before signing up for the trip.

“She had done a lot more traveling than I had done and she was easy to travel with,” she said. “Going with just one other person was easier because we didn't have to deal with staying in a hotel. We were able to stay on the upper floor of the hospice.”

Boy with photographThis past holiday season, six women from her church went to Cambodia, too large a group for the hospice to accommodate. Instead, they stayed in a hotel and bought brand new bicycles (for $34 each) to get back and forth between the hotel and the hospice. At the end of the trip, they left the bikes with the hospice to be given to clients of the hospice who have no transportation.

According to Hilpert, the purpose in short-term projects such as these is to show the underprivileged that they are loved and thought of around the world.

“The fact that we would go all the way around the world to spend time with them is evidence of love,” she said. “Playing games with them and rubbing cream on their sore-covered arms is an expression of love, and that's the purpose of it.”

“Having Donna and her team come to serve and spend time getting to know these individuals is very powerful,” said Moss. “The folks they visit are confused at first as to why someone would come all this way and spend the time and money just to meet them and get to know them. Over time, they begin to see that we value them and their lives and that no one should have to suffer alone or without dignity. Donna's trip helps communicate that.”

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