SRW - Keeping in Step with Our Vision
Mary Dowling, 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.
Steps. We don’t even think about them as we hurry through our days. Sometimes it takes a miracle, witnessed in another country, to make an American appreciate the blessings of two healthy feet. A ten-year-old Nicaraguan boy has stumped around on severely deformed feet his whole life. But thanks to the generosity of an American orthopedic surgeon, part of a medical mission team, this boy can now wear shoes, walk normally and even ride a bike. At his post-op check-up, the whole room glows with his happiness and the smiles of his parents, who had lost all hope of ever finding help for their son. In a recovery room in Honduras, a mother stands beside me as we watch her nine-year-old son wake up from surgery to correct his crossed eyes. She describes how adults and children have teased him, and how a teacher hit him for not paying attention and looking at her during class. When he leaves the hospital, this child will have a new appearance, newfound confidence and a new outlook on life.
At Sharing Resources Worldwide (SRW), our mission is to make surplus and recycled medical equipment and supplies, durable medical equipment, and related items and services available to needy populations around the world. SRW endeavors to improve the health and quality of life of those it serves, and to empower them to live with increased dignity, independence and hope.
As a nurse for many years, a mom, grandmother, and former foster mother of 60 children over a 20-year period, I have experienced firsthand many miracles resulting from generosity and human kindness reaching across miles and cultures. In 1990, our family hosted our first international foster child, who came from Panama for open-heart surgery in Madison. In 1993, I went on my first medical mission to Nicaragua. I have known first hand that as nurses, doctors, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, we have much to offer in working toward a common goal-the health and wellbeing of our children and our world’s future. This is my motivation for co-founding Sharing Resources Worldwide, and the driving force, which compels me to continue working toward the goals that make SRW what it is.
Since SRW began in 2002, more than 500 disabled children and adults in Nicaragua have received wheelchairs and other devices that give them a mobility that was once only a dream. I know from first-hand experience what a difference a wheelchair can make. My own 26-year-old daughter Becca, who was born without the use of her arms or legs, has been in a power wheelchair since she was three years old. I recall our own difficult days when Becca’s wheelchair was in for repairs. I know she would never have developed the social skills and motivation to learn and study if she hadn’t been in a normal school environment. Our first adopted child, she is now a tenaciously independent young woman with many dreams and goals.
Each year SRW ships more 40-foot containers full of school supplies, medical supplies, and medical equipment to more destinations worldwide. Nineteen shipments in 2004 saved 281 tons of useful supplies and equipment that was destined for Wisconsin landfills. This “trash”-sterile dressings, sterile gloves, antiseptic solutions, anesthesia machines - is now saving lives and improving health all over the world. By the end of 2005, we will send at least 21 containers from our warehouse dock, accomplish two medical missions, and send over 150 wheelchairs to Nicaragua. Even though we can’t accompany every container or suitcase of supplies, we know they accomplish their mission: giving hope and life to thousands at their destination points.
Sometimes we do get to accompany supplies, when we travel to other countries as medical mission team members, as I have done 25 times. The mothers and fathers I’ve met in faraway clinics and recovery rooms will forever be part of my life and motivate me to continue the work of SRW. I know our surgical teams make a difference in many lives, and not only the lives of patients. While working in a Nicaraguan recovery room, I spent time talking to a gynecological surgeon who was trained in the former USSR. We renewed our acquaintance each year for three years, as our medical team returned on its annual mission trip. This doctor spoke some English and I some Spanish. We became friends. He took me to meet his family and brought me gifts of fruit. (I’m sure he thought I ate a lot, since I’ve never been small in my life!)
At the end of our third mission trip he spoke to our team, recalling that while receiving medical training in the Soviet Union, he was also trained to dislike Americans. But now he could see that there was no reason to dislike Americans, for he had seen the love and care in our hearts for the children of Nicaragua. Another surgeon we worked with, this time in Guatemala, contacted our team months after we left, to share the good news of a successful surgical procedure he could not have done without the new equipment we had provided.
These gratifying experiences give me the vision to keep working toward SRW’s goals.
They give me so much enthusiasm, in fact, that sometimes my vision and dreams exceed the pace we can actually keep. As I now plan surgical missions to Honduras and Peru (my 26th and 27th missions) in early 2006, to offer orthopedic and eye surgery to local children, I am very concerned about SRW’s ability to continue providing services to so many worldwide. Our shipments, whether in a 40-foot container or a suitcase that will accompany someone on a single mission, cannot happen without the support of many to keep our warehouse operation going. Maintaining our inventory and managing our warehouse become ever more daunting tasks as we become busier and worldwide needs become more evident.
Two years ago when SRW began, our board took a huge leap of faith, forging ahead with a rather unique idea. We have grown and found a niche. We receive more calls each month from institutions that have supplies and equipment for us. Our need for space has grown, and we recently moved into larger quarters for the second time since 2002. Over 20 volunteers came to help with the moving task on a very warm day in August. A small group of retired nurses comes in weekly to help us sort the medical supplies. They take their task very seriously. Some of the men who come to help us load containers and build shelves and move warehouses, are always ready to do whatever is asked of them and they enjoy doing it- as they feel part of the team. Photos we receive of those hospital beds in the Philippines with patients in them are cause for much discussion about how difficult or easy those particular beds were to load. As one of them says-I can’t go on the missions and serve in that way, but helping in the warehouse is what I can do. He does it regularly and recruits others who also help through his church, friends, neighborhood, and civic groups. It has become a community within a community. With their help and networking with additional international partner organizations, we are shipping more supplies and equipment to more destinations each year.
But our requests for funding from foundations and similar sources are coming back more and more often with regrets. Our former donors are sorry, but they have fewer funds to distribute this year and cannot fund SRW, even though its mission is very worthy. Keeping SRW solvent is becoming more challenging, and we need your assistance. Most of our funds go toward facility expenses and the costs of shipping goods. No one receives a salary; everyone is a volunteer.
Just when these concerns start to get me down, something lifts me up. Several weeks ago as I drove home from the warehouse on a very hot and busy day, I was feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. My cell phone rang and a female voice said, “This is Dr. Fatma from the CDC.” A native of Kenya, Dr. Fatma told me she had been carrying my name and number with her for nearly two years, ever since the day she was working in a hospital in Mombassa with HIV positive mothers and children, and noticed some newer IV poles, beds, cribs, gurneys, and other equipment. When she asked where they had come from, she was given my name and phone number. They had not come from me personally, of course, but from SRW as one of our first shipments, back in January 2002. She called to express her gratitude on behalf of the people of Kenya. Those very items are making a huge difference in patient care, she told me. For example, pediatric cribs save lives because staff cannot effectively put a mosquito net over a child sleeping on the floor, but in a crib one can protect him from disease-bearing mosquitoes while he sleeps. My talk with Dr. Fatma gave me a whole new outlook on my day, and my steps were a little lighter (especially after a cooling shower!).
If you’ve ever wondered how on earth one person can make a difference, this is your chance to touch lives. You can help SRW network, hold a fundraiser, talk to a business or group who might consider funding our cause, show them this article. We love to tell our story and can share our 8-minute video with your group. Through people like you, SRW can continue to help the world become a better place.
Please note our new mailing address:
Sharing Resources Worldwide
2405 Industrial Drive
Madison, WI 53713
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