By LISA EISENHAUER
A gift from the St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund is helping the victims of what one aid worker calls the "neglected crisis" in Guatemala brought on by two hurricanes last fall.
The village of Campur was one of many in Guatemala that sustained major wind and flood damage from hurricanes Eta and Iota last fall. The food and financial emergency that the storms created for 17 million citizens is expected to last at least until September, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The fund makes strategic investments in the health and well-being of communities served by Renton, Washington-based Providence St. Joseph Health. The health system is also extending a partnership to assist the struggling nation.
Category 4 hurricanes Eta and Iota left more than 200 dead when they blasted through Central America in November, according to news reports. They also caused a food and financial emergency for Guatemala's 17 million citizens that is expected to last at least until September, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Medical Teams International is using a $50,000 donation from the St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund to meet the immediate needs of Guatemalans, thousands of whom lost homes, crops and livestock in the storms. The grant has helped fund 8,000 hygiene kits with items like shampoo, toothpaste and toilet paper for the hundreds living in shelters, and the building of latrines and stoves at those shelters.
Workers with Medical Teams International carry sacks of hygiene kits to a Guatemalan village inaccessible by road. A gift from the St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund helped cover the cost of the hurricane relief kits, which include items like shampoo and toothpaste.
The devastation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has drawn much of the world's attention and emergency resources this year, said Michael Chapman, director of global programs for Medical Teams International. "We're looking at it as what we would call a neglected crisis, something that's just not received the support and the attention that it really deserves," he said.
Gifts from the St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund and others have enabled the charity to provide emergency assistance and continue its long-running projects to improve the health of Guatemalans, Chapman added.
Providence St. Joseph Health has been a partner in some of those projects since 2012. The health system most recently has provided volunteers and funding for community health programs for mothers and children age 2 and under and for training of Guatemalan health workers on emergency obstetrics and integrated management of childhood illnesses.
Joel Gilbertson, executive vice president of community partnerships at Providence St. Joseph Health, said the system has coordinated and supported volunteer efforts in Guatemala for more than 1,400 of its associates. However, since the start of the pandemic, the system has halted associates' international travel, so it isn't providing direct manpower to help with the nation's recovery. Still, the system wanted to continue to assist in a region where it has developed strong community ties and a trusted partnership. "The immediate thing we could do is to make sure that Medical Teams had the financial resources to go out and address basic human needs," Gilbertson said.
Providence St. Joseph Health plans to continue its pipeline of support to Guatemala, including resuming its volunteer program once the threat of the pandemic is over, Gilbertson said. "We have always had a belief that we have to stay engaged and we need to contribute to addressing global challenges," he said.
Chapman said that while the partnership Medical Teams International and Providence St. Joseph have forged is unique, the charity is open to other collaborations to advance its efforts to improve health in the poorest regions of the globe. Its website, medicalteams.org, has detailed information about its work.
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