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?


After Sandy

This morning, as we check the news for damage reports, contact friends and family in areas hard-hit by Sandy, and hope things don’t get too much worse, our friends in Cuba are a few days ahead of us, picking up and cleaning up. Sandy struck Santiago de Cuba five days ago, plowing into the second largest city in the country and destroying homes, ruining infrastructure, and causing 11 deaths.

It will take many months, if not years, for areas along the United States eastern seaboard to recover. The economic situation here and around the world has made things more difficult at home, and this storm has added to it.

So why is it important to reach out to Cubans, when we have troubles enough of our own? Because even with all the problems we have, we still have many more resources than most of the countries in this hemisphere – indeed in the world.  I never looked at helping as an either/or kind of thing.  We really can help the people here and the people there.  We’re blessed to be able to do both.

Because of their geographic location and the nature of the storm, when and where and how it hit, and the continued U.S. blockade against Cuba, more Cubans are homeless. Major institutions such as the medical school in Santiago, and some of the hospitals have been badly damaged. As bad as it is in parts of the US, it is worse there.


Santiago, after the storm

For this reason, Global Links is working with MEDICC (Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba) along with the Pan American Health Organization, to provide both emergency and long-term aid to help the community recover from this latest disaster. Medical supplies, chlorine tablets to address a compromised water system, and hospital furnishings are being packed for shipment, along with a supply of crucial medical texts to replace those destroyed by the storm.  Global Links is one of the very few organizations licensed by the US government to work in Cuba, and we have been working there since 1994.

I urge you to do what you can for everyone damaged by this terrible storm. Local organizations such as the Red Cross need and deserve our support. And, while you are giving, please support Global Links’ efforts to help Cuba recover from the storm too.

People often comment on how much smaller the world is now – enhanced communication techniques, incredible television images, and the internet bring a new awareness of conditions we may never see first hand. Cuba is a neighbor in need– a close neighbor – and they need our help now. Please donate through our web site, and write “Santiago” in the comment field.

If you want to hold a fundraiser to benefit our efforts in Cuba, we would be happy to help promote it. Please contact our deputy director for assistance.


The beautiful city of Santiago.

Thoughts on Cleaning Out the Closet

The box containing turkey-shaped salt and pepper shakers had been sitting in the back of the cabinet for . . . eight years? Ten? I have no idea who gave them to me.  I think someone believed I would see humor in receiving turkey shakers because I had not eaten turkey or any other animal since before the turn of the century.

But the point here isn’t turkey; the point is STUFF. It’s the season for cleaning out the basement, attic, or other dark corner where unwanted items are lurking out of the way, gathering dust.  I know because I see the evidence all over my neighborhood — everyone is piling up stuff for pickup by a local organization, or holding garage sales, or simply loading it into the garbage. We all have so much stuff.

Now that the season of giving is approaching, it’s time to ask, what do we really want? A tie suspiciously similar to the one we gave cousin Jim only two years ago?  An appliance that just clutters up the kitchen counter? Novelty tableware? Or maybe we want to feel a little better about the wider world, to think that things may be improving in a resource-poor community because of us, our friends and loved ones.

Maybe we’d enjoy the holidays more with a less-daunting pile of gifts – and the knowledge that children with asthma in Bolivia were able to have nebulizer treatments because of us. That a mother in Lilongwe, Malawi, had a successful emergency c-section because of a decision we made.

If we are all connected, it isn’t stuff that unites us, it’s our basic human needs and wants – clean air and water, healthcare when we are sick, delivering a thriving baby because prenatal care and safe delivery conditions are available.

This holiday season, your own loved ones might appreciate knowing that you made a donation in their honor to an organization that really does improve the level of healthcare in underserved communities. Maybe a small gift to open (some very clever turkey shakers), in addition to a card from Global Links announcing your donation, would make a nice gift-giving tradition. Receiving a card like that in your own honor might make you feel good for much longer than one more piece of hardware that quickly becomes obsolete.

