Medical Teams International | Official Blog

Stories of hope, health and lives transformed.

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  • Introducing Rebecka Jonsson: A heart for refugees

    by Tyler Graf | Jul 22, 2016

    Lebanon, Rebecka and girl, 2016
    Rebecka Jonsson, program officer for Africa and the Middle East, in Lebanon with a little friend.

    When Rebecka Jonsson’s great grandparents fled Cuba with their daughter – Rebecka’s maternal grandmother — they were laying the foundation for a better life for future generations.

    They were like so many other refugees, yearning for freedom and desperate to escape the clasps of persecution.

    Throughout her life, Rebecka has been inspired by this story: In the face of stiff challenges, with their lives and livelihoods hanging in the balance, her family made one of the toughest decisions anyone can make. They knew they had to do it, despite only having $200 to their name, which was sewn into a jacket pocket.

    Today, more and more people are making that decision, not because they’re looking for a better life, but because they simply have to survive. Both of Rebecka's grandparents knew this well, and so too does Rebecka.

    Rebecka’s background is a rich tapestry of cultures, languages and experiences. No wonder, then, that she ended up working for Medical Teams International as the program officer for Africa and the Middle East. 

    As a child, she grew up in three different cultures: in Spain, Sweden and the U.S. Because of that upbringing, Rebecka speaks English, Spanish, Swedish, French and Arabic. She says her exposure to these varied cultures has given her a firm understanding of people and a willingness to be open to new experiences.

    With all these factors swirling around her, she chose to study international affairs (with an emphasis on migration and economics) at George Washington University.

    Upon graduation, she went to the Democratic Republic of Congo to work at a Catholic hospital teaching English and Spanish. This was a formative experience, giving Rebecka a first-hand perspective of the other side of migration and sparking a passion for humanitarian aid. From this experience, she learned that migrants are like anyone you meet on the street, except they are caught in legal limbo. It's a situation that few people totally understand, least of whom might be the migrants themselves.

    “I went in thinking that I had to learn so much from the Congolese, as they were so foreign to what I was,” Rebecka says. “Yes, I did learn a lot from them, but I also realized that they are just like me or you – they have the same hopes, the same dreams, the same beliefs.”

    To further her education, Rebecka moved to France where she enrolled in a Masters of International Public Management, Migration and Applied Economic Theory at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, where she graduated in 2012.

    Rebecka then worked for a State Department-contracted resettlement program, in close association with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. While in Kenya, this put her in contact with displaced people on a daily basis. Analyzing the behavior of others is not simple, Rebecka says, especially when it’s new to you. "I try and take my time and not jump to conclusions," she adds.

    The stories she's heard over the years stick with her. Many she hears over and over again – like the story of a father, whose mere existence caused his childrens’ persecution and eventual deaths. For Rebecka, there is nothing worse than bearing witness to the unimaginable grief of a father who’s retelling the story of how a group of men came looking for him and, in finding he had fled, killed his children instead.

    Rebecka and her husband moved back to Portland, Ore., in 2014, when she joined Medical Teams International. Rebecka facilitates Medical Teams’ work in the Ugandan and Lebanese settlements. We are blessed to have her on the Team, as the needs among refugees is at the highest point in modern history.

    In 2015, an average of 24 people were displaced from their home country every single minute. There are roughly 65 million refugees living in settlements or camps, displaced all too often by persecution and violence.

    Every continent on earth is home to refugees, a disturbing number of whom are vulnerable women and children. The demands, significant as they are, don't dissuade Rebecka.

    “The fact that there are so many people that have been forcibly displaced today, be it internally or across a border, is disheartening,” Rebecka says. “I want to learn more about what can and is being done to assist those in need.”

  • Widespread violence in South Sudan forces refugees to flee to Uganda

    by Hannah Beighle | Jul 21, 2016

    Today, just five years after the glimmering hope of the country’s independence, South Sudan’s situation grows critical as violence and conflict sweep the nation. Some of the worst crimes are being committed against those that are most vulnerable. Political conflict has caused armed groups to commit massive acts of violence towards civilians, especially against women, children, and humanitarian workers. People across the country have been forced to flee from their homes and seek refuge in neighboring countries.

