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Medical Teams Blog: Stories of boldly breaking barriers to health

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  • Guest post: Today's word of the day is LOVE

    by Kellie & Jennie, Providence Health International | Mar 03, 2017

    Originally published by Providence Health International. This post comes from Kellie and Jennie, Providence Health volunteers who recently served with us in Guatemala. Read their heartfelt reflections from journeying into the rural communities. We're proud that Providence has been our long-time partner, providing resources and volunteers for the marginalized communities we serve.

    Join them on their journey and get to know some of the incredible people you're supporting:

    The word for today is LOVE.

    We arrived at the village and were treated to an hour-long opening ceremony of music, dance and speeches in Pokomchi and English. The children were curious, kind, well-behaved and most of all patient.


    LOVE is patient.

    We saw sisters caring for babies and boys playing with brothers, friends hugging each other. The line between family and neighbors is blurred, kindness runs deep. 

    LOVE is kind.

    We saw men paying it forward by helping their neighbors build a stove. And women caring for all the children. Sharing is a strong culture. We saw no jealousy or envy.

    LOVE is not jealous or boastful.

    We saw children and adults alike receiving gifts with grace. The men did not need us to help build the stoves but were not proud and let us participate.

    LOVE is not proud.

    We saw mothers stopping their chores to be gracious hosts, bringing tea or food to the workers. We saw children trying to return crayons after they had colored their picture. Politeness is more prevalent than rudeness.

    LOVE is not rude.

    We saw children calling to other children or running to get them when we handed out crayons, bubbles and stickers. Including others in an opportunity is their way of life, not hording or self-seeking. 

    LOVE is not self-seeking.

    We never saw anyone angry. When the toys ran out and if a child didn’t get one, they were resigned; but not angry.

    LOVE is not easily angered.

    We saw hope, happiness and endurance.

    LOVE hopes all things and endures all things.

    Faith, hope, love but the greatest is love.

  • World Faces Record Refugee Crises: What YOU Can DO to HELP

    by Martha Newsome | Mar 01, 2017


    The world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II, surpassing 65.5 million refugees worldwide - an unprecedented number. While the needs of Syrian refugees are widely publicized and receiving some desperately-needed support from organizations including Medical Teams International, the expanding crisis in South Sudan is underreported and underfunded. And while the news headlines in the U.S. are mainly focused on the small number of refugees coming into our country, the global problem is 1,300 times as great with “no room in the inn” and a price tag no one wants to pay.

    martha-with-refugeesLast month, I toured remote districts in Uganda hosting almost a million refugees from six nations.  Quietly and without fanfare or violence, an average of 3,500 refugees arrive at the Ugandan transit sites from South Sudan every day, and our Medical Teams International staff see every single one.Refugees – mostly women and children because many men stay behind to defend land or fight in the civil war – line up to wait for health screenings so they can receive a rudimentary supplies kit, be bussed to a barren plot of land to build a makeshift house, and begin their lives of waiting and wondering, hoping their homelands become safe enough to return, not knowing if or when that day may come.

    Today, just one month later, there are more than 1.5 million refugees who have fled South Sudan. This is the largest refugee crisis in Africa and the third largest in the world, after Syria and Afghanistan. One hundred thousand South Sudanese are on the brink of starving with famine now declared. Another five million need immediate food assistance. And there are indicators that things could get much worse as genocide in South Sudan is increasingly possible. 


    One young South Sudanese man haunts my memory. He traveled thousands of miles with his brother to our health center after he was shot. His thin body and hollow cheeks told a grim story of the pain he experienced. Our staff nurses and doctors treated his gunshot wound—ensuring his survival even as he faces an uncertain future in Uganda. 

    The truth is, the United States has taken in ONLY 0.001% of the worldwide refugee population, but the majority of refugees, like this young man, wait for peace to return home with no hope of emigrating anywhere. Prosperity is simply a fantasy for the refugees who wait hoping for just the basics: shelter, primary healthcare, food rations, and perhaps education so that this next generation of children might be able to create a viable future that their homelands desperately need.