Because when we think about what we really want, I imagine we are united in our desire for things to get better. Everywhere. It’s like that old Beauty Pageant joke, when the contestant says that all she wants is world peace. We all want that. We really do. And we can get there, if we can get our priorities straight.

Team from St. Margaret’s Donates Time and Expertise

One recent Saturday, a team of operating room nurses, techs and administrative staff from UPMC St. Margaret came to Global Links to sort surgical instruments and gloves. This team of ten women was here for two hours on their day off, and got through hundreds of instruments and boxes of gloves.

Sharing their expertise in identifying instruments enables Global Links to pack appropriately for life-saving surgeries in resource-poor communities. Because of their help, the surgical staff at our partner hospitals will be able to provide the best care possible for their patients – something all medical personnel want to do.

And the gloves this crew packed will help our partner hospitals maintain sanitary conditions. Global Links included almost 100,000 gloves in a recent donation to Haiti, which is still battling a devastating outbreak of cholera. Read more about the importance of gloves and other supplies – packed by volunteers – here.

And while they were carrying out this life-saving work, it seemed as though they enjoyed themselves.  “I had a blast,” wrote one participant.  “What a great group! I had a lot of fun,” wrote another.

“Thanks to everyone for participating in a wonderful experience!” wrote Gayle McLaughlin, RN, CNOR, who organized the volunteer group. “Looking forward to making a return visit to support a great cause!!”

We can’t wait until this team of dynamos from St. Margaret’s comes back!


Prosthetic Limbs for Panama

Volunteers at Global Links have been up to their ears in legs – and arms, feet, breasts, as well as over 500 boxes of prosthetic limb accessories. The donations were being packed for the Thomas L. and Linda J. McCormack Foundation, which has a prosthetic workshop in Panama.  Global Links is proud to work with this foundation, because they have the facilities to ensure that each individual prosthesis is properly fitted, and that the patients are given support in learning to use their new limbs. Many resource-poor communities lack these facilities.  The prostheses donated by Global Links will be included in the 9th container that Tom McCormack is sending to Panama.


Volunteers preparing the materials for donation.

When Tom began working with beekeepers in Chiriqui, Panama, in 1994, it did not take long for him to realize he could play a larger role in supporting the health of the community.  Tom told Volunteer Supervisor Kate Gascoine that he got his start when he noticed a woman always walking around with her arm clenched in front of her chest. Assuming she had an arm or shoulder injury, he asked the woman’s family about her condition, and learned that she had had a mastectomy and had no prosthesis. Back in the United States, Tom solicited a prosthetic breast for this woman.

That was when he realized the extent of the need for all prostheses, as well as wheelchairs, beds, and other medical furnishings.  His foundation now provides many other essentials to this underserved community.


Tom McCormack with some of the donated prostheses.

Support for Help Haiti Heal

Global Links recent shipment to Haiti contained almost 100,000 exam gloves. While over two and a half years have passed since the 2010 earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area, the country is still recovering from both earthquake damage and the widespread outbreak of cholera, which hit the country only months after the earthquake. Now, Hurricane Isaac has destroyed some of the temporary earthquake shelters – shelters which were never replaced with permanent housing – and caused flooding which may lead to a spike in cases of cholera. It is difficult to imagine how badly those gloves are needed.

Global Links continues to work with 23 hospitals as part of Help Haiti Heal, which is supported by graduates of the Latin American Medical School (ELAM). This latest project in Haiti focused on basic supplies, without which medical care cannot take place. Stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, nebulizer filters and feeding tubes are necessary for primary care, and Global Links was able to provide over 400 boxes of items such as those. Maintaining sanitary conditions is essential in halting the spread of cholera.  In some hospitals, Global Links is the main supplier of these materials, all of which are packed by volunteers.

Global Links will be working in Haiti for many years to come – collaborating with our partners on the ground to ensure that our donations improve healthcare sustainably and effectively.

Learn more about Help Haiti Heal.

Please make a donation in support of our projects in Haiti.

At Archaie, basic supplies from Global Links improve primary care.

Building Specialized Medical Capacity in Nicaragua

Global Links’ most recent project in Nicaragua addressed some specialized needs in two large hospitals. We continue to work with Aldo Chavarría, a national referral hospital offering physical therapy to a population of over 10,000.  After our last shipment to Aldo Chavarría, we learned of a young man who received a prosthetic leg from Global Links.

Jairo received this prosthetic leg from Aldo Chavarría – and from Global Links – and regained the ability to walk.

Our latest shipment provides more specialized rehab materials such as this leg extension machine.

Physical therapy after orthopedic surgery is essential for a full recovery.

We also worked with Hospital La Mascota,  in Managua, to increase their capacity for pediatric cardiac surgery. La Mascota has focused on training more hospital personnel to perform these delicate procedures, and the supplies from Global Links will support their program and help them expand it.  The director of La Mascota, Dr. Gerardo Munguía, explained to Global Links Program Officer José Henríquez earlier this year that surgeries to resolve congenital heart defects have immediate results, and are often completely curative. The hospital’s expanded pediatric cardiology service should help them reach more cases of neonatal heart disease in Nicaragua.

Please support our work in Nicaragua.

A Global Links Intern Ponders the Realities of Global Health

Global Links reaped the benefits of some very talented interns this summer. As her internship comes to a close, Georgetown University junior Dale Barnhart shares some reflections.

Improving health in Guatemala with resources we have right now

When I tell people I am majoring in global health, their initial reaction often betrays a pessimistic outlook.  I understand what they are thinking.  News about global health often focuses on an impossibly big picture– how many cases of malaria are diagnosed each year, for example, or the difficulty of creating a cure for AIDS.  What you don’t hear about are the sort of simple projects that inspired me to study global health because they address problems with resources and capabilities we have right now.


Having doctors come from the community boosts patient confidence.


Two of these projects are Global Links and the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), a Cuban medical school that educates students from underprivileged communities for free.  In exchange, students promise to return to serve these communities as doctors.  Since 2009, Global Links and ELAM graduates have been working together in Guatemala to address some major health problems with surprisingly obvious solutions.   How do you reduce infant and maternal mortality?  How do you systemically improve regional health?  The simple answer is to send doctors that are well-equipped with both cultural knowledge and medical supplies.

If this solution seems too simple, consider the Ixil Triangle region.  Between 2009 and 2012, Global Links has sent four shipments to this region, and ELAM doctors are using these materials in exciting ways.  Cotzal, a health center that was unable to attend births before the arrival of ELAM grads and Global Links supplies, increased its institutionalized birthrate by over 240% between 2009 and 2010.  These ELAM doctors could attract pregnant women to the health center because they too had been born in the Ixil region, knew which culturally-appropriate birthing practices to adopt, and spoke with local midwives in their native language.  Now that these doctors have earned their community’s trust, they have started to work with each other to create a three-year health plan for their community and will be partnering with Global Links to distribute the supplies needed to fulfill this plan.

This new mother recovers from childbirth at San Juan Cotzal in a bed from Global Links.

 While it is intuitive that ELAM-Global Links partnerships would improve the effectiveness of ELAM doctors in Guatemala, it is also exciting to watch stories about our ELAM partners reenergize those of us working at Global Links.  They remind us that opportunities to improve health are readily available using knowledge and supplies that we already have, and that is certainly something to be optimistic about.

Global Links and ELAM: Partnering for success in Honduras

I have spent this summer researching collaborations between Global Links and graduates from the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM).  When I describe to friends and family how hospital surplus – materials that would have been thrown in the trash if it weren’t for Global Links—ends up in the hands of doctors who were trained for free in Cuba, questions of quality often arise.  How helpful can hospital “leftovers” really be?  How prepared are the doctors from ELAM?  The short answer to both of these questions is, very.

Dr. Luther Castillo Harry, a Garifuna himself, examines a little girl in Ciriboya.

Take the First Garífuna Hospital in Ciriboya, Honduras.  The hospital – which, in 2007, became the first-ever hospital for isolated Garífuna communities—was furnished with Global Links’ hospital surplus and is staffed by ELAM doctors.  These resources are actually better suited to improving health care quality than new equipment or U.S.-trained doctors might be.  Consider that the hospital is solar-powered.  Obviously, powering medical equipment, like nebulizers, EKG machines, and lamps, is vital. Powering the newest electric beds is not, so Global Links sent hospital beds that can be adjusted with hand cranks.  Or consider that, in Northern Honduras, poverty is common but health insurance is non-existent.  ELAM doctors, whose training has emphasized preventative medicine and universal health care, provide free consultations and seek to prevent costly treatments by focusing the root causes of illnesses.  For example, rather than repeatedly prescribing painkillers to women who injure themselves collecting firewood, the hospital distributes solar stoves to decrease the chance of repeat injuries.  In addition to providing high-quality care, the hospital has delved into medical research so that they can isolate regional trends to better prevent certain diseases.

Recent ELAM graduates working in Honduras.

The First Garífuna Hospital is not Global Links’ only successful partnership in Honduras.  The Wampusirpi municipality has received the “Malaria Champion of the Americas” award from the Pan-American Health Organization despite having limited roads and electricity.   Members of the historically-neglected Miskito communities are being served by doctors who are willing to advocate for their patients.  For these Hondurans, quality of health care is not improving because of flashy equipment or doctors with pricy medical degrees. Quality is improving because of medical supplies and doctors that are attuned to the needs of the community.



“This Is a Free Service …”


Making healthcare universally accessible, effective and efficient is a challenge all over the world. In Guyana, where the constitution mandates universal free healthcare, the barriers that must be overcome are geographical as well as financial. Global Links’ recent shipments to Guyana are supporting the Georgetown Public Hospital – the national reference hospital and the biggest hospital in the country, with an estimated annual patient population of 282,000. Global Links has also supported areas far from the capital of Georgetown in order to serve vulnerable populations who lack the means to make the difficult trip to the country’s capital.

Striking the right balance is essential – most of the population lives in Georgetown, so the benefits of this latest donation will reach many thousands more Guyanese. Containers of furnishings for the Emergency Ward as well as hundreds of boxes of critical supplies will improve the level of care available to the largest segment of the population.

Georgetown Hospital also provides residencies for graduates of the Latin American Medical School in Cuba (ELAM). The Ministry of Health in Guyana integrates the new doctors into the healthcare system by having them do rotations under the supervision of senior doctors, primarily at Georgetown Hospital, which not only enhances their skills, but helps them build a network among their fellow physicians.

Global Links supports hospitals that work with the ELAM graduates because they are dedicated to using their training to improve conditions in their home communities, which are often resource-poor. Supporting the ELAM graduates helps make healthcare more widely accessible – the goal and philosophy of Global Links.

Please support our program in Guyana.

One Mother’s Connection to Global Links’ Nebulizer Collection

When Lindsay Joly heard her baby boy fight for breath at the age of four months, her first reaction was to rush him to an emergency room, where he was treated and given a nebulizer, or breathing machine, to use at home when he has respiratory distress.

Lindsay’s next reaction, however, was to think about parents in underserved areas – parents who love their own children as deeply as she loves Ethan, but who lack the healthcare resources available in the United States. Those parents often have to wait in line to use the only nebulizer in their community – if there is a nebulizer available at all. Lindsay wanted to help those families, and when she learned of Global Links Nebulizer Collection, she wanted to support it. In a big way.

Lindsay has set up a Blog-A-Thon on September 1 to raise money for Global Links Nebulizer Collection. All the details are available at her blogging platform, which links to FirstGiving, where donations can be made that go directly to support Global Links’ Nebulizer Collection.

We salute Lindsay for her creative fundraising, and for her empathy with parents and children far from her own home. Please look at Lindsay’s blog and read her story.

And if you have an idea about fundraising for Global Links – if you have a special connection to one of our programs or one of the countries where we work – please contact Deputy Director Angela Garcia.

Read more about Global Links Nebulizer Collection.