Roger Williams University Chapter member Kelsey Harrington visited Project Limón in Nicaragua for spring break earlier this year. Her volunteer experience proved to be an academic venture as well, prompting her to research non-profits' approaches to providing health care in the developing world. Below, you will find Kelsey's experiences and reflections on FIMRC's three-pronged approach to working in the communities we serve.
The Foundation of International Relief of Children is dedicated to improving health in the developing world. They began their mission in 2002 and have continued to expand their reach throughout the world. FIMRC uses three basic concepts to structure their mission and setup programs around the world; these three main concepts are Access, Education, and Participation, and they act as a guide for each site and the programs produced from these concepts are all unique.
I was able to visit the Nicaraguan site this March and experience first hand how FIMRC works to accomplish their mission. I found that for many sticking to an objective can become difficult when a company begins to grow and gain success, but FIMRC has stuck to their original goal of providing access health care for children in underserved communities.
Even with three basic guides each FIMRC site is different. The needs of each community they are in are different and the organization tries to cater to each specific need. I had the opportunity to interview FIMRC’s CEO Meredith Mick to get her take on the mission her organization has. In terms of access she said that before the foundation sets up in a certain place there are a number of surveys done. They look at if the people have access to medical care, and if they do the next step is how close is that healthcare and whether or not it is good enough to properly care for an individual. In the Nicaraguan site the community had access through a health post, but there were no specialties offered so FIMRC saw that as an important need of the community. When asked about the participation Mick stressed the willingness of a community to work with the foundation to provide care for the people. Without community support a site cannot be successful. If a community wants the support the access improves and education to the people becomes easier.
Many of the sites are in countries where beliefs about how to care for children and each other date back to the beginnings of that country. When FIMRC goes in and tries to provide accurate information about health to the community members they must keep in consideration the beliefs of the people. CEO Mick said that if there are beliefs that do not cause risk FIMRC does not try and disprove them, but some of the beliefs the people have could lead to the death of those experiencing them. I asked Meredith if any concept was seen as more important tan the rest and she responded by saying no, they are basic frameworks that allow for each site to be unique, but all three provide an important aspect to the FIMRC mission.
FIMRC is a nonprofit organization, which means that the people who help run the organization mainly volunteer and all the money they receive must go to a charitable cause (O’Nolan). FIMRC is truly dedicated to changing the lives of the people they feel need it most. Their mission statement, “To provide access to medical care for underprivileged and medically underserved families around the world” clearly states their objective, but how do they really make this happen? Providing care for the poor of the world is much easier said than done. Being able to go and work at one of FIMRC’s sites allowed me to see how they incorporate access, education, and participation in the Nicaraguan community. Access is defined by FIMRC through two questions; can our community members easily get to a clinic? And what do they do in the case of an emergency? These two questions help shape how access is provided to the people FIMRC helps. In terms of access in Nicaragua the clinic, located in Las Salinas Rivas, provides the community with a pediatrician twice a week, ability for children to receive developmental exams, prescriptions, and other health supplies. If not for the clinic the people in the community would have to drive an hour to the nearest hospital or three hours to seek specialist care. FIMRC has given the people of Las Salinas “the ability to seek a healthcare professional” (FIMRC). Once a community has access to basic health care FIMRC provides the community with education on topics they see as vital to that community.
Education is important if someone wants to be able to help him or herself improve. The clinics run by FIMRC are not only focused on fixing problems that are already present but also making sure future problems do not arise. Before the FIMRC clinic opened in Las Salinas the community received no medical attention unless they sought it out and that included information on common diseases, pregnancy, and basic ideas like hand washing. Prior to FIMRC stepping in and beginning their prenatal program (providing information on proper care of infants and children) the local women believed in no communication with a child, shaking them upside down, and the introduction of solid food at four months. Babies were dying, becoming extremely dehydrated, developmentally delayed, and not being able to grow properly. The prenatal program allows pregnant women to receive a talk each month she is pregnant and provides support. Since the talks began there has been a decrease in home births, and babies are developing into a healthy children. Without FIMRC’s educational piece the healthcare they provide would be in vain. People must be able to understand why an organization is coming in and changing the way they think. Education is not limited to pregnant women, all members of the community are welcome to come to monthly talks about different health needs of the community, and volunteers go into the schools to give charlas (presentations) to the children about basic health care. The final piece that ties access and education together is participation.
FIMRC believes that no impact can be made without the participation of the community. The ability to work side by side with members of FIMRC and community people can create a more powerful impact and foster unity between the organization and community.
Through my research I found that the Foundation of International Medical Relief of Children’ s message gives an accurate depiction of what the organization actually does. They are dedicated to the people they help and make sure that there is access, education, and participation to ensure success.
For more information about volunteering at Project Limón, visit www.fimrc.org/nicaragua/volunteer