Over the years we've worked with partners from a number of different disciplines, organizations, universities, government groups and faith-based institutions. Without a doubt, everyone one of our collaborations has benefited our work - both directly and indirectly.
The indirect impact is mind boggling. Consider the relationship Health Bridges has with Linfield College School of Nursing. What started as a guest lecture at the college by Wayne Centrone, has grown into a longitudinal research study on the impact of service learning in the career choices of RNs, a collaborative J-Term service learning trip (now in its 5th year), an RN-to-BSN student placement program in Perú, a 6-month sabbatical placement for Linfield professor, Dr. Kimberly Kintz at Universidad Catholica Santa Maria (UCSM) in Arequipa, Perú, and a service learning trip for nursing students from Perú to visit Linfield College and work with nursing colleagues in Portland, Oregon.
Honestly, it would be great if that was the only impact of our collaboration. It's not. Of the many students who have traveled to Perú and worked with HBI - a number have now gone on to initiate their own projects in their local communities. In Perú, the students who've participated in the collaborative service learning projects have started their own club that focuses on building greater connections with underserved communities in Arequipa. Through a conference presentation we did with our colleagues from Linfield, HBI now has a partnership to teach an online global health course for American College of Education School of Nursing.
All these connections, they started because of committed change agents. We are so thankful for the many people and partners that make the work of HBI possible. We are thankful for the many change agents that partner with Health Bridges and make the world a better place.
You never know how things will turn out, until you dedicate yourself to trying.
Our work with the Girasoles Sanos Program for formerly abandoned youth started over 20 years ago. Actually, our work with children on the streets started almost 40 years ago.
In early 1980's Ernesto and Margaret Zavala were missionaries living in Lima. Ernesto was born in Lima and moved to the United States to pursue his education. While studying and working in Long Island, NY, he met and married Margaret. Wanting to reconnect with his roots - he moved his wife and new family back to Perú to work as a missionary with the faith-based organization Union Biblica. They focused their work on the deaf community.
One night, while searching in the center of Lima for a deaf child in their program, Ernesto and Margaret witnessed something that would change the course of their lives . . . and become the start of Health Bridges International. They found the deaf child on the street. He appeared cold, hungry, and lonely. Ernesto and Margaret learned that the boy was one of thousands of children living on the streets, the victims of a social and economic fracturing that had been effecting Perú since the terrorist movement of the Shining Path.
That night, Ernesto and Margaret took the boy to their home. Thus started a program of outreach to children living on the streets. Fast forward to the 1990's and Wayne Centrone took his first trip to Peru and was introduced to the street youth program of Union Biblica.
In 2010, uncertain where to go with her life and seeking a meaningful way to make a difference, a young woman leaves Long Island, NY and moves to Lima. She starts working with a faith-based organization helping with volunteer groups. She teaches English. She gets involved in as many activities as she can to find a place in Perú. One day she meets Health Bridges. That meeting leads to a position. Today, she is the director of HBI in Perú. That young woman's name is Carmen Elena Zavala Thompson - and she is the daughter of Ernesto and Margaret.
Today HBI runs two homes for formerly abandoned youth. Sometimes you never know where the future will take you. We are so thankful for connections. Connections that lead to true, meaningful change.
Firefighters in Perú are all volunteers. By day, they're teachers, accountants, architects - but when on the job of a firefighter, they are all called to accidents that require them to save lives. The problem? There is no standardized system for training volunteer firefighters in southern Perú in pre-hospital emergency response. That's why we started our Emergency Response Together project. We now have a team of mater trainers whoa re training other firefighters in the knowledge and skills they need to save lives.
One of the trainers, a nurse by the name of Dany, has taken her role as a master trainer to a whole new level. Dany is so motivated to help people learn about first aid and emergency first response that she has been volunteering to train people around the Arequipa area. HBI provides all the equipment and helps to pay for her transportation and room/board, and Dany (along with a group of her colleagues from the firefighter brigade) are training hundreds of local police officers, ambulance drivers and first responders in rural and underserved areas of southern Perú.
Dany is a real servant. HBI is so thankful to have the opportunity to work with people like Dany and all the trainers who tirelessly dedicate themselves to advance pre-hospital emergency response for all citizens in Perú . . . and save lives.
We believe in the power of slow and steady. We believe in empowering communities to create their own futures. This takes time. We are thankful for the many years we have with the people we serve.
We started the Ines Project with the belief that helping families living in deep experiences of poverty and living with children with disabilities connect to the knowledge and skills of health systems navigation and self-advocacy, leads to better health outcomes. A simple idea – but very complex to implement.
When Maria (not her real name) was 13 years old, she nearly died. Maria was born with Cerebral Palsy (CP). For most of her childhood, her CP was complicated by poor health services coordination. Maria and her family lived in a rented wood shack in one of the poorest areas of the sprawling shantytown of Nuevo Pachacutec on the outskirts of Lima.
Maria has come a long way since our team first met her. That first day was one of the hardest we have ever had. You see Maria not only has CP, she also had tuberculosis (TB). TB is treatable. However, at the time we met Maria, she was not receiving any treatment . . . for her TB or her CP. She was literally dying. She had not eaten for over a week. She was not lucid, had a very high fever, and a fractured spine from an aggressive form of TB that infects the bone. She was dying . . . at 13 years old.
Perhaps the worst part, her Mother had given up. Her mother stop feeding Maria. She was no longer drinking, and had not gone to the bathroom for three days. Our team pleaded with the mother not to give up. To take Maria to the hospital. We told her we would accompany them and stay throughout the process – and beyond. We talked with Maria’s mother for hours. She could not be turned.
She was tired of the doctors yelling at her for not caring for her daughter. She was tired of people’s pity. She was anger with the mistreatment she received from the nurses and doctors, and the lack of empathy they expressed for her daughter and her family. She was tired of having to beg her daughter to eat, tired of carrying her to the bus stop, to be turned away by the driver because – “we don’t take people like her.” She could not afford the taxi fare to the hospital. Maria’s mother told us "our lives will be much better, if she [Maria] just “went away.”
That day, the whole team broke down in tears. After countless hours of something shifted. We were able to convince her to meet our nurse, Fanny, the next day at the hospital. This began an amazing recovery not just for Maria, but the whole family. With Fanny’s tender touch, and the compassionate of our Ines Project team. We walked beside the family to guide them through that rough day at the hospital. We helped Maria re-enroll in a state sponsored TB treatment program, and give hope to a mother that had no more.
It’s been over 6 years since we first met Maria. She and her family are no longer enrolled in the Ines Project. Maria is now a happy young adult. The family stills lives in deep poverty and Maria has ongoing healthcare needs - but now they have the knowledge and skills to navigate their own future. We check-in on Maria and her family regularly. She recognizes Fanny and squeals with joy when she sees her. The family is whole again - because we showed up, because we walked beside them.
One thing is certain, the more we do this work – the more connections we need. This means a great deal of our efforts are centered around the formation of partnerships. Just this week we were joined in Perú by a team from Living Waters for the World (LWW). The team, made up of dedicated members from Westminster Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN, have helped to place over 20 water filtration systems throughout Perú.
A number of years ago, the LWW team from Westminster placed water filtration systems in the Casa Girasoles in Ica and Urubamba. The sophisticated multi-stage systems have the capacity to filter 300 gallons of clean water per hour. However, the systems require a level of ongoing maintenance. For a number of reasons, our systems have fallen into disrepair. The LWW team is here to ensure the systems at the Casa Girasoles are operating at their highest capacity and providing clean, safe water.
Filtering clean water for use in the homes is fantastic. We know the value of providing access to perishable water to the boys in our homes. The systems are, however, having an impact beyond just the four walls of our programs. The units also provide clean water for the staff to take home and use with their families; and for partners and collaborators in the communities close to the Casa Girasoles. In many ways – the LWW units are a bridge to clean water for entire communities.
We are really thankful for all the partners that help to make a big difference in the communities we serve - especially from partners from LWW and Westminster Presbyterian Church Nashville, Tennessee.
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.