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Joan Hunt who fought to provide palliative care for terminally ill patients in Malaga has handed over the reins after 22 years as president of Cudeca
21.04.14 - 12:36 -
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"Patients need affection and warmth, not just medical care"
Joan Hunt is still involved with Cudeca although she is no longer the president. :: CARLOS MORET
A small newly-built apartment is where Joan Hunt will spend her retirement now that she has handed over the reins as president of Cudeca, after 22 years of fundraising and working with volunteers of all nationalities. The difficult time she went through when she cared for her husband before he died from a tumour changed her life, and she then embarked upon the task of bringing palliative care to the Costa del Sol.
Today the Cudeca hospice is a major project in which she will continue to be involved, together with Marisa Martín, the manager of Cudeca, Susan Hannam, the vice-president, and lawyer Ricardo Urdiales, who has just taken over as president. The soul of Cudeca is 85 years old and never loses her smile; she may have retired as president but she will continue fighting the battle for those in pain.
–Is this the home of your dreams?
–(Laughs) It is now... I have only been sleeping here for four days.
–When you and your husband used to come to Spain on holiday, where did you stay?
–Before we moved to the Costa del Sol in 1984 we had been to a lot of places on holiday, especially the Costa Brava and Fuengirola. We had many friends here. We thought it was a wonderful place. When I was nearing retirement, two months before we moved here, we stayed in a hotel while we looked for a house to buy.
–Everything was fine until your husband became ill, a few years later.
–That’s right. Fred was older than me, and he was excited about the idea of coming here to live although it was difficult to sell the house in England and say goodbye to family and friends. But Spain had a lot to offer: lovely weather, lovely people, a better quality of life. I worked for two more months and then took early retirement before we came here.
–You had a good job in a large company. What did you do there?
–For several years I was Personal Assistant to the director general of a big paint company which had several factories in Britain, but in the last years there I was responsible for all the personnel of the company, which was about 14,000 people in England. I handled the salaries, working conditions, relations with the employees.
–What did you study?
–My family is from Liverpool but we moved to London. When the war came I couldn’t carry on at school, it was too difficult. The schools closed, there were no opportunities to do anything academic. I took private classes and when the situation improved and I was 16 I went to a business college. I learned secretarial skills, typing and accounting and then got my first job, as an assistant. It was a family-run workshop that made leather goods such as briefcases, and during the war it had made things for the army like part of the parachutists’ helmets and covers for the Land Rovers.
–As a young girl, what was it like living through the London bombings?
–I remember that they evacuated us, the younger ones, to the countryside for three months, and when we came back I used to spend the night with my mother in the shelters.
–Was there somebody who influenced you at that time, somebody who worked with ill people or those in need?
–When I was young I spent years in hospital with a hip problem. My family had no money and my elder brother looked after me, he was like a father to me.
–What was your dream, when you were a young girl?
–I loved to dance, but at that time it was very difficult in England. Everything was very strict. At the dances, the men were on one side of the room and the girls on the other, and you couldn’t take a boy home unless you were really serious about each other.
–In what way do you feel very British, and in what way do you not feel very British?
–I like the way of life in Spain, but sometimes it is very different, like the idea of timekeeping. We British are more reserved and at first when I came here I was a bit nervous, but I have learned to be more spontaneous. I have friends who came at the same time as me and they were the same. They have adapted as well, and none of them have gone back to England but they all have the same problem with the concept of time in Spain: things need to be done now, not tomorrow.
–You are one of the people who has done most to bring together British volunteers and foreign ones in general.
–That’s Cudeca, not me. It hasn’t just brought Spanish and British people together, but those of all nationalities: Spanish, British, Scandinavians, in an international hospice. Eighty per cent of the members and volunteers are Spanish because 80 per cent of the patients are Spanish and their families are here and become members as a way of helping. For the foreigners, it is more difficult.
–Does generosity depend on someone’s nationality?
–I think the Spanish are more spontaneously generous, they act immediately; foreigners think about it more. It isn’t immediate.
–But they are in the majority when it comes to leaving large legacies to Cudeca, such as their own houses.
–All the property that Cudeca has inherited has been left by foreigners, but that is quite normal because the Spanish have their families here. For the foreigners it is difficult to leave something here to someone in another country. They see that Cudeca is a very transparent NGO and decide to leave it to us.
–This type of financing that relies on the support of others is very risky. Did you always think Cudeca would manage?
–Like any NGO that relies on donations, that is always a problem. In the first nine years we had a surplus, but when we opened the hospital unit we always had a deficit, until last year, and that was only thanks to the inheritance. In the 22 years of Cudeca, it has become very well-known and as well as the inheritance, donations have also come from all types of institutions, Town Halls, banks, companies. It isn’t always money, we receive things that we can sell in our shops. We have had patients from all the municipalities in the province. At first it was the foreigners who organised fund-raising events but now it is the Spanish, as with the golf.
–What was Cudeca’s worst moment?
–When the crisis began, when the volume of items donated to the Cudeca shops dropped. It made a big difference. We didn’t realise the crisis was so great and in 2009 we had to close the in-patient unit to save money and pay the workers. In 2012 all the employees at Cudeca accepted a drop in salary and that has helped to ensure that we have had no more problems.
–What have you told the new president, Ricardo Urdiales, about how to run Cudeca from now on?
–(Laughs). Ricardo has been very involved in Cudeca since the start and he knows the project very well. He was the lawyer who helped me with the early stages. Ricardo and the economist Fernando Gil were my two best friends in 1991. They knew I needed professional help and they were amazed by the response of the community to Cudeca after three years.
–And what is the secret?
–At first it was the foreign community that supported the project for a hospice, as a place to care for people during the last days of life. It is something that is known in our culture, so we didn’t have to explain much about the project. The Spanish community joined in gradually.
–It is evident that you have no enemies, but what about Cudeca?
–Enemies? When there is a charity some people are suspicious about where the money goes, but transparency has been fundamental. We have contracted staff, but we are a medical NGO which has great knowledge and if somebody has a problem or query we always try to answer them and invite them to come and see us. We have a budget of nearly three million a year, with which we have to pay the salaries of medical teams and personnel. Most patients are attended to at home; we have four teams involved in that, but there is also the volunteers’ petrol expenses. We have cared for more than 8,000 people over the years. That shows that the money is being spent where it should be spent.
–Do Spanish people and foreigners, who are generally more likely to be alone, cope with their situation differently?
–Suffering and pain are the same for everyone and it is hard not having family around. That’s why we offer palliative care; it’s why Cudeca exists, to provide human warmth. In our philosophy attention, affection and warmth are very important, being close to the patient, not just providing medical care.
–What has been learned from the patients over these 22 years?
–That when people are bravely facing the end of their life, they really appreciate the special care they receive from our staff and volunteers. Without them, Cudeca wouldn’t exist.

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