Volunteerism: a strictly love relationship

What does it mean to volunteer? Why is it so important? For myself, being an AmeriCorps member serving with the Pittsburgh HealthCorps, the act is pretty much natural. I hadn’t incorporated volunteering into my life until the end of my college career and I think it was the perfect time to do so. My age and maturity level were finally running on a parallel path. Everyday I wake up, I realize that what I do day in and day out is not for myself, rather it is for everyone else, including my temporary home/community in Pittsburgh, my Pittsburgh HealthCorps family, our Global Links partnering countries, and most importantly our Global Links volunteers!

Volunteers turn our goal into their goal.

Volunteers turn our goal into their goal.

Volunteers are the concrete foundation of this wonderful non-profit organization and they strictly love it. Every day new/returning volunteers walk in the door and I get to greet them! I get to overload them with information regarding the organization which I have fallen in love with. Then, I get to understand why they volunteer, what motivates them to do so, and how it impacts and affects their lives (and much of the time, how they have fallen in love also). I will say that I enjoy the company of others to no limit, quote for heather blogand having been placed at a site which I can most closely relate and connect with volunteers has been nothing but a blessing. The passion and dedication that some of our volunteers have is priceless. Priceless, no pun intended. This passion is not only seen within our building, but maybe in front of a sewing machine, 80 baby bags later, sewn by a relatively new, fascinated and head-over-heels volunteer.

Every year our volunteers put in over 10,000 hours of dedicated time, turning our goal into their goal. It is a humbling experience to come to work and be part of such a relaxing, calming, and motivated environment. As many know, things change constantly at Global Links and the flexible dynamic of our volunteers really shows the support that we have behind us. It has been nothing but a pleasure to find myself constantly surrounded by volunteers who have the same strictly love relationship for volunteering as I do.

Volunteering is an overall great experience.  It gives us the opportunity to learn about ourselves, to learn about those around us, to build new relationships, and in some cases of international volunteering we can learn about a completely different culture.  Whatever our reasons for volunteering may be, someone’s quality of life is benefiting.

“An Honor to be a Part of Such a Dedicated Group”

I first talked to Marie Winters from Steel City Mission Group right after the earthquake in Haiti in January, 2010. That was an incredible, hectic time – we were all so focused on packing emergency medical materials for our own aid shipments as well as people from the area who were going over to help.

I remember one amazing conversation I had with Marie, in which I told her how much I wished I could go to Haiti with her and her colleague, Esther Kanfoush, both nurse practitioners. I’m not a clinician, and I didn’t think I would be useful. Even worse, I’d use up resources that were needed for others, either the Haitians who were suffering, or the people who could actually help. It was better for me to stay out of the way, and just make sure Marie and Esther had what they needed.

Esther Kanfoush and kids from the community

Esther Kanfoush and kids from the community.

Marie told me they had a bigger trip planned the next month, for the Dominican Republic, and that they would find a way for me to be useful, if I was really interested. One month later, I met the group for the first time – at the airport.

It was a memorable trip. Now I have just returned from my second trip with this wonderful group to the same area, in the Samaná region. There is a very high level of poverty there, and many families lack clean drinking water.

Our group provided basic primary care to over 2,000 patients, donated several hundred water filters to families in the region, and the construction crew built an entire house. They also poured cement floors and did other much-needed home repairs.


Talbot Reiber, Lauren Dowling, Lynn Winter Maynard, Lee Worthington and Hayley Brugos

Talbot Reiber, Lauren Dowling, Lynn Winter Maynard, Lee Worthington and Hayley Brugos

Some of the nebulizers and other medical supplies for the trip came from Global Links, as well as gauze for the dentist.

I was so glad the materials from Global Links could provide some real assistance, and that I was able to take part in this service trip. It was an honor to be a part of such a dedicated group of individuals and a true joy to meet so many wonderful people in the communities where we worked.

"Awesome kids!"

“Awesome kids!”

Kids Helping Kids

Kids helping kids – what an inspiring phrase. Even more inspiring is watching this in action. I had the opportunity to do that last month and even be involved on some small scale.