    More people than ever before are suffering as the result of both natural and human-made disasters. When political actors fail to fix a broken world, it’s incumbent upon people who are compassionate to restore physical, emotional and spiritual wholeness. Countries like Uganda, Lebanon and Turkey are currently shouldering the brunt of the refugee crisis sweeping the globe – they are hosting millions – but we can also do  our part to help change the future for refugees right where they are now.  

    Overloaded yet uncomplaining staff from Medical Teams International, the United Nations refugee agency, the World Food Programme, and many other partners are working diligently to receive, process, and care for millions of refugees worldwide. The temporary health refugee-relief-how-you-can-helpcenters are teeming with people, and the pediatric wards are full of little ones. The bulk of the world’s refugees need help and want nothing more than to return to a safe home. While we can’t open our doors to these far off neighbors, we can be compelled by compassion and called to action to consider our role in restoring wholeness in a broken world – there is no time to waste and there is no better time.

    -Martha Holley Newsome

    Here are some tangible ways you can make a difference right now:

    1. Support UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.
    2. Support private organizations like Medical Teams International who are on the front lines in responding to refugees who flee their countries longing for a safe place to land. Donate now.
    3. Support government funding for refugees as a way to stabilize marginalized populations and prevent terrorism from taking root.
    4. Do your part to humanize the issue of refugees, remembering that they are ordinary people just like you and me who love their families desperately and want to live in peace.
    5. Call your congressperson to tell them you support ongoing state department funding for refugee families around the world.
  • South Sudan crisis: FAQ's & How you can help

    by Emily Sitler | Feb 22, 2017


    This week, the United Nations (UN) declared a famine in South Sudan. The formal announcement comes as people have already started dying of hunger and thousands are fleeing every day to escape starvation and violence. This severe food shortage is a result of a violent, ethnically-charged civil war that’s been ongoing since 2013. Learn more about the crisis and find out how you can make a difference.


    Q: When did the civil war begin?

    After South Sudan’s independence in 2011, deep ethnic divisions remained. An attempted coup in 2013 ignited a civil conflict between the government and oppositions forces. This fighting intensified in July 2016 after a peace deal between various groups collapsed. Civilians are caught in the middle of that fighting, leading to a surge in refugees fleeing violence to find security in neighboring countries, including Uganda.  

    Q: How does war lead to famine?

    Much of the fighting has centered around South Sudan’s agriculturally rich Equatoria region, where war is now sown instead of food. Due to disrupted farming and surging food prices, food insecurity and malnutrition have worsened since the conflict started three years ago – triggering widespread famine. This violence and hunger has resulted in 1.5 million refugee and asylum-seekers fleeing South Sudan to surrounding countries, according to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees.

    Q: What exactly is a famine?

    A food security crisis becomes a famine when at least 20 percent of households face extreme food shortages. Thirty percent or more of the population must also face acute malnutrition, and the death rate must exceed two people per 10,000 per day.

    Q: How many people are affected in South Sudan?

    Almost 5 million people, more than 40 percent of the country's population, are in need of urgent help, UN agencies say. More than 100,000 people are already starving in parts of South Sudan. The UN fears another 1 million people are on the brink of starvation. More than 1.5 million victims have fled to neighboring countries for safety and relief.

    Q: How are aid groups helping victims in need?

    Due to the violence, it’s extremely difficult to reach the hardest-hit areas to make aid deliveries. Humanitarian aid in the region is already thinly stretched, but it could get even worse. With fewer domestic solutions, more and more victims are fleeing for relief in neighboring countries. Roughly 3,500 refugees per day cross Uganda's borders. Our teams provide health screenings, emergency medical treatment and referrals for refugees entering the nation. We also provide medical care for refugees living in settlements across the nation, including new camps that are being opened to meet the surging needs.

    Q: How is Medical Teams International responding?

