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.


Devoting an Evening to Maternal/Infant Health

“If I was a new mother, needing these supplies,” said Barbara Reichbaum, a longtime regular Global Links volunteer, “I would be happy to receive the bag with even a portion of the contents.” Barbara and her fellow “case packers” had just learned that the only reason Global Links was unable to ship more baby bags was that we did not have enough baby clothes. Wanting to ensure that all recipients would receive some baby clothes in their bags, the case packers decided to take action, and planned a baby shower/clothing drive to complete the bags for an upcoming donation to La Croix Health Center in Haiti.

Case packers come in regularly to check, count, label and pack materials that arrive in cases. It is a big job, and this dedicated crew is vital to the functioning of Global Links.

The baby bag project was inspired by a hospital Global Links worked with in Nicaragua, which provided bags of essentials as an incentive for mothers to come in for prenatal care and a medically attended delivery. Global Links consulted with medical personnel in the countries where we work to devise a list of appropriate items to include in the bags. A quilter in Ann Arbor, Michigan, designed a sturdy, all purpose bag and made hundreds of them herself before helping to assemble easily followed instructions for other volunteers to follow.  The bags are designed to have a long and useful life after the baby is born.

Global Links plans to send 100 bags to La Croix, each bag containing the same carefully chosen items.  “We believe these bags help encourage mothers to deliver in the safe environment of the Maternity Center,” the staff at La Croix wrote.

Good prenatal and obstetric care can save lives. Global Links New Baby bags can help.








Barbara, left, and the rest of the case pack crew: Ann, Louise, Sabine and Marcie.

Please support of Maternal/Infant health. To find out how to host your own Baby Shower for Global Links, email Stacy Bodow.

Bringing Sustainable Practices to the Workplace

Last Thursday, the first Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge (GWC) wrapped up and the final results placed Global Links in fifth place in the Observer category. The GWC is a friendly competition hosted by Sustainable Pittsburgh for Southwestern Pennsylvania businesses and organizations which awards points for specific, verifiable actions that promote sustainability. These actions range from implementing recycling programs and eco-friendly purchasing policies to decreasing energy and water use.

In many cases, participants had already implemented many of these actions, and the GWC created a forum in which they could receive recognition for their efforts to reduce environmental impact. In other cases, the GWC provided new ideas for sustainability measures, and assisted participants in implementing these actions by fostering partnerships and providing educational workshops. The GWC also pushed participants to measure and track utility use and cost, data essential in making the financial case for reducing energy and water use. Furthermore, as all actions must be documented in order to be verified by GWC staff, the end result is a portfolio of sustainability measures that can be useful in publicity and grant writing. The Pittsburgh GWC distinguishes itself from similar competitions through its stringent verification of all actions, assured confidentiality, and the relative weights of points afforded to various actions which promote walking the walk over talking the talk.

The collective results of the GWC were summarized in the recent GWC press release:

Combined, the 50+ forward-thinking organizations participating in the Green Workplace Challenge saved enough energy to power 5,842 average U.S. homes for a year (67,159,765 kWh of energy savings). This equates to more than all of the occupied homes in East Allegheny (1252 homes), Friendship (1071), Hays (166), Polish Hill (697), Regent Square (456), and Southside Slopes (2130) for a year. Additionally, enough water was saved to fill Heinz Field with 13 feet of water! (Nearly 91 million gallons saved!) In terms of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, participants saved over 18,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, translates to roughly 452 airline flights of 500 miles: 3.1 days worth of all flights leaving Pittsburgh International Airport on a given day.

This means that with the dedication of employees under the guidance of one green team, or one sustainability coordinator, or one facilities manager, or one employee that works on sustainability in addition to their other responsibilities, on average enough energy was saved by each GWC participant to power over 100 U.S. homes for one year. This exemplifies the importance of businesses in reducing human impact on the environment, and shows how benefits to the environment can be multiplied by bringing the eco-friendly passion that guides home decisions to the workplace.

One example of the impact of workplace greening is recycling. Consider kitchen recycling alone: at Global Links, on average about 25 people eat lunch, producing about 25 meals worth of recyclable yogurt cups or soda cans daily. In my house, there are three people who eat breakfast and dinner at home, producing 6 meals worth of recyclables daily. By institutionalizing recycling in the kitchen at Global Links, that impact is quadrupled. In reality, the impact is much greater, because our recycling policy at Global Links extends to office and warehouse recycling, as well as certain surplus medical materials. The same idea applies to cleaning products: our green cleaning purchasing policy affects many more gallons of cleaning supplies used per year than my household would go through. When these green choices which are part of my lifestyle and personal commitment to sustainability are transferred to the workplace, the benefit to the environment is increased many-fold.