    Uganda, South Sudan’s neighbor, is facing a massive influx of South Sudanese refugees. Over 90% are women and children. So many need help - in one center, 7,000 refugees were forced to sleep outdoors while torrential rains flooded the compound.


    So many need help: New arrivals come to the Medical Teams International screening point where they wait to enter into a screening room.

    Without care, the situation could become much worse. Mothers who have lost their homes are struggling to feed their infants. Unvaccinated children are vulnerable to serious diseases in overcrowded camps. So many are at risk.

    South Sudan: A tumultuous history

    Despite a short history, South Sudan has faced nearly chronic challenges. After 25 years of civil war, the people of South Sudan hoped for a peaceful future after gaining independence in 2011. Sadly, this dream was overshadowed by conflict and poverty—from the start, South Sudan was one of the poorest countries in the world. Years of conflict, natural disasters, and chronic underdevelopment have left the country impoverished—one in seven women die during childbirth, only half the population has access to clean drinking water, and 84% of women are illiterate.

    Medical Teams International making a difference

    Partnering with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Medical Teams is implementing health and nutrition programs at Elegu, a popular point for refugees entering Uganda. Medical Teams is responsible for medical screening, nutritional screening, and immunization. Thousands are receiving the care they need - vaccines, medicine, essential vitamins. However, as the influx continues, resources are being stretched dangerously thin.


    A Medical Teams International emergency ambulance comes to Elegu to take a patient with liver cirrhosis to a nearby hospital. 

    We are working hard to help all those in need, but the massive influx of people in need means we need more supplies, more doctors and more support. It’s absolutely essential that these families get the care they need- and deserve. YOU have the power to make a difference in the lives of so many who have been torn apart from their homes and communities and we are so grateful for your support!

  • Tippy Taps: the lifesaving impact of handwashing

    by Hannah Beighle | Jul 15, 2016

    In areas like rural Guatemala, many people don’t have access to a simple practice we take for granted every day: washing our hands. Leonardo is one of the many children living in Senahu, Guatemala who gets sick often because of exposure to germs that could be avoided by safe hand washing practices. In 2013, Medical Teams International staff found that only 27% of mothers in this region washed their hands before preparing meals, feeding their children and after using the latrine. Even if they wanted to wash their hands, only about half of all homes had a handwashing station available to the family. 

    Dirty hands means serious health problems
    Why is this a big deal? Lack of handwashing and basic hygiene can contribute to diarrhea--one of the number one killers of children around the world. Leonardo is not the only child who gets sick because his hands are dirty: in rural areas of Guatemala, the incidence of diarrhea in children under 2 years old was 41% in 2013. Thanks to you, there is now a better solution. In addition to community training, Medical Teams International has a special tool to help protect young lives like Leonardo’s: the Tippy Tap.Guatemala_Leonardo_Tippy_Tap_Jan. 2016

    What is a Tippy Tap?
    Tippy Taps are buckets that hold five gallons and use only 40 milliliters of water to wash a child’s hands. Putting a Tippy Tap system in a family’s home allows families to practice good hygiene and reduce the incidence of diarrhea.

    Two years later
    After implementing the Tippy Tap system in many homes in 2013, Medical Teams staff returned two years later to find significant advances in these communities. Implemented in 16 communities, this project has impacted around 1,000 families. Now, nearly 90% of households have a handwashing station with clean water and soap in their homes.

    Leonardo is one of the many children whose life was affected by the Tippy Tap system. Before the system was put in his home, Leonardo frequently suffered from diarrhea and vomiting. After your help, Leonardo has learned about the importance of handwashing and uses the Tippy Tap to stay healthy!

    Thanks to your support, many others like Leonardo are able to live healthier lives with access to clean water and good hygiene.

    To learn more about the Tippy Tap and how it saves lives in Guatemala, see this report.