    Roughly 3,500 refugees per day pour across Uganda’s borders, into cramped intake areas where Medical Teams International provides health screenings and referrals. Malnourishment, malaria and cholera are among the most common issues that we are treating. Of the 1.5 million South Sudanese refugees globally, Medical teams International works in the settlements serving 520,000 of these vulnerable people (and that number is rising as more flee South Sudan).

    Key Facts:

    • Over 1.5 million South Sudanese have fled to become refugees, escaping ethnically-charged violence and starvation.
    • Roughly 3,500 refugees per day cross into Uganda, seeking safety and relief.
    • Our teams are working in settlements that serve 520,000 refugees in Uganda, and we're rapidly expanding our work to meet the growing need.
    • More than 40% of the population of South Sudan are in need of help, UN sources say.

    With your help, our teams can help those in need:

    Famine and war in South Sudan is impacting millions. Your support is critical to help the thousands who are seeking relief in Uganda. How can you help?

    1. Spread the word by sharing the news on FacebookInstagram or Twitter.
    2. Make a donation to our refugee relief programs.
    3. Please pray for the victims affected by this disaster.
  • Volunteer Spotlight: Art

    by Camille Freestone | Feb 17, 2017

    Our volunteers are at the heart of everything we do. This is part of a special feature about the volunteers that make our headquarters work possible. Meet Art, a hard-working volunteer who recently helped renovate our Real Life Exhibit in Tigard, Oregon!

    The twinkly-eyed man in front of me has the physical markers of a hard worker. Sturdy, in spite of age, with hands scarred ever so slightly by years of manual labor. Art’s open face and honest eyes seem to tell me that there is no more to him than the former handy-man/teacher standing before me.

    What had brought this unique individual to Medical Teams International? How did a teacher, turned vice principal, become the construction aficionado lending me his expertise? His recent work on two vignettes in the exhibit showed extensive capabilities, but building was not his chosen profession – how did he end up here? These were all questions I hoped to answer during our brief interview.

    Singer, teacher, handyman.

    Raised in the Portland area in the 1950 and '60s, Art spent his teenage days crooning with a singing quartet, made up of five young men. Apparently, they eventually realized their quartet had one too many fellows and Art began accompanying the set on the piano to numerically balance the group. At the time he decided to make this transition Art didn’t actually know how to play the piano, but that was no matter he told me– he would teach himself.

    In describing the volunteer environment, he notes the selfless and kind people - he may not know it, but he’s describing himself.

    At this point I have to pause the interview to let out a laugh. Teacher, construction expert… and singer? But I realize I shouldn’t be so surprised. If I’d been paying attention, I’d have noticed the baritone hidden by his slightly gruff talking voice. And his offhanded way of discussing things he’d learned just because he felt like it was nothing new. That is just Art’s attitude about everything, and what makes him such an invaluable member of our team: No matter – I’ll figure it out.

    After years of quartets and accompaniments, Art tells me that he began volunteering his talents for the Almighty by playing piano in his church. His musical talents escaped no one’s notice, and shortly thereafter, he was asked to direct the choir. He was 17 years old.

    In 1975, at the age of 26, Art began his career as a special education teacher, a career to which he felt an emotional calling. After more than a decade of dedicating his professional life to students with special needs, Art pursued the certifications needed to become a vice principal, a job he stayed in until he retired from Westview High School

    Retirement didn’t really suit Art, so he began investing in and flipping houses until the housing bubble burst in the late 2000s. With house-flipping no longer a stable option, Handyman Art, LLC was born.

    To my surprise (having seen him in action), Art didn’t realize his own affinity for this type of work until he and his young wife Arlena purchased this first home - “a real fixer upper.” By this time, Art’s father-in-law, a farmer with genius for engineering and construction, had taken him under his wing while helping renovate the new house. He quickly became one of the most influential people in Art’s life.

    Working together, using skills to help those in need.

