Global NGO director discusses Haiti

Oscar Castillo, Staff Writer
April 27, 2011
Filed under News

One a year after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that rocked Haiti, the memory of Robert, whose full name was not disclosed, is still fresh in the mind of Margaret Aguirre, Director of Global Communications for International Medical Corps. Robert, a native to Port-au-Prince and young medical student, approached the International Medical Corps. He explained how he had lost everyone in his family, along with his home, and that he had heard there were people who were helping. “That’s extraordinary; and here he is, wanting to be useful in some way,” said Aguirre.

Robert embodies the IMC’s mission: from relief to self-reliance. The IMC is a non-government organization dedicated to saving lives and relieving suffering through health care training, relief, and development programs. Since it’s establishment in 1984, IMC has been in 28 countries on four continents. IMC’s presence is felt in conflict torn areas such as Libya, Darfur, and Afghanistan, as well as disaster zones such as Haiti, Pakistan, and Japan.

IMC’s mission was discussed by Aguirre on Thursday, April 21, at Santa Monica College as part of the Global Connections Lecture Series. Aguirre stressed how her organization believes in training and passing on medical skills to benefit the future, and not just providing countries with a temporary handout.

“We feel that you cannot go into a disaster, crisis, or conflict and just deliver aid,” said Aguirre. “I prefer not to use the word ‘aid,’ because to me it’s just a handout.” Aguirre and IMC believe that it is important to provide the local population of battered countries with the skills and knowledge necessary to carry on after a crisis.

The IMC’s success in teaching self-reliance can also be seen in the make-up of the organization’s staff. Out of the staff of over 4,000, about 60 work at the Santa Monica headquarters, while another 40 work at the Washington D.C. office. The rest is comprised of the local populations of the countries in need of relief.

“Ninety-six percent of the people that work for us are from the countries they’re working in,” said Aguirre. “So in Pakistan, when the floods occurred, our 700 Pakistani workers were the ones who were responding and providing care for their local communities.”

According to Aguirre, the earthquake in Haiti presented the IMC with a unique challenge. Much of the infrastructure in Haiti was devastated by the earthquake. The first response team was on the ground 22 hours after the earthquake, and upon arrival the IMC team began training local doctors, nurses, and medical students how to perform emergency care and wound care.

Along with the immediate impact, Aguirre sees the relief as a way of planting seeds for the future. “So much of the infrastructure was decimated. So many of the people who would be the people to respond to a disaster were either lost, injured, compromised or were taking care of their loved ones,” said Aguirre.

During the lecture, Aguirre showed a picture of a woman with a makeshift splint on her leg. The splint was made using the sides of a drawer from her house.

“We were teaching them how to make splints and how to do wound care,” said Aguirre. “We began training people on how to do this kind of care and literally teaching them triage and laying the groundwork.”

Six months after the earthquake in Haiti, the amount of Haitians working for the IMC was overwhelming. “When we first started responding in Haiti, the people wearing International Medical Corps t-shirts were American for the most part,” said Aguirre. “After six months, our staff was 1,100 Haitians. Our expatriate staff was about 20, so it was a complete reversal. Our long term goal is that we hand over ownership of the delivery of the care to the local population.”

To learn more about the IMC, its programs, or how you can help, visit their website at www.internationalmedicalcorps.org/

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