Streams boy

Every year, Streams Elementary School in Upper St. Clair holds a fundraiser in which the entire K-4 school rallies around a cause, devotes a month to various lessons around issues the cause addresses, holds collections – both monetary and in-kind – and then the whole thing culminates in a big family friendly silent auction and festival in which thousands of dollars are raised for the cause. This year, Streams chose Global Links and raised almost $6300! All raised by kids (and their families) to help kids (and their families) in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Streams’ focus area with Global Links was our Mother-Baby Bag Project. This project was originally inspired years ago by a hospital in rural Nicaragua, where we learned about the hardships a mama-to-be there must face. Everything is a choice. Making the choice to seek out prenatal care is also making the choice to spend the entire day walking to and from the nearest clinic and waiting sometimes for hours to be seen. Should that mother-to-be choose this, she is also choosing not to go to work that day. If she has other kids at home, that choice means the likely $2 or so she might have earned that day will not be available for her to provide food for them that night. Lack of convenient access to health care is just one of the reasons why otherwise minor pregnancy issues, if not addressed in a timely manner, can turn into major complications and even the death of the mother or baby.

Streams packing

The hospital in Nicaragua wanted an incentive to encourage pregnant women to come in for prenatal care and attended births — the goal of our Mother-Baby Bag Project. The beautiful and reusable bags are sewn by volunteers and filled with all kinds of items one needs for a new baby. They are then included in most of our shipments to medical facilities, where they are used as incentives for moms to seek prenatal care. The choice helps offset the loss of daily wages because the items in the bag provide real assistance.


Not only did Streams students collect money to ship these bags and strengthen this program, they also collected baby items to fill these bags. Cloth diapers, new receiving blankets and clothing, wipes, lotions, all go in. The students put their love into the bags by decorating onesies and making special cards welcoming the new baby.

baby cards 3Then a group of the 4th graders came to Global Links after school one day to pack the bags full of all of the items they lovingly collected and created. They were able to bring this project full circle. And it came full circle for us this past Friday, when we loaded up our 500th shipment, and included the baby bags.

Streams kids

Kids helping kids. Beautiful.


Day One in Peru: Up Front and Center

In celebration of Peace Corps week, Inventory and Volunteer Coordinator Matt Fuller reflects on his fast introduction to conditions in underserved communities, and the dedicated people who work in them.

Those who work in underserved countries know that even though you may start out with a plan, you never know how it will all unfold. On my first day as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sausal (Peru), a town of about 3,000 people plunked into the middle of sugar fields, I decided to walk to the local health post and introduce myself. Halfway up the road to the health post, I began to see about ten of the local health post staff coming my way! We stopped when we crossed paths and after many impromptu introductions in the middle of the street, Paty, the head nurse, explained that the health post had organized an HIV/AIDS awareness parade with the local high school that day. And since I had come to visit the health post, I should come along with them.

When I entered the high school, I saw over 200 students organized into rows with hand-made signs promoting AIDS awareness, abstinence and condom use. Seeing that everything was set up, I figured that I wouldn’t be much use and thought to meet up with the health post staff at a less hectic time. I started to excuse myself and let the staff know I’d visit them tomorrow, when Dr. Julio interrupted with a somewhat teasing look in his eye.

“Hey Mateo – since you’re new here you should be up front with us holding the banner. That way, everyone in town will see who you are!”

At the time, I was the type of person who wades into things gradually – gets a feel for the situation before making a move. I wasn’t one for loud introductions, wasn’t clamoring to be the center of attention. But the health staff was already delighted with this moment both for its practicality (introducing the town to Mateo) and its potential for awkwardness. And on your first day, you want to make a good impression, right? So the doors opened and the parade was let out of the school and into the town, with a 6’2” tall and lanky gringo leading the way. While it was awkward and uncomfortable at the beginning (and the banner was heavy!), it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. And it was an instant ‘in’ with the health post staff, who treated me to lunch afterwards.

One of the most important aspects of a Peace Corps Service is forming partnerships. These partnerships help volunteers build inroads into the community and help to ensure long-term impact and sustainability. Organizing a parade might seem like a small task, but it shows that the health post staff really wanted to work on community education and preventive health and not just stay inside their building. While leading a parade through town wasn’t necessarily how I thought I would start my Peace Corps service, it turned out great.

Working with the doctors and nurses in Sausal really showed me the dedication and vocation of health workers in underserved areas. They are often underfunded, over-worked and have few resources to do their job. For me, knowing first-hand the dedication and motivation of these health care workers makes my work at Global Links all the more fulfilling and meaningful.

Matt, center, at his goodbye party.

Matt, center, at his goodbye party.

We Heart Sutures


we heart sutures email header

Why are we thinking about sutures so much, as Valentine’s Day approaches? Because we’re thinking about all the things we love, and we’ve heard about many successful repairs of cardiac defects with sutures from Global Links. We love those stories.

For example, 6-month-old Meera* was born with a ventricular septal defect, or a hole in her heart. The surgeons at Miraj Medical Center in India, a long-time partner in our Suture Donation Program, used sutures from Global Links to repair the defect, and Meera was able to go home with her ecstatic parents.

Happy family with baby after successful cardiac surgery

Miraj is dedicated to providing healthcare to people unable to pay for it – like all the hospitals in our Suture Donation Program – and the very expensive sutures necessary for operating on a tiny baby heart are essential.

Sutures are easy to pack and carry, and a good supply makes a huge impact on the care a hospital can provide. With sutures, women can have c-sections. Potentially fatal wounds can be properly closed. Babies’ hearts can be healed.

Since 1989, Global Links Suture Donation Program has been collecting surplus sterile sutures from hospitals across the United States and sending them to hospitals in underserved communities. But we need your help.

A gift of $400 will keep one hospital or clinic in the program for a year.  $125 will ship a box of sutures to almost anywhere in the world. And $25 will ship sutures to a US courier traveling overseas to deliver suture. Because while we love sutures, the program can’t run on love alone.

Please make a secure on-line donation here and be sure to designate the Suture Program in the drop-down menu. Want to be sure the next Meera has what she needs for a healthy heart? Become a Global Giver and make a recurring donation.

*Not her real name

Urgent Call: Baby Supplies for Bolivian Flood Aid Project

Water up to the rooftops in Beni, Bolivia.

Water up to the rooftops in Beni, Bolivia.

As deadly floods drown large tracts of land in Bolivia, killing hundreds and submerging entire communities, Global Links is preparing a container of urgently needed materials and calling for community support. The donation will contain items for emergency medical care such as gurneys, gloves and masks, as well as other items.

Read more about the disaster here.

Two girls walking through the floodwaters in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Two girls walking through the floodwaters in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

We are asking the community for donations of baby clothes in sizes up to two years, baby blankets, and hygiene supplies including cloth diapers, diaper cream, baby shampoo, baby powder, and soap. Our partners at the Bolivian social service agency Unidad de Gestion Social have asked us to include as many of these items as possible to help families who lost everything in the terrible floods.

New or gently used baby clothes that are clean and in good condition are being accepted through February 17.

All donations must be received by Monday February 17 to be included in the shipment.

Your financial donation will help Global Links come to the assistance of these communities. Please make a secure on-line donation here.

Please share this post on social media. Thank you!

How a Simple Hook can Improve Healthcare

The request was simple – secondary IV sets, along with some extra hooks – but having them saves the busy nurses at Hospital Vicente Corral Moscoso a lot of needless labor. Lisa Nagy is a nursing student at University of Pittsburgh, and when she was doing a rotation at the hospital in Cuenca, Ecuador, last summer, she noticed that the staff needed hooks to hang secondary bags of IV medication.

Lisa took the donation of IV sets and hooks from Global Links on her most recent trip to Ecuador in December, and she was able to train nursing staff on how to use the new materials, which are reusable.

“These hooks for secondary sets are very useful,” Lisa wrote to us, “because they make it possible to know when a patient receives important medications.  For example, if a small bag of antibiotics and a larger bag of fluids are hung at the same level, the antibiotic will not infuse until after the bigger bag of fluids has infused because the force of gravity causes the bag with the greatest volume to infuse first.  By changing the levels with a hook, the patient receives the most important medication first.

“Additionally, this setup can reduce work for nurses, who might otherwise infuse each bag individually. Since the lower bag infuses automatically when first bag is finished, they don’t have to keep checking.”

This is the kind of “small device, big impact” improvement from our Medical Service Trip program that we love to share. By having this one need filled, nurses are freed up for more patient care – better for them, and better for their patients.

Find out more about our Medical Service Trip Program here – and please consider supporting this “big impact” program.

IV hooks from Global Links in action in Ecuador.

IV hooks from Global Links in action in Ecuador.