While the majority of the work AmeriCares does is across the United States and on an international level, some of its most important work takes place right here in Connecticut. In Connecticut there are over 300,000 uninsured residents, one-third of whom reside in Fairfield County. Although I am a resident of Connecticut, I was previously unaware of the growing health issues in the state. The AmeriCares Free Clinics program works with uninsured residents in Fairfield County, helping over 3,000 patients per year in the cities of Norwalk, Danbury and Bridgeport.
The clinics have remained functional largely through the support of volunteers from the surrounding area. More than 230 individuals volunteer at the clinics in both medical and non-medical roles – nurses, doctors, interpreters, and other administrative assistants. Dr. Jack Falsone, the medical director of the Norwalk clinic, has been volunteering since the program started in 1994. According to Dr. Falsone, “Volunteering is a great chance to give back to the community in a rewarding environment where the patients are grateful for what is being done for them.” A volunteer is someone who genuinely cares about the impact they place on others around them. It is not something that can be learned, but has to be experienced.
Another outstanding volunteer is Patricia Lopes, an interpreter at the Danbury clinic. Lopes, who retired after teaching for 40 years said “I thought I would never find anything as rewarding as teaching — I was wrong. The staff at the clinic is wonderful and they make me feel so needed and appreciated. And the patients who thank us on a daily basis are extremely rewarding.” Executive Director, Karen Gottlieb, feels the dedication of the volunteers cannot be valued. Volunteers help patients to get healthy and back to work, creating a ripple that will affect others in the community.
On a more personal note, I have grown to find that volunteering is the best way to give back to your community. During my sophomore year at Syracuse University, my Public Affairs professor Bill Coplin, finished his semester course with a quote on being a better citizen. “Go into the world and do well, but more importantly go into the world and do good.” We all hope to graduate college and be successful, but success should not be measured by the size of one’s salary. Giving to others in need will have an astounding payback. The volunteers who work with the Free Clinics in Connecticut show their dedication to helping others that are less fortunate. Although the volunteers may be a small number, they shed light on what makes AmeriCares an extraordinary organization.
Learn more about AmeriCares Free Clinics here.
#FirstWorldProblems: This popular Twitter hashtag highlights the most pressing problems faced by society today. Or does it?
The hashtag appears in up to 6 tweets per second and approximately 518,000 out of the estimated 400 million tweets per day. The nationality with the greatest number of people using this hashtag: American.
For most people, #FirstWorldProblems expresses the ironically “devastating” problems that users in the developed world face on a daily basis. Others don’t realize the irony of their words. For example:
“#FirstWorldProblems: I get over allergy season only to get a sinus infection.”
“#FirstWorldProblems: Oops forgot the hashtag for my possibly fractured toe!”
But to those who claim to be fully aware that what they’re saying is not a pressing issue and merely humor, the real question is: why waste time tweeting about a non-important issue when there are so many real problems in the world?
#RealWorldProblems: More than 1/3 of the poorest people in El Salvador lack access to both public and private medical care.
Here at AmeriCares, I learned that medicine prices in El Salvador are some of the highest in the region. Worse yet, the leading health problems and causes of death in the country are conditions like heart disease, respiratory infections, cancers, HIV/AIDS and digestive disease – conditions that require medications that are too expensive for most people. The AmeriCares Family Clinic is committed to providing quality primary health care to El Salvadorians who cannot afford it. The clinic, which celebrates its 10-year anniversary this year, provides quality primary care to more than 3,000 patients each month.
#RealWorldProblems arise even here in the United States. In May 2013, tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma, killing 48 people and leaving thousands homeless and at risk for diseases like tetanus. AmeriCares was there the very next day, assessing what medicines and supplies were needed and connecting with partner organizations in the area. In the first month after the disaster, AmeriCares delivered $3.5 million in aid — enough to reach 20,000 people in need.
“#FirstWorldProblems: My food gets cold so fast when the AC is on.”
“#FirstWorldProblems: We always get fat free and skim milk at our house, that 2% tastes funny.”
#RealWorldProblems: In Cambodia, 44% of children under the age 5 suffer from stunted growth due to poor nutrition.
In nearly half of the 10.9 million child deaths each year, poor nutrition is a factor. In Cambodia, child malnutrition rates are among the world’s highest. Malnourished children have a reduced ability to resist infection, making them less likely to survive common diseases including pneumonia, malaria, measles and diarrhea.
AmeriCares works with partners around the world to supply fortified, high-calorie meal packs to support programs that help thousands of patients achieve major reversals in malnutrition. In Cambodia, the body mass index (BMI) of 9 out of 10 children in the program improved enough to no longer be classified as underweight.
