The Beauty of a Community Coming Together at the Border: An Emergency Responder Shares Her Story

Save the Children and GSK have been global partners since 2013 and have worked together in the U.S. since 2015. Together, our two organizations are helping children, with GSK providing corporate and employee donations to directly aid children. Angie is a GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) employee who, as part of a partnership between Save the Children and GSK, was recently deployed to Las Cruces, New Mexico where Save the Children is running child-friendly spaces in transit shelters for children and families released by U.S. Customs & Border Patrol. Here is her story.

 

The Beauty of a Community Coming Together at the Border
Written by Angie, GSK

In early August, I was incredibly honored to have been selected for 6-month program that would allow me to take a leave of absence from my full-time job at GSK and work with Save the Children. My specific placement with Save the Children is with the DC-based U.S. Domestic Emergencies team.

This group is responsible for managing and implementing Save the Children’s emergency responses – simply put, the team deploys into communities so that families and caregivers can meet the unique needs of affected children.  My assignment is to identify and improve the operational efficiencies of the current model so that teams of people can deploy within 24-72 hours after an emergency strikes.  Additionally, I also deploy with the team to emergency response sites. Just three short days into my assignment, I was asked to do just that and support Save the Children’s efforts at the U.S.-Mexico border. Of course, my answer was yes. 

To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting into, but knew that help was needed. On July 19, I landed in El Paso and headed out to Las Cruces to meet a team of incredibly dedicated Save the Children staff and volunteers.  Thus began my work at the southern border.

The most common question from my family and friends is, “How are things at the border?” We see things in the media, and the purpose of this story is to give you my answer. Yes, there are stories and things I have seen that will leave a lasting impression and take some time to process and understand. Then there are the stories that we should all hear and embrace.

Save the Children and GSK have been global partners since 2013 and have worked together in the U.S. since 2015. Together, our two organizations are helping children, with GSK providing corporate and employee donations to directly aid children. Angie is a GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) employee who, as part of a partnership between Save the Children and GSK, was recently deployed to Las Cruces, New Mexico where Save the Children is running child-friendly spaces in transit shelters for children and families released by U.S. Customs & Border Patrol. Here is her story.

The Save the Children crew on the ground is the epitome of what working with a team should be.  They received me with open arms and got me quickly up to speed. We would brief and debrief at the beginning and end of each day and ensured we looked after each other’s health, security and well-being.  Some of my best memories of deployment were cooking dinner for the team and chatting about our lives and everything in between, or travelling to a destination playing trivia and discovering new songs to listen to.  We laughed and helped each other out on our tough days by simply listening to each other.

We had many tasks, but the most important was to set up child-friendly play spaces in two shelter locations for children of families transiting onto their next destination after clearing detention. We did this every day and welcomed kids and parents open arms.  The thing is, based on my time in New Mexico, our work is a brief moment in someone else’s story. A child’s story. A child’s life. The children come into our child-friendly spaces and in the matter of a few seconds, they feel safe. They feel like they are children again. They just want to play and be kids. We created gardens, undersea magical kingdoms, and made it snow in the heat of a New Mexico summer using our imagination and some art supplies. We played soccer, football and endless games of Jenga. Every day, I saw new faces and smiles, and heard the laughter of children who had faced harrowing journeys. Despite different languages, we found a way to communicate, and more importantly, connect. 

I met a mom and her daughter who traveled for days with little or no food to get to the border. Upon reaching our space, the mom finally got to breathe and relax with her 2-year-old daughter. This beautiful mama sat in a rocking chair with a blissful smile on her face, while I played with her precocious daughter. She smiled, knowing she was about to give birth to her second child. She smiled, despite being separated from her husband and not knowing when she might see him again.  She smiled, moving into an uncertain future with a relative she had not seen in 6 years. 

I met another family who were waiting at the transit shelter for another family member to pick them up. That family member dropped everything and hopped into a car to drive 15 hours to pick up his sister and nephew. While they were waiting, the son very sweetly took care of his mom and all of the little ones around him. He played games, read to kids and colored. There was a kindness and curiosity about him that was infectious. We spent the latter part of the day looking at a map so he could understand where he came from and where he was heading. His curiosity shone brightly and by the end of the afternoon, a large group of us were standing around the map telling our stories. There were at least four different languages among us and yet we all understood.

After three weeks in the field, I now have an answer for those who ask about what’s happening at the border. I have met people with the courage, vulnerability and compassion to place humanity and common decency at the core of everything they do. I have seen the beauty of a community coming together to help people and children know that all is not lost and to inspire them to keep moving on their journey. I have seen the brilliant smiles of parents and children and heard their laughter. The work that team is undertaking at the border is quite possibly the first positive interaction some of these kids have had while heading towards their new homes. And yes, a brief moment in their lives, but hopefully a lasting memory that kindness, empathy and compassion can triumph over adversity. 

So please remember these stories – these are the stories that matter. 

 

 

Why I’m Passionate About Reducing Infections in Health Care Facilities

This post is part of a series authored by the BASICS (Bold Action to Stop Infections in Clinical Settings) team. BASICS is a new initiative that will transform healthcare and reduce healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) by at least 50%.

Written by Alison Macintyre, Health Technical Lead – WaterAid

Having spent a lot of my childhood in and out of hospitals, I believed that hospitals were a place where you go to get better, get well; where you leave feeling more positive and healthier than when you arrived. And, I still do.

As I embarked on my career in the field of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), I realized for most of the world, that isn’t true. We, the global health community, are currently failing to achieve the absolute basics. Right now, we can’t ensure we are, at an absolute minimum, doing no harm to the millions of people who use health care systems every day. Too many health care facilities operate without water, without toilets that everyone can use, and without water and soap to stop the spread of infection.

This failure is what motivates me. We will only see dramatic, sustained changes in health if we get the basics right. 

Early in my WASH career I was in Papua New Guinea, undertaking a study on the role of WASH during childbirth for women. Most of the women I interviewed were unable to reach a facility to give birth and had to deliver their babies, often alone, on coffee plantations, in pig pens or on the side of the road.

As part of the study, we also visited health facilities. I had hoped that they would provide a potential solution for improving maternal and newborn mortality in these remote communities. One facility has always stuck in my mind.

Despite the newness of the facility (it was only five-years old), water, sanitation and hygiene were not available. A refrigerated, fully stocked drug cabinet was present, but gloves and soap were not. There was a sophisticated rainwater collection system, but the pump to distribute the water to the facility was broken and they weren’t able to fix it. There were two modern toilets, but they were locked and reserved for staff – patients had to go out to a hole dug in the back of the facility, passing an open waste pit on the way, to relieve themselves.

The lack of water also meant women were turned away if they arrived in labour. The next hospital was 2 hours away on a treacherous road.

How did a hospital have sophistical equipment, but couldn’t fix a water supply and women weren’t able to deliver their babies? How were antibiotics kept cold-chain with a reliable supply, yet soap and gloves were not available?

I left the facility angry, wondering how health systems neglected WASH in so many ways.

This visit made me realize that when statistics show us that health care facilities do not have basic WASH services, it doesn’t always mean the infrastructure is completely absent. Often, it may not suitable (for instance in the case of toilets not being accessible to people of limited mobility) or it is not functioning, or basic commodities like soap are not part of general supply lists.

I also realized that it is the system that’s broken, not just the infrastructure. Health systems