Sometimes it feels hard to know if we're making a difference. The type of difference that truly empowers people to the futures they deserve.
I feel that way a lot. Wondering if we're doing enough. If we're doing the right thing. If were working hard enough to help. Then I go on trips like this past week, and I see making a difference means I need to let go of any preconceived notion as to just what the difference should be.
This past week we took a team of volunteers from around the U.S. to the City of Ica in the desert. We did a number of little projects - providing dental and medical care to the children in the Casa Girasoles orphanage, providing health talks in the public schools, and delivering water and hygiene kits to a large squatter community on the outskirts of the city.
The last activity, delivering water and hygiene kits to an impoverished community, is something we have done for a number of years in collaboration with the boys from the Girasoles home. The Girasoles (the name they call themselves, which means sunflower) join our team and walk in the dirt and sand to deliver buckets of water and kits that include basic items people need for cooking, self care and general household activities. We deliver over 200 kits and hundreds of buckets of water.
The experience is a bit surreal. We've wrestle with the project for a long time. The reason? It feels a bit like "poverty tourism." It feels like we are making people the objects of our compassion. And, at the same time - the experience provides a tangible opportunity for volunteers to connect in service. It is this connection - bringing people together to work on a shared service project that is the reason we keep doing the project.
This year I worked alongside a couple of boys delivering water. One of the boys, I'll call him Pedro, I have known for a number of years. He is actually not so much a boy - as a 20-year old young man. He is also profoundly developmentally delayed and lives with a number of challenges. Pedro and I carried buckets and delivered kits to a bunch houses together. At one point I asked Pedro why he liked doing the water delivery project. I asked him what he most enjoyed about working with Health Bridges. His response was slow, but very deliberate. He said, "Dr. Wayne, I like to know that I can help. I like serving others. [When I am] helping, I'm just another person. Serving gives me a chance to know that I can make a difference for other people."
In that simple statement I realized that making a difference is bigger than anything I could ever imagine. I realized that making a difference is far more about building the bridges that afford everyone the opportunities to find their path in life.
I'm on my way to Perú. We've got our team of volunteers assembling in Lima over the next couple of days and we'll start the Team Perú project on Sunday.
As I turn my attention to our annual volunteer outreach trip, I can't help but feel haunted by what's going on with children in the U.S.
People who know me know my politics. I don't hide my positions; however, I don't usually post political issues or items on the HBI website.
Today, things are different. I've got to say something. The issues of immigration are complex. The issues of child protection are not. Children need every opportunity to thrive. The current practices of our government are not only preventing children from thriving - they are endangering their futures. It must stop. And, we've got to all be involved.
Here are a couple of way I suggest we can all be involved: (1) Write, call, or email your elected officials and demand an end to the policy; (2) stay current on the facts (recognizing that we all get our news from different sources - just stay informed with whatever news source you use); (3) support organizations fighting the good fight. HBI is proud to partner with the Innovation Law Lab on immigrant rights and support. Check out their website for information on how you can support their work and get involved.
I'm not going to profess to have a solution to the complex issue of immigration. I don't. I do, however, know that what is going on with detained children is wholly wrong and we must all work together to protect the innocent lives of youth and young adults fleeing violence and trauma in Latin America. We've all got to work together to make certain this egregious practice of child separation stops.
This week marks the beginning of our annual summer Team Perú outreach trip. Over the coming days, volunteer team members will be arriving in Lima from around the U.S. to meet our HBI staff.
This is our 22nd or 23rd . . . or 24th, Team Perú summer trip. We're not exactly sure the trip number - but one thing is for certain, for over two decades HBI has been taking a team of volunteers from around the globe to participate in a service learning project over the months of June and July.
The trip started out of our (my wife and I) church. When I was in medical school, we started taking teams down to Perú to work in schools doing short term medical projects. I'd recruit attending physicians and volunteer healthcare providers and we'd pull off a big mobile clinic for two weeks.
After a few years of the schools based medical outreach, we realized we weren't doing anything that was sustainable or really making a big impact. That's when we starting thinking about doing something different. That something different eventually became HBI.
Now some two-plus decades later - we are still taking volunteers. The focus of the Team Perú project is to provide volunteers an intensive experience with our staff, collaborative partners and communities working alongside one another and learning and growing.
We are less focused on a specific outcome from the trips - and more focused on the impact the experience has on the life of the volunteer. We think of the Team Perú projects as "Bridge Building" trips. And, our hope is participants will walk away from their Team Perú trip experience with a clear understanding that everyone can build or be a bridge for change in the world.
We see the Team Perú trips as a part of the movement that is HBI. So, over the next couple of weeks, we invite you to connect with the project. We'll be posting video, blogs, and social media updates. Stay connected and learn more about how all of us can be a bridge.
Thanks for all of the support.
It's grant writing time. Truth be known, there is no one time for writing grants - it is an all-time effort.
Writing grant applications affords me a place to really think about the who, what and why of Health Bridges. It gives me a chance to dig deeper into what makes HBI unique and our work a bit different.
Many years ago, while working as a medical director for a large multinational NGO doing short-term outreach campaigns in developing countries, I saw firsthand the gaps that exist in charity services delivery. I witnessed a multitude of efforts to address health needs, overcome economic gaps, and tackle social challenges; and yet - it was hard to find any organization, group or initiative that partnered or collaborated in their efforts. The challenge I determined, was a lack of collaboration, and even coordination, between organizations and efforts.
This is where I envisioned a role for an organization like Health Bridges. What if an organization positioned itself to sit in the middle - in the gaps that exist between resource and need? What if the organization focused on brokering collaboration and partnerships to build a "sum of all parts" impact? This simple idea eventually grew into HBI.
In many ways the work of minding the gaps is not very sexy. It's work that supports others to do the sexy work. It is not about directly serving people with clean water or building new clinics in poor communities. Rather, it's the work of helping other organizations gain the resources, knowledge, and connections to build such interventions.
The work of HBI is about championing change by uniting efforts. We realized early on that our work must be based on securing longterm impact. And, we realized that longterm change can never be based on charity, must be facilitated by local change agents, and needs to be linked to larger sustainable initiatives.
So, why HBI? Well . . . I think you can sum up our why by saying, we exist to build bridges today that will enable future generations to clearly and effectively walk into the lives they deserve.
Thank you for continuing to support our efforts. Stay tuned over the comings weeks as we embark on our 22nd year of the Team Perú Outreach Trip. We'll be blogging and uploading photos throughout the trip.
The HBI Blog is a rotating journal from our staff. Our Blog is a series of messages from the field, insights from our work, and lessons in service.