“#FirstWorldProblems: Trying to find a $5 bill but can only find $10s $20s $50s and $100s.”
“#FirstWorldProblems: Lol I randomly find $20 bills in my room but I just put them back bc I have nothing to do with them.”
#RealWorldProblems: Over 75% of Ethiopians live on less than $2 a day.
How can families in developing countries like Ethiopia stay healthy and well-nourished on such a meager income? In my work here at AmeriCares, I’ve learned a lot about the #RealWorldProblems brought on by poverty, hunger, disaster and inadequate access to basic medical care. From Asia to Africa to South America, there are real problems everywhere, problems that AmeriCares is working to address to help people in El Salvador, Cambodia, Ethiopia, the U.S., and in all corners of the world.
When I traveled to work in a mobile medical clinic in the town of Verón, our team of 20 volunteer physicians and students examined more than 100 patients a day for five days. While many could be treated, there were some for whom our team could do little. On the fourth day, one such patient broke my heart.
Edely was a 5-year-old girl brought to the clinic with a minor cold, which was quickly treated. But Edely’s left leg was much shorter than her right. Her mother said a small cut had become infected, resulting in osteomyelitis, a bone infection. A volunteer doctor told me that the bones in Edely’s left leg will never grow and the leg will likely need to be amputated. I was shocked to learn that basic wound care and an antibiotic costing a few dollars could have prevented Edely’s heartbreaking physical handicap.
Ironically, later that day a 2-year old boy came to the clinic with an infected cut on his ankle. A doctor treated the wound using antibiotics donated by AmeriCares. She told me that if the wound had gone untreated, the young boy would likely have developed osteomyelitis—just like Edely.
I’m thankful to have witnessed the importance of mobile clinics. I’m hopeful that the care we provide will mean that other children will not suffer the same fate as Edely. And I’m proud that AmeriCares supports more than 1,000 of these medical trips each year.
At the beginning of June, 11 summer interns stepped into AmeriCares to begin a journey. We were complete strangers with one common interest: we were college students interested in learning more about the work of AmeriCares around the world. We learned, and as the summer went on, we all became friends.
I came into this experience hoping to learn about nonprofits, global health, and myself. I would say that I was successful in gaining knowledge about all that and more. I was especially impressed with the amount of educating that occurs at AmeriCares on a daily basis.
“We were fortunate to be exposed to all aspects of the organization.”
As a Development intern, I was invited to attend weekly meetings, conference calls, and take on any other departmental work I found interesting. Lorena Martinez, who interned on the Latin America and Caribbean team had a similar experience. “I was so impressed with the staff and their willingness to help and answer our questions,” she said.
At brown bag lunches, medical seminars, clinic site visits, warehouse projects, meetings, breakfasts with CEO, Curt Welling, and conversations with staff, we were fortunate to be exposed to all aspects of the organization. As a result, were able to learn about AmeriCares at a much greater level than through the lens of the department where we worked.
“AmeriCares did a great job educating us about all the different departments and roles that AmeriCares plays in the community. From the brown bags to the work in the warehouse to the trips to the free clinics, I really learned a lot about the organization and how they make such a huge impact on the world,” said Michael Hoffman, who interned with Free Clinics.
The work we did this summer has already helped people in need. One project involved working in the warehouse preparing emergency kits that were distributed to survivors of Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac and other major U.S. storms.
“This internship gave me valuable insight into teamwork.”
Our biggest accomplishment by far was a collaborative video project. We were given ownership of the entire project, from concept and planning, to filming, editing and messaging. It was a success in meeting the goals of increasing social media engagement among our age group and it brought us together as a group.
It started with the simple idea of a map, which grew into something much bigger. Some days were more challenging than others. How do we construct a map from scratch out of post-it notes? How can we make a video under three minutes that describes an organization that does SO MUCH?
“This internship gave me valuable insight into teamwork – not only with the video, but within AmeriCares itself,” explained Communications intern, Bijal Shah. Teamwork was crucial to the success of our collaborative project, and is necessary for the functioning of AmeriCares “There’s a strong sense of cooperation and community within the organization,” she added.
If you haven’t watched our video “Snapshot of AmeriCares,” I strongly suggest you take a look – and if you’ve already seen it, watch it again!
Eleven strangers began this summer with limited knowledge about AmeriCares, but left as friends, enriched by everything they learned and experienced.
Martinez believes that her time at AmeriCares this summer has challenged her personally and professionally. As a result, she said, “I feel better prepared and confident to face the “real world” after graduation.”
I think the rest of the intern class would agree.
Thank you, AmeriCares, for a rewarding summer!
Check out our video – A Snapshot of AmeriCares: