If Volunteers Were a Nation

“Volunteerism plays a significant role in achieving
the Millennium Development Goals. It plays a healing role by 
rebuilding trust in a post-conflict society. And its values –

of solidarity and engagement – inspire us to live sustainably,
so that our human actions do not jeopardize the needs,
or the existence, of future generations.”
Flavia Pansieri, Executive Coordinator for the United Nations Volunteers (UNV)


December 5th is International Volunteer Day, designated by the United Nations to “celebrate the power and potential of volunteerism.” In looking at the website announcing this day, we were intrigued to see volunteerism – a practice we know and love at Global Links – tied specifically to sustainability – another guiding philosophy for Global Links.

This dedication to sustainability was formalized by the organization Volunteer Action Counts, spurred by a return to Rio de Janeiro 20 years after the first United Nations Earth Summit. On their website, they write, “It was recognized that nothing short of a transformation of our attitude and behaviour would bring about the changes that were urgently needed in order to protect the planet from the effects of both poverty and over-consumption.”

Global Links volunteers directly alleviate both poverty and over-consumption, by working with us to recover usable materials and get them sorted, packed, processed and into the hands of people in resource-poor communities who need them.

We are very happy to celebrate International Volunteer Day, and all the thousands of Global Links volunteers, both individuals and groups, that work with us to meet our shared goals. Maybe one day the world will be in such great shape that no one will need to volunteer. Or maybe the term “volunteer” will lose meaning because we all do it, without thinking about it.

In the meantime, we give our volunteers a virtual pat on the back, and invite all of our supporters to visit the website, come in for a tour, share what they know about Global Links and global health with their friends and associates. Look for our facebook posts throughout the day on December 5, highlighting just a few of our many wonderful volunteers.

If volunteers were a nation, according to Volunteer Action Counts, they would form the 10th largest country in the world in terms of population. These are the kinds of numbers than can change the world.


A New Partner in Guyana

St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Georgetown, Guyana, provides a full range of healthcare services to patients regardless of ability to pay, and provides back-up emergency services when the large public hospital in Georgetown is overwhelmed.  The 124-bed hospital opened in 1945, but was partially destroyed by fire in 2010. Since then, the Sisters of Mercy who run the hospital have been rebuilding and trying to replace the valuable equipment and supplies that were lost.

This well-run hospital is a good partner for Global Links, and because of their affiliations with organizations in the United States, much of the equipment we receive will fit seamlessly into their operations. For example, we can more easily provide accessories for equipment they already possess, or privacy curtains that fit into the tracks already in the ceiling.

ICU beds, birthing beds, surgical instruments, supplies and equipment were included in our first donation of aid, with a goal of meeting some of the hospital’s immediate needs. We look forward to becoming a long-term partner with this hospital.

Please support our projects that improve healthcare in Guyana.

Medical Aid for Santiago after Hurricane Sandy

Last week, two 40-foot containers of medical aid were pulled away from the Global Links dock and started on the journey to hospitals in Santiago, Cuba. The hospitals suffered considerable damage from Hurricane Sandy, and need medical supplies in order to care for their community. Global Links was in a position to help.

Global Links had recently received “pandemic kits” containing gloves, masks and other essential items, as well as flu vaccine kits, and barrels of soap. All these items were processed by Global Links, and the materials that Santiago hospitals needed were packed and loaded on the trucks, along with linens and other items.

After a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, it is essential to donate only the materials that are needed and immediately usable. Sending unnecessary items clogs the “pipeline” and impedes the arrival of usable aid, eats up time and other resources to sort and allocate non-essential items, and can create a disposal problem if some materials are not usable at all.

Communication is key in any humanitarian endeavor, and Global Links, one of the few US charities licensed to work in Cuba, is collaborating with MEDICC and with the Pan American Health Organization  (PAHO) to ensure that all of our donations are appropriate and useful.

Please consider supporting recovery efforts in Santiago with a donation to Global Links. Two more shipments to Santiago are planned before the end of the year and we need your help to cover the shipping costs. Your support can make those shipments a reality.

Santiago, Cuba’s second largest city, was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

First Two Medical Aid Shipments Headed to Santiago

Since late October, Global Links has been working with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)MEDICC and Cuban health officials to determine what assistance we could provide based on hurricane damage assessments. PAHO is the regional arm of the World Health Organization, and as such has representation in every country in this hemisphere.  Its sole purpose is to support public health, and disaster recovery efforts in Cuba are focused on rehabilitating the health sector.

Women repairing the street in Santiago.

Thanks to generous donors, Global Links will be loading the first two tractor-trailer shipments of medical aid destined for Santiago, Cuba, next week. We will be including hospital linens, anti-bacterial soap, basic medical, and infection control supplies.

PAHO reports that approximately 226,000 homes were damaged and at least 17,000 destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, which caused 11 deaths, affected three million people, and damaged 746 health facilities in the eastern region. The province of Santiago de Cuba is the most affected, with 369 damaged health facilities.

In Santiago de Cuba, 18 hospitals are damaged and are partially functioning. There is severe damage in the Psychiatric Hospital, which had to be evacuated; in the Pediatric Hospital, and Siboney Primary Health Center.

Help is still needed for Global Links’ next shipments of medical furnishings, equipment, and medical books to replace those damaged by the storm, along with additional essential supplies to enable the medical staff to provide care for their patients. The hospitals affected by the hurricane serve over one million people. Thank you for helping them to recover.

Crews work to rebuild the city.

Donate online, or make your check payable to: Global Links (simply note SANTIAGO in the Comments section)

Give by phone! Text GIVE 12012 to 80088 to donate $10 to Hurricane Sandy Relief for Santiago, Cuba. Message and data rates may apply. Only works for US mobile phones.

Hold a fundraising event to gather financial contributions from friends, members of your organization, co-workers and the general public. Contact us at: 412-361-3424 or by email if you would like a speaker in the Pittsburgh area or assistance in promoting your event.

Improving Patient Mobility in Bolivia

In many of the communities where Global Links works, transportation is challenging – unpaved roads, mountainous terrain, and lack of infrastructure make getting to the hospital or anywhere else difficult. For people with limited mobility, the difficulty is compounded, and if crutches, wheelchairs and other mobility aids are in short supply, leaving one’s home for anything can be practically impossible.

Global Links has worked with Unidad de Apoyo a la Gestion Social for many years. This Bolivian social service agency distributes mobility devices to those who have no other source for this essential equipment, and a recent shipment from Global Links contained canes, crutches, walkers and wheelchairs for them.

Wheelchairs, all refurbished by Global Links volunteers, ready to be loaded into the container and delivered to Bolivians who need mobility assistance.

This shipment also contained medical supplies and surgical instruments for Hospital Valle Hermoso, where graduates of the Latin American Medical School (ELAM) are in training. Global Links works to support the ELAM doctors as a way to increase access to healthcare. In 2012 alone, there will be 800 ELAM graduates coming to Bolivia to complete their training. Hospital Valle Hermoso serves a population of 187,067 and requested basic supplies and surgical materials in addition to furnishings.

Another recent shipment to Bolivia is destined for Hospital San Ramon. The hospital serves nine communities, focusing primarily on outpatient care. The furnishings and equipment, including beds, stretchers, scales, bassinets, and many boxes of supplies, sutures and instruments, will make a big difference in this busy hospital. With only nine beds, the hospital still manages a very large outpatient load, seeing an average of 50 daily.

Please read more about our work in Bolivia, and please consider a financial donation in support of it.

Is an In-Kind Donation the Best Donation?

The other morning I was presented with two opportunities by two different organizations to help those facing the winter weather without the appropriate attire. The first asked for new hats, gloves, scarves, and jackets for children in Romania. The second group was also asking for winter clothing. However, this clothing is going to be distributed to adults in the Pittsburgh area. Both groups are, no doubt, in need of the items. And given that the first is an organization helping children, the emotional pull to help is strong. But, which organization is making better use of the limited available resources?

One has to ask how much money is being used to transport the coats to Romania and if there are reasonably priced coats available there. For the sake of the discussion, I will say that they are paying something towards transporting the coats and that there are reasonably priced coats available in Romania. With that information, the cost benefit analysis says that it would be wiser to purchase the coats in Romania using the money that would have gone to shipping the coats from the U.S. The money spent on the coats would go into the Romanian economy, resulting in a double benefit. Additionally, when the organization brings in US coats to Romania, they could be harming the Romanian economy. This donation of coats, while valuable in the short term, has long term negative consequences.

While donating coats to Romanian children may provide a short term benefit, some in-kind donations can have immediate negative consequences. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, there has been an outpouring of generosity from individuals, organizations, and corporations from around the world. In moments like these, it is particularly important to keep in mind how your donation will affect the recipients. Currently the American Red Cross, one of the organizations providing significant assistance to those affected by the storm, states on its website, “Financial donations make the greatest and most immediate impact.” Every organization is operating within a constraint of resources, both human and financial. In-kind donations can hinder disaster relief efforts because resources have to be diverted to process the incoming supplies. With monetary donations, the organization can buy desired supplies in bulk, reducing the manpower needed to process the donation and getting aid to those in critical need.

Aid and donations were one of the topics discussed at the One Young World Summit October 18-21, 2012 here in Pittsburgh, PA. I had the privilege of being one of the 1,300 young adults from 183 countries that made up this year’s delegation, comprised of individuals who had been on both sides of the donation equation. Former refugees talked about how the assistance provided to them had not been what was needed while others spoke of how they desired to end their country’s dependence on foreign aid.

During the opening ceremonies, former President Bill Clinton spoke about the consequences of international aid, specifically referencing his experiences in Rwanda. He discussed how well-intentioned organizations often do more harm than good with inappropriate donations that waste resources, harm vulnerable economies, and inundate fragile infrastructures. In reference to the work of his organization, he said “my goal is always to work myself out of a job.” He wants to be providing aid to those who have asked for help and only long enough to give them a chance to get back on their feet. Clinton described how the Rwandan government asked for assistance bringing the Partners in Health program that had been used in Haiti to their own rural areas. Initially, the program was implemented in two regions. After the first trials were successful, the Rwandan government asked that the program not be expanded using international aid. They had to find a way to implement the health care system “that [they] can afford to run when [they] don’t take aid anymore.” It is not enough to focus on short term goals without keeping an eye towards the future.

President Bill Clinton and one of the One Young World founders, David Jones.

One of my co-workers, the Program Officer for Global Links’ programs in the Caribbean, gave a presentation about the “Unintended Consequences of Aid” during the One Young World Conference. She has personally seen how beneficiaries have been harmed by donors not thinking beyond a willingness to “do good.” She has visited storage rooms full of donated medical equipment that hospitals overseas cannot use because they do not have access to the parts or maintenance services to keep the items functioning once they receive them, and she has seen incinerators being filled with expired medical supplies that the recipient has to dispose of because someone thought donating anything – even expired supplies – was better than nothing. Her tips on questions to ask before making an in-kind donation:

  1. What is the cost for the organization to collect, transport and deliver the in-kind donation vs the impact?
  2. Can the organization you are trying to help do a better job if they received a monetary donation instead?
  3. How well does the organization understand the beneficiaries? Is the collection the right materials needed at that time?
  4. How will the donation be sustained in the long-term?

So the next time you are faced with a question of where to donate your time, money, or resources, ask yourself how your donation can be made most valuable. Will your donation be money well spent? Will your donation be providing the recipient a stepping block to independence, will it leave them dependent on donations in the future, or worst of all, will it leave them drowning in unneeded materials and waste. It is harmful to assume any aid is better than nothing. As the holiday season approaches, take the time to evaluate the organizations you are donating to so your donation can truly be a gift worth giving.

Project in Nicaragua Serves Large Patient Population

Global Links shipment to Nicaragua last week will benefit the one million patients served by Hospital Aleman Nicaragüense in Managua and surrounding areas. Founded as a tent-clinic, the hospital was built in 1985 with assistance from Germany.  This year, the 240-bed hospital requested help from Global Links to improve furnishings in their patient rooms, waiting and administrative areas, and to increase and improve storage capacity.

Global Links has been working to improve healthcare in Nicaragua since 1990, with a hiatus of a few years for political reasons. Since resuming our program in 2004, we have made 25 shipments, working with the Ministry of Health and the Pan American Health Organization. This donation will have a positive impact on the large patient population and increase dignity and comfort for years to come.

Please read more about our work in Nicaragua and make a donation in support of future projects.

Warding Off the Blues with a Benefit Brunch

I start to feel this way around this time every year.  I have a hard time putting a label on this feeling, but it is distinct.  Lucky, grateful, and oh so excessive are a few emotions that play into it.  The Fall always seems to breed this, with one holiday after another – lots of food and gifts abound.  In my house, even more than many.  We have Halloween, and then two weeks later my daughter’s birthday.  Two weeks after that is Thanksgiving, and somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas falls Hanukkah (my family celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas).  All this adds up to create an overabundance of food and overabundance of gifts.  And this always leads me to think about the majority of the world and how this is not a reality for most people.  I could let this send me into a depression which during a gray Pittsburgh winter is hard to emerge from.  I tried this a few times – not pretty.  Or I could do something about it.  But what?  That is where I get stuck.

A few years back I started hosting monthly benefit brunches.  I was inspired by a young, punk friend of mine who had two jobs and two young kids.  She still found time to host a brunch to raise money for an organization supplying prisoners with books.  I loved the idea – people getting together to eat and socialize – and donate a bit of money (just about what they might pay for the same meal in a restaurant) to go to a good cause.  So I tried it.  It worked so well, and was so much fun, that I decided to make it a regular event.  I picked a new beneficiary each month.  I got some information about the organization of the month and placed it by a collection basket.  Then I invited friends over, explaining that a $10-20 donation was recommended and would go to the organization.  I cooked simple foods and we had a brunch party.  It was great fun, and most months we raised somewhere between $200-$500.

My benefit brunches dropped off about a year ago – busy lives and schedules.  But this time of year always makes me nostalgic for them.  So I am committing to hosting some more.  My ‘flavor of the month’?  Global Links’ Baby Bag project. And instead of, or in addition to, donating money, people can donate new baby clothes.

Global Links’ baby bag initiative was born of a conversation with the medical staff at a hospital in Nicaragua.  They were interested in distributing baby supplies to pregnant women in order to encourage them to come in for prenatal check-ups and attended deliveries.  In countries where the maternal/infant mortality rate is high, this is a huge step toward saving lives.  In response to this, and with international partners’ input, Global Links designed a mother/baby bag program.  The baby bags are sewn by volunteers, and filled with products that country partners have requested.  The Baby Bags are given to new mothers after they give birth with supplies to care for their babies at home.

So, I see this as my preemptive way to ward off the seasonal blues.  We can still have the food and the socializing, but do we need ALL the gifts?  How about just filtering a bit of the money you might spend anyway, and while eating and socializing, put it toward a good cause this holiday season?  Maybe you want to try and host something for your friends too?

“A Kiss and a Hug” for this group of Baby Bag Packers

On the evening of Monday November 5, twelve people gathered around the table at Global Links for a little feast, a little wine … and a whole lotta baby bags. Global Links had a serious need for baby clothes to complete our New Baby bags – handmade bags filled with supplies for new mothers and babies. The contents of the bags have been determined in consultation with our partner hospitals in the countries where we ship the bags, and are used by hospitals as an incentive for mothers to come in for prenatal care and attended deliveries – both of which save lives.  We couldn’t ship any bags until we had more clothes.

Each of the guests brought three new baby outfits apiece – 15 pounds of baby clothes. Together, they packed 57 bags and listened to a presentation from Program Officer Marisol Valentin, who read a thank you note from a mother in Cuba who had received one of the bags.  “I send you a kiss and a hug to thank you with all my heart,” the note concluded.

The packers, four of whom are long-term Global Links volunteers, understand how the bags are a valuable tool to improve Maternal/Infant mortality – a special focus of Global Links. Thanks to their efforts, we can make this tool available to a hospital in Haiti that requested them in our next donation there.

Find out more about Global Links New Baby Collection, and all the different ways you can get involved.

The baby bag crew, clockwise starting on the left: Cecelia Brissett, Roberto Briceño, Barbara Reichbaum, Carol Reichbaum, Theresa Scheiffarth, Chris Miller, Gwen Thesen,
Marcie Barent, Sabine Scheiffarth, Luise Davis, Jack Reamak, Marcia Brissett


Collecting Scrubs is Only the First Step

Recently, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore responded enthusiastically to Save Your Scrubs, donating 810 pounds of gently used medical uniforms. Next, a group from the International Women’s Association of Pittsburgh came in to begin the job of sorting through them, making matched sets, grouping by size, and packing them for donation.

Scrubs are an important way to limit the spread of infectious material, protecting both healthcare workers and their patients. In the hospitals with which Global Links works, budgets rarely provide for scrubs, and our partners have been requesting them regularly. Scrubs will be included in our upcoming hurricane relief shipment to Cuba.

Global Links accepts all scrubs, men’s and women’s, tops and bottoms, in sizes up through X-Large that don’t have one’s name embroidered onto them. Institutional names are acceptable. Scrubs must be clean and in good condition, with no rips or stains.

The scrubs that Global Links’ overseas partners are unable to use- because of sizing, mismatched pairs or other issues – are given to a local volunteer organization that makes them into children’s quilts for donation.

Small donations of scrubs can be mailed or dropped off at

Global Links
4809 Penn Ave. #2,
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
Attn: Save Your Scrubs

For larger, institutional collections, email Hayley Brugos or call 412.361.3424, ext. 213.

Your additional donation of $25 will help us deliver these scrubs to where they are desperately needed. To make a secure donation via our website, click here and put “scrubs” in the comment field.