The Green Workplace Challenge wrapped up at the extremely green Phipps Conservatory.

Our achievements also included tracking our utility use, calculating our carbon footprint, creating other sustainability and eco-friendly policies, guidelines, and plans, retrofitting our trucks, establishing a green team, increasing environmental messaging and awareness, and participating in community environmental events. For this round of the competition, we were unable to implement many of the suggested measures because we currently rent our workspace. We are looking forward to the completion of our move to our new space, which we own, as this will enable us to tackle our impact on the environment in many new and highly effective ways.

Read more about Global Links commitment to the environment.

Working to Improve Healthcare for Women and Babies in Nicaragua

Berta Calderón is Nicaragua’s primary referral hospital for women, with five operating rooms to handle complex deliveries in addition to gynecologic cancer treatment for the entire country. Global Links has been working with Hospital Berta Calderón for years, and two large projects completed in 2011 have enabled the hospital to improve its critical path – a project they brought to Global Links for assistance.

One major accomplishment is that, with the help of a generous donor, we have been able to upgrade most of their OR tables. Before our recent projects, surgeries were sometimes cancelled because, despite careful maintenance, the OR tables were simply too old to function properly.

Because of the number of deliveries the hospital performs – especially complicated deliveries – our most recent donation to Berta Calderón included bassinets with mattresses, among many other medical materials. Bassinets provide both a safe way to transport a fragile newborn baby around the hospital, and a safe and clean place to spend those important first days.

Bassinets such as this one from Global Links provide a safe and comfortable welcome for new arrivals at Hospital Berta Calderón.

Please support our work in Nicaragua.

Shipment to Cuba Supports Wide Range of Services in Pinar del Rio

When Program Officer Marisol Valentin visited Hospital Abel Santamaria in the Pinar del Rio province of Cuba last year, she found a brand new intensive care unit for cardiac patients and for those at high risk for cerebral damage, as well as a new waiting area for the families of hospitalized patients.  She also found a vast need for supplies and furnishings. Because this large hospital has a long list of services offered, they needed a variety of supplies, ranging from items for critical care to barrels of soap.

Global Links’ shipment last week to Abel Santamaria included both general supplies as well as very specific sutures and autosutures, mattresses, IV poles and wheelchairs. The hospital serves a population of 530,000, performs 70% of the surgeries and attends 90% of the births in the province, and runs a daily clinic that sees 1000 patients a day.

The size and scope of this hospital make them an excellent partner for Global Links because there are many areas in which we can be of help. And the care they take both of patients and their families makes this a hospital with which we are very proud to work.

Marisol Valentin, left, with staff at Abel Santamaria during her last assessment trip.

Please support our program in Cuba.


Rebuilding Haiti’s Healthcare System

Global Links’ shipment to Haiti last week was part of the ongoing Help Haiti Heal project. Global Links is working with MEDICC (Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba) and the Pan American Health Organization in a multi-national collaboration to strengthen the health system outside of Port-au-Prince. Because travel throughout the country is difficult, having health centers and hospitals distributed throughout different communities is a key component of increasing access to care.

The donation – a 40-foot shipping container packed with delivery tables, linens, sutures, and box after box of the supplies that make healthcare possible — is bound for a central warehouse that oversees distribution of the materials to a network of hospitals.

Haiti’s healthcare infrastructure was inadequate before the devastating double blow of the earthquake in 2010 and subsequent outbreak of cholera. It is essential to maximize the efficacy of every donation of medical aid through careful collaboration.

This project also empowers Haitian graduates of the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba (ELAM), who are personally invested in making a long-term improvement in the health of their fellow Haitians.

Working within this well-organized framework, Global Links can be sure that the supplies reach the hospitals and doctors that will be able to put them to immediate and effective use. Find out more about how Global Links is helping to rebuild Haiti’s healthcare system.

In the delivery room at Mirebalais, one of the hospitals included in the Help Haiti Heal project.

Please consider supporting our work in Haiti.

Global Links Supplies Help Ugandan Toddler

When Harriet was two, her mother was attacked by a rabid dog. By the time her father realized how sick his wife was, and raised money to travel to the hospital in Entebbe from their home in northern Uganda, it was too late. When their mother died three days after reaching the hospital, Harriet’s little brother Donald was one month old.

A journalist moved by their extreme poverty contacted her old friend Victoria Nalongo Namusisi, founder and director of Bright Kids Uganda Entebbe Home, where Global Links had recently donated medical materials. BKU provides housing and education to vulnerable children in Uganda, and has a small clinic for basic medical care.

“We don’t have space for more babies,” Victoria told her friend at first. Her program had begun by taking in street children, some of whom already had infants of their own.

“But they’ll die,” the journalist pressed. And so, Harriet and Donald joined the other children at BKU. Victoria is Mami to all 64 of them.

When Harriet arrived at BKU, her feet and hands were painfully infested with jiggers, a parasitic flea that burrows just under the skin and becomes quite painful as it swells with the blood of its host. Left untreated, it can lead to a fatal infection. Using gloves, gauze and tweezers from a recent Global Links donation, staff at the clinic removed each parasite, wrapping Harriet’s little feet in fresh gauze to protect the open sores while they healed.

Harriet, Victoria said, cried incessantly at first. After spending time with another resident, three-year-old Obama, she picked up enough of the local language to communicate, and her feet and hands healed.  Her father visits, but lives in the north with his four older children.

Global Links is preparing another donation to BKU. To support the medical service trip program that makes this possible, click here.

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.

One Volunteer’s Impact on Primary Care

“See that?” says Jim Carr, pointing out a deep crease in a piece of red tubing snaking out of a blood pressure cuff. “This one is new out of the box, but it won’t last long with that crease in it.” He pulls the faulty tubing off – he’ll find a better piece, attach it into the cuff, and pack it for donation to a hospital or clinic in an underserved community where, thanks to Jim, it should last for a long time.

Since Jim began volunteering at Global Links in November 2005, every blood pressure unit we have sent out has been checked and, if necessary, repaired by Jim.  Jim is an Equipment Specialist, a volunteer who has received training to manage one specific project. He comes in as his time permits, and he takes great satisfaction in knowing not only how vitally important blood pressure units are for primary care, but also that, as he says, the ones Global Links sends “are going to work.”

“Jim’s dedication to his work at Global Links is remarkable,” says Medical Outreach Manager Hayley Brugos.  “Working with blood pressure units requires matching the proper size cuffs, bulbs, stethoscopes and the detailed work of making sure each gauge is calibrated properly.  Jim pulls all of these components together.  He’s totally reliable. And he wouldn’t want me to say this, but he’s a real sweetheart.”

Jim Carr with all the components of blood pressure units.

While there is no special knowledge required to be a volunteer equipment specialist, Jim says that mechanical skills come in handy. A former electrical technician with Bell Atlantic, which is now Verizon, Jim, age 70, brings a certain know-how to the job.

Testing every gauge takes not only patience and meticulous attention to detail, it also takes a special tool – created for Global Links by University of Pittsburgh Engineers for Sustainable Medical Development. “This group has been collaborating with Global Links since last year, looking for simple solutions to recurring problems in resource-poor communities,” explains Global Links Deputy Director Angela Garcia. “One of Jim’s challenges was how to calibrate the BP units, so when he opened one up and showed the engineers the inside, they developed a small, specialized wrench that enables him to calibrate the gauge. We have plenty of units, they just need to be recalibrated.”

Global Links includes BP units in just about every shipment as well as with many medical service trips. “They are one of the most important tools for primary care,” says Suture and Medical Service Trip Manager Jennifer Novelli. “Expectant mothers and many other community members need to have their blood pressure checked regularly, and there is just no way to do that without a blood pressure unit.”

Since Jim’s first day on the job, he has prepped nearly 2000 BP units. “It’s not rocket science,” he says. “But if you’ve got time on your hands, you may as well be helping somebody.”


Dr. Luther Castillo of Honduras checks a patient’s blood pressure with a unit prepared for donation by Jim Carr.

Global Links is looking for more volunteer Equipment Specialists. Please visit our website for more information.

Please make a donation to Global Links in support of primary care.


“The Supplies Made Everything Much Easier”

“We had a great trip and saw many more patients than we anticipated,” wrote Sara Mar of  Shoulder to Shoulder Pittsburgh-San Jose, Inc. “The supplies made everything much easier. “

This local chapter of Shoulder to Shoulder works to improve healthcare in San Jose del Negrito, in Honduras.  Global Links has been working with them since 2001. By sending health brigades twice a year, the organization is able to form relationships within the community that lead to sustainable improvement in the healthcare available. Their Child Health Initiative includes travel to nearby villages for well-child checkups.

Global Links provided gloves, gauze, and materials for checking hemoglobin – an important part of a regular physical exam – as well as other supplies.

Finger sticks hurt! But the gloves and lancets from Global Links were essential for checking this child’s hemoglobin.

“In the past we always ran out of supplies and were unable to provide these aspects of care when this occurs,” Sara wrote. “We had many supplies remaining and were able to leave some with the local doctor for use in the clinic in the village where we worked so she can continue to perform exams and testing and we will also be able to use them the next time we are down there.”

Materials from Global Links were also used at the dental station.

Making a long-term improvement in healthcare is the goal of every Global Links donation. Please support our Medical Service Trip program.