Sharing Resources Helps Near and Far
Lisa Fernandez, RN
Click here to see the article on the Nursing Matters web site.
This article originally appeared on the Nursing Matters Website. Reprinted with permission.
• One thousand children on a South Dakota reservation receive warm winter coats
• A teenager in Nicaragua leaves the local wheelchair workshop with his first set of wheels, a big smile and a brand new sense of independence and mobility
• A Guatemalan child takes his first tentative steps on the soles of his feet, following club-foot repair by a medical mission surgeon
• A hospital in Kenya receives newborn incubators no longer needed by a Wisconsin Medical Center
• A newly built hospital in the Philippines receives beds for its patients
• A school in Nicaragua seats its children in school desks instead of on the dirt floor
• An 84 year old woman in Nicaragua sees clearly for the first time in 50 years, thanks to a new pair of glasses
• Donated Stethoscopes and newborn resuscitation equipment are carried by a physician to Afghanistan made the difference between life and death in the delivery room for children born under less-than-ideal conditions.
What do these moments of caring and community have in common? All were brought to you by Sharing Resources Worldwide in Madison, Wisconsin.
When Mary Dowling and I joined forces in January 2002 to form our non-profit, Sharing Resources Worldwide, we had no idea the power for change that would be unleashed. What we did know at the time was that there is an incredibly amount of waste here in the United States, and an equally great need in third world countries around the globe. For example, ever wonder what happens to the surplus hospital supplies you leave unused in the clinics or inpatient units where you work?
Or what happens to all the old admission kits when your hospital switches to a new kind? Or what about when a Skilled Nursing Facility closes - where do all those hospital beds, hospital furnishings, and miscellaneous supplies go? What do the medical supply companies do with materials they cannot distribute to hospitals? In the U.S. there is a constant turnover of medical supplies and equipment, and items are often discarded after little or no use. As vendors change inventories, huge stocks of medical supplies become surplus. These perfectly usable resources are destined for the Wisconsin landfills - a terrible waste, and an exacerbation of this country’s waste management problems. Mary and I saw a chance to make a real difference. Why not, we reasoned, establish a system to collect excess medical resources and send them overseas to help people in need?
Why not indeed! Talk about a win-win situation. If it weren’t for SRW the vast majority of surplus and recycled medical supplies and equipment in this state would be filling Wisconsin landfills. Last year alone, SRW saved 281 tons of precious lifesaving materials from our landfills and found them homes all around the world, where they can provide health and educational benefits to needy people. Wheelchairs, blood pressure cuffs, crutches, walkers, anesthesia machines, IV catheters, and wound dressings. You name it, we’ve got it!!
May and I are ordinary women, mothers and RNs (Mary works in the neonatal ICU at St. Mary’s and I work on the inpatient orthopedic unit at UW Health), and women with a deep commitment to doing whatever we can to make this world a better place. Sharing Resources Worldwide was a natural outgrowth of previous involvements. Mary had a long history of work in international aid, and in local and international foster care. I had organized the Wisconsin/Nicaragua Wheelchair Project, an effort to bring desperately needed wheelchairs to handicapped children and adults in Nicaragua. Because of our respective travels in Central and South America we were both keenly aware of the needs o the less fortunate - and especially the children - of the world. We had both worked with other non-profit organizations, and reached a point where we felt we could accomplish more by combining our experiences and talents in our own non-profit. So we pooled our resources and contacts and formed Sharing Resources Worldwide. Our mission? To improve the health and quality of life of families in need around the world, thereby empowering them to live with increased dignity, independence and hope.