  • Zimbabwe: Final miles the hardest for precious shipment

    by Tyler Graf | Jul 14, 2016

    Zimbabwe, Chidamoyo Hospital shipment 2, July 2016 (1)

    Workers unload a shipment of medical supplies at Chidamoyo Christian Hospital after it got stuck for several hours on its way to the rural facility.

    A shipment of medical supplies and surgical equipment from medical Teams International bound for Chidamoyo Hospital in Zimbabwe was left temporarily in the lurch when the truck carrying it got stuck on a hill.

    It was 11 p.m. – three hours after the shipment was scheduled to arrive – before hospital employees discovered the truck on Zimaiwei, a steep hill about eight miles from the hospital. The shipment had come so far, traveling for months after departing Medical Teams International’s Tigard, Ore., distribution center, and yet this hill posed its greatest challenge.

    Hospital employees discovered the truck had jack-knifed on the incline and spent all night working to move it. The much-anticipated shipment’s predicament motivated the workers to do everything they could: Two tractors came to assist in the truck’s removal, but to no avail. Finally, at around 1 p.m. the next day, the hospital dispatched a convoy of smaller vehicles to meet the truck where it was stuck and start unloading the shipment from it.

    While those final eight miles took more time and effort than anticipated, they were worth it for the hospital staff, who now had pallets of life-saving and costly equipment, valued at more than $834,000.

    Chidamoyo Hospital has operated in northwest Zimbabwe for 30 years, serving a rural community comprising roughly 75 miles. In a typical month, the hospital’s primarily volunteer staff serve 3,000 patients. As part of that work, staff typically deliver 150 babies and conduct 115 surgeries. Medical Teams’ shipment will help ensure that these medical procedures happen without incident, saving lives in the process. 

    Thank you for your support of Medical Teams International and making shipments like this one happen. Through your generosity, anything is possible. There is no hill that's too steep, no challenge that's too great. 
  • Sak's Story: A Cambodian mother

    by User Not Found | Jul 01, 2016

    Sak was desperate as she listened to her child’s labored breathing and raspy coughs. She was overwhelmed – and feared the worst for little Lysa.

    After a three-hour journey from her small Cambodian village of Thama, Sak arrived in the town of Siem Reap only to find everything closed for an unexpected holiday - the country’s king was visiting the town that very day, and nothing was open.Sak-cambodia-health

    She was so afraid for her child. What if the hospital was closed, too? Sak had borrowed money for the expensive taxi ride and hospital bills, and she left behind a farm that needed tending.

    She couldn’t afford to simply come back another day, and she did not know if her daughter would survive the delay. When she arrived at the hospital it looked closed and she feared the worst. She pounded on the doors and began screaming- she thought they were alone, and she was so afraid and so frustrated. She cried out and prayed: “Help my daughter!”

    As it turned it, doctors were there. They heard her cries and could treat her daughter.

    Borrowing more money and sinking deeper into debt, Sak spent the next month going back and forth between her home and the hospital. It was so expensive, but she had no choice if she wanted to keep her daughter alive. Finally, after a month, she received good news: her daughter was healthy again. Lysa returned home weak and exhausted – but alive.

    Sak recalls the terrifying experience of almost losing Lysa to a preventable and treatable illness: “I cried a lot during that time.” This time, Lysa was one of the lucky ones.

    Although Lysa survived, her mother still felt powerless and afraid. She knew that without preventative care, death and disease were very real threats for her family. She never wanted to relive this nightmare again.

    That’s when Sak learned about Medical Teams International. She heard about the classes she could take to learn about hygiene, nutrition, and illness prevention. Enrolling in this program helped Sake feel empowered to take care of her children. Relief and happiness replaced her anxiety, and her two children have gained weight and are healthy. Sak smiles, as she explains how Medical Team’s International’s classes and child growth monitoring will leave lasting results: “In the future, when this activity is finished, I can do this by myself.”

    It's because of your support that we are able to provide these lifesaving educational programs to Sak and other mothers like her. On behalf of Sak and Lysa, thank you for your generous support.