    The skills that he learned with his father-in-law proved to be valuable throughout Art’s life. With the prospect of a second retirement looming in the late 2000s, Art opened business as a general contractor in 2009 and worked for another six years before retiring completely in 2015. But unsurprisingly, retirement’s leisure once again proved too much for Art and he began volunteering for Habitat for Humanity almost immediately. Using his construction skills to serve those in need was fulfilling, but by 2015 Arlena was also retired, and wanted to an opportunity to put her nursing skills to use in an equally meaningful way.

    As they learned more, Arlena realized she could use her medical knowledge to serve alongside Art, sorting medical supplies in the distribution center.

    Providence was smiling on Medical Teams International when Art and Arlena ran into an old friend. She told them all about her own volunteer experience at Medical Teams, and suggested that they explore the opportunity. As they learned more, Arlena realized she could use her medical knowledge to serve alongside Art, sorting medical supplies in the distribution center.

    Over the last year and a half, they have served weekly in the distribution center. Art also took a three week sabbatical from the distribution center to help rebuild two vignettes in the exhibit, during which time I had the privilege of getting to know him. The new vignettes – Cambodia and Mobile Dental – helped bring the exhibit into line with Medical Team’s current work around the world and here at home. In describing the volunteer environment, he notes the selfless and kind people - he may not know it, but he’s describing himself. His own dependable and heartfelt service doesn’t go unnoticed. Medical Teams International is lucky to have Art and Arlena on the team.

  • Reflections + Updates: Cambia and Medical Teams International Partnership in Uganda

    by Emily Crowe | Feb 15, 2017

    This post is from Cambia Health Solution's blog, The Pulse. We're proud that Cambia has been our partners for years, providing life-changing support for our dental program and working over the past two years to develop a ground-breaking technical solution for our Uganda clinics. Our goal is that this solution will provide better healthcare for the massive influx of refugees entering the country-- impacting and potentially saving many lives.


    An Android application was the first step to a health management solution created in partnership by Cambia and Medical Teams International. However, the real accomplishment is found in people’s lives: providers using the app can be more efficient in their daily work, and patients receiving the care they need at the time they need it most.

    Last November, we followed Cambia employees Ivan Lebed and Cathi Row as they traveled to Uganda with Medical Teams to implement an Android app for medical records and patient data You can read Part I and Part II of their experiences training staff and observing how the app was used in real time.

    We recently caught up with Ivan and Cathi to learn more about their experiences, their takeaways and progress on the app’s development.

    Reflections from Ivan and Cathi

    A “typical” day in Uganda began early with variable shower temperatures (if water was available), local food like matoke (a type of starchy green banana) served with goat or beef, and long drives on bumpy roads. However, it was the hours spent with clinicians and patients one-on-one that helped Ivan and Cathi see how the cause of simplifying and personalizing health care is profoundly needed.

    Says Cathi, “I was emotionally impacted by a mom with a nearly three-year-old child who received a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. She showed no emotion or reaction; it was a fact of life to her – yet very hard for me.  Even though I was relatively well prepared by co-workers who went last year, I was most surprised by the strength and perseverance of the people who live here. The people I worked with, side-by-side, were employed in good jobs, but don’t have access to much. Yet at the same time, they face adversity with happiness and hope and are open, welcoming, helpful, and passionate about the work they do.”

    “I did not expect the people's optimism,” says Ivan. “Going into Uganda I didn't realize how uplifting the experience would be. Even in difficult economic situations people find ways to innovate. I saw creativity in all aspects of Ugandan life—from agriculture and transportation to education and politics. Having spent time amongst the people of Uganda, I leave full of hope, knowing that innovation here thrives in good spirit.”

    Next Steps for the App Development

    Cambia and Medical Teams’ development teams regrouped in early December for a focused development sprint to resolve issues found in the application during the November implementation. When the new version of the application was rolled out to Uganda users, the team received great feedback—one clinician successfully used the new version to diagnose 81 patients its first day of use.

    The project continues to receive positive responses from clinicians, Medical Team’s Ugandan technical staff, the UNHCR, and the Ugandan Office of the Prime Minister (OPM.)