SRW is entirely volunteer driven. Mary and I devote much of our time to handling administrative responsibilities, organizing missions and shipments, networking, fund-raising, and publicity. A corps of dedicated volunteers undertakes the collection, sorting, and packing of medical supplies and equipment. A nine-member board of directors, including health care professionals and prominent community leaders, provides guidance and direction. SRW rents a warehouse on Madison’s east side to store donated materials prior to shipping. We carry out our mission through three program components:
1. SRW collects surplus or “gently” used medical supplies and equipment from all over hospitals, medical supply companies, clinics, and individuals all over Wisconsin and beyond.. For example, on a weekly to bi-weekly basis our volunteer driver takes a truck and picks up laundry from the Madison United Hospital Laundry (MUHL), surplus supplies from UW Health Central Supply, and surplus items from Owens and Miner Medical Supply Company. How much stuff? Pallet load after pallet load. Enough to fill about 15,000 square feet of warehouse space. To prepare for shipment, materials are sorted, labeled and then packed in appropriate containers, and loaded onto large semi-trailers. Among the items shipped; wheelchairs, orthotic and prosthetic supplies, anesthesia machines, wound care supplies, manual hospital beds, surgical supplies, school supplies, clothing, and hospital linens. Whatever you can think of that you use in your patient care, we collect and ship where it is needed most.
A network of reliable host country partners has also been created. With on-site visits, SRW ensures that donated materials are in fact received by individuals in need. In addition, SRW has established links with national and international assistance organizations to dramatically multiply its efforts. Over the past three years, SRW has shipped nearly 600 tons of medical supplies and equipment, with an estimated value of $3.3 million, to 14 developing countries, such as Kenya, the Philippines, Cuba, Sierra Leone, the Middle East, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras.
2. Sharing Resources Worldwide sponsors the Wisconsin/Nicaragua Wheelchair Project.
Over the last 5 years, the Wisconsin/ Nicaragua Wheelchair Project has shipped over 700 wheelchairs to Matagalpa, Nicaragua. We have also established a fully independent wheelchair workshop there, where local people, many of them handicapped, are employed repairing and fitting wheelchairs to people, especially children, in Matagalpa and the surrounding barrios. WNWP demonstrates what can happen when resources (human, economic, material) are mobilized with commitment, dedication and skill to meet a pressing need. It is living proof that dreams CAN become realities - in fact, the realities can outstrip the dream. The distribution of wheelchairs and other mobility equipment to handicapped children and adults in Nicaragua is on-going throughout the year, and Sharing Resources Worldwide provides the necessary supplies and equipment to enable these accomplishments.
3. Sharing Resources Worldwide facilitates travel to developing countries by teams of up to 14 health care professionals. Each mission lasts about seven days; participating team members pay for their own airfare and accommodations.
Orthopedic, plastic and ophthalmologic surgeries are performed for children and adolescents under 18. In addition, patients receive treatment for a variety of illnesses, along with essential medications. Local health care workers receive training to ensure adequate patient follow-up. A recent mission member writes: “I have been lucky enough to go on many mission trips with SRW.... the most amazing thing I see when I go on a trip like this is the absolute trust I encounter every time I take a child from its mother’s arms to go into surgery. These moms don’t know me, or anyone else in the group, but they trust us completely.
They know we’ll do the best we can for their child. It’s refreshing to witness that kind of faith. When you look at the number of children who need help, compared to the number that we actually can help, it seems like a very small thing we’ve done. But when you look at the lives that have been changed by our efforts - a child who can walk normally and go to school, or a child who isn’t ridiculed because of her crossed eyes -then you realize that we have indeed accomplished a great thing.”
In 2004, missions were completed in Nicaragua (2), Guatemala, and Peru.
Feeling inspired to contribute to these efforts? Think about it ... you could ...
• Help sort and pack medical supplies and/or hospital laundry
• Organize a school supply drive at your local school
• Sponsor and organize a fund-raising event
• Collect usable materials at the hospital or clinic where you work
• Knit or crochet baby hats to be packed into our lovingly assembled “baby kits”
• Contact medical supply companies and hospitals in your area to solicit donations of supplies and equipment
• Make a monetary donation
• Help load a container
• Invite SRW to give your group a presentation
Check out our Web site (type Sharing Resources Worldwide into your favorite search engine) and read more about our work. We are currently under the umbrella of the Dean Foundation for our 501C3 status, and will soon be an independent 501C3). E-mail or call Mary or I and we would be glad to talk more with you.
You CAN make a difference.
Please note our new mailing address:
Sharing Resources Worldwide
2405 Industrial Drive
Madison, WI 53713
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