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Medical Teams International | Official Blog

Get the latest updates from our programs in the field internationally and here in the United States.  

  • Remembering Longtime MTI Partner Barry Birch

    by Tyler Graf | Apr 10, 2015

    When things looked low for Barry Birch and his Portland-based nonprofit, he was known to say three words: “God will provide.”

    For more than 20 years, Barry and his organization, Birch Community Services, acted as the hands and feet for collecting and sharing God's provisions. Since 1992, Birch Community Services (originally known as Birch Gleaning) has been a membership-based one-stop-shop for the working poor, doling out food and other items for a nominal fee. The organization also runs community gardens and provides classes to its members.

    Barry’s calling was to serve people in need. Because of that, he was a regular fixture at Medical Teams International, where in 1993 he started a partnership with the distribution center that would span the years.

    Sadly, Barry died on March 31. While he’s gone in body, his spirit and legacy live on.

    Barry Birch eulogy Birch Community Services
    Barry Birch, surrounded by a pack of furry friends.

    Those who worked closely with Barry at MTI remember him for gleaning in the truest Biblical sense. Nothing went to waste. And he was a genuine guy, warm and witty.

    “He would accept everything from food to clothing or other materials,” said Neil Gillenwater, who worked as MTI’s warehouse manager from 1997 to 2002. “Very seldom was there something he couldn’t use.”

    Barry was also a very appreciative man. In a 1999 letter to MTI, he wrote about what a difference the partnership between the two organizations made.

    “Thank you so much for sharing generously with Birch Gleaning,” he wrote. “Your donations have made a significant difference in the success of the organization.”

    He was a familiar face around the MTI warehouse, showing up on a weekly basis to see what he could put to use. It was there that he would talk to Gillenwater about his Bible studies or joke around. He always seemed chipper, Gillenwater said, because he seemed to know that God would provide.

    Learning of Barry's passing was a shock to many at MTI. He was at the MTI warehouse only a few weeks ago. But he will remain in our thoughts and prayers as a partner in the truest sense who touched innumerable lives. Birch Community Services will live on, as will MTI’s partnership with it.

    As The Oregonian reported in its obituary for Barry, the Birch family is planning a memorial service at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 11 at Mountainview Christian Church. Remembrances may be made to the Barry Birch Memorial Fund at Birch Community Services.

  • Volunteer Story: Dr. Dale Canfield, Mobile Dental Volunteer

    by Tyler Graf | Apr 08, 2015


    Mobile Dental, work, Feb. 2015_Medical Teams International_Dr. Dale Canfield

    Dr. Dale Canfield and an assistant work on a patient's teeth during a Mobile Dental Clinic in February.

    Dr. Dale Canfield may be two years retired from his private dental practice, but that doesn’t mean he’s lost his sense of purpose.

    His patient roster used to be exclusively composed of high-powered attorneys and real estate developers; now he provides care to disadvantaged populations as a volunteer for Medical Teams International’s Mobile Dental Program, something he’s done for more than a decade.

    A 17-year MTI volunteer, Dr. Canfield has been on eight trips to Cambodia and has provided care to hundreds of low-income Oregonians. Twice a week he spends a shift on an MTI mobile clinic bus, fixing some of the worst dental destruction he’s ever seen. The tooth decay Canfield sees is caused by a variety of factors.

    Sometimes it’s the result of drug use among people who are trying to turn their lives around, kick the addiction and gain employment. Often, it’s because the closest clinic is too far away, and the patient can't afford reliable transportation. Almost all patients lack dental health insurance, including children. Many are homeless.  

    Whatever the reason, there’s a lot of work to be done combatting the country’s hidden health care need. “It’s changed my life,” Canfield said of his volunteerism.

    The patients he sees twice a week tug at his heart. He can’t believe the pain they’re in. Sometimes the agony is physical – searing pain shooting through their mouths. Other times, it’s psychological. These patients want to feel good about themselves and find work, but the first hurdle is fixing their teeth.

    What keeps Dr. Canfield going, aside from a sense of purpose?

    Canfield’s inspiration comes from his fellow volunteers, who have shown him what can be achieved through dedication and teamwork. One of his first trips to Cambodia brought him to an orphanage where he was part of a team providing dental services to parentless children. While there, two of his fellow volunteers said they would pay $1,500 apiece to put one of the orphans through dental school, if they could find one interested in the offer.

    As it so happened, there was one. And the volunteers made good on their promise, Canfield said. Not only did the child, now grown, complete dental school, he became part of MTI’s volunteer team in Cambodia. It is further proof of the self-perpetuating nature of philanthropy — how the act of giving inspires others to reciprocate the generosity.

    It’s a great feeling to be able to use the accumulated knowledge learned over a 55-year career to help those in need, Canfield said. Now in his 80s, he’s still going strong as a regular fixture at MTI’s Mobile Dental Clinics. He plans to continue volunteering for as long as he can.

    Volunteer today! MTI has volunteer opportunities both around the world and here at home, serving people affected by disaster, poverty and conflict. Find an opportunity for you today at MTI’s volunteer page. Thank you for your support!

  • Note from the Field: Syrian Refugee Settlements

    by Katie Carroll | Apr 08, 2015

    Today we received a note from one of our staff visiting the Syrian refugee settlements in Lebanon where MTI is working:

    "It’s heartbreaking here. The Syrian refugees are living in challenging conditions to say the least, with little hope of returning back home. They barely have enough to eat, conditions are not very sanitary and there is almost no ability to earn income. MTI is in 28 settlements providing medical care for chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as dental care for children. We are filling an important niche. It was clear today that the people in these settlements know MTI and they trust our staff. They were very warm and open. I heard from two different people – Ibrahim and Badra (pictured below) – that MTI treats them with dignity and respect. They feel encouraged in the midst of sadness and struggle. This is one way that our staff is 'demonstrating the love of Christ.'

    Please continue to pray…that the refugees here would find hope in the midst of their suffering and uncertain future."

    Thank you for your gifts to our relief programs. You are touching the lives of Syrian refugees during this trying time.

    syrian-refugee-settlement
  • Liberian Success Story: Inspiring Community Health Volunteers

    by Tyler Graf | Apr 06, 2015


    Liberia, Armah, April 2015, community health volunteer, Medical Teams International
    Armah, in the middle, flanked by two MTI staff members.

    Armah J. believed he could make a difference in the small Liberian community where he lived.

    He soon learned he could make a difference elsewhere, as well.

    He is a community health volunteer, on the front lines in the fight against Ebola. It’s a fight we’re winning, thanks to your generous gifts. Armah supports Ebola virus detection efforts in rural communities, while at the same time providing outreach and awareness.

    “I wanted to help my community out of my normal farm work,” Armah said. “I believe strongly that everyone can (make a) difference by taking small actions. So I will support (Medical Teams International’s) effort by sharing the same awareness they are doing.”

    He has been working closely alongside health care professionals since August, 2014, the height of the epidemic. The work has sent him to several communities in Liberia. In these communities, his job is to show people they can have confidence in health care workers.

    For many, Armah is the face of trust.

    In March, he returned to his hometown of Gbarngba. It was a bittersweet homecoming, as it came on the heels of the downswing in the number of reported Ebola cases in Liberia. He is better prepared for future health crises because of his experiences with Ebola. Armah said he hopes to use what he’s learned over these past few months to continue improving the health of others.

    “It is every time a new experience for me when I enter in a village to support the community, and I thank God for this opportunity,” Armah said. “My plan is to graduate next year and then attend the university to become a nurse.”

    Liberia is blessed to have such dedicated community health volunteers. Thank you for supporting their efforts through your amazing donations and heartfelt prayers! The Ebola epidemic has been a watershed crisis in West Africa, and the fight continues. To help us prepare for disasters the minute they strike, please donate to our disaster relief programs.

  • Syrian Refugee Success Story: No More Mouth Pain

    by Tyler Graf | Apr 03, 2015


    We recently received a story about three Syrian refugee children who obtained much-needed dental care thanks to your support and kind donations.

    Eleven-year-old Aya, 7-year-old Alla and 10-year-old Abdullah have been refugees in Lebanon for the past three years. Their previous lives in Syria are all but distant memories. Just a week after they left their house during the early days of the conflict in Syria, it was bombed to the ground.

    Lebanon, kid 2 (Aya, who received a filling), March 2015
    Aya, 11, received a filling.

    Lebanon, kid 4 (Alla, with toothbrush), March 2015
    Alla, 7, received a filling.

    Lebanon, kid 3 (Abdullah, who had tooth extracted), March 2015
    Abdullah, 10, had a tooth pulled.

    None of the kids has gone to school in years. None has received dental care, or oral hygiene education, either. The siblings have a sister who is severely disabled, and the family has spent all of its financial resources caring for her. There’s only so much to go around. The family hopes to resettle soon, but that effort will take time.

    Your donations are making a difference. You can see it on the smiles spread across the kids’ faces.

    At a dental clinic at one of the settlements, the three siblings got the care they needed. Aya and Alla received fillings, while Abdullah had a tooth pulled. In addition to the dental care, they received tooth brushes and toothpaste from Medical Teams International. The children are using them “three times a day!” they exclaimed.

    Before seeing the dentist, Aya said she was not able to eat. Abdullah said it was extremely painful to eat, especially when he ate sweets. With a big, sly smile, Abdullah admitted to liking cookies, ice cream and chocolate.

    Now he knows these are occasional foods – not meal replacements. And he should always drink a lot of water and brush his teeth. After seeing a dentist, the kids said they no longer have pain in their mouths. They’ve even become health advocates in their own right, telling their friends how important it is to brush their teeth.

    These wonderful smiles are the results of your willingness to come along side and help the world’s most vulnerable populations. Thank you so much! The lives of thousands of Syrian refugees are improved because of your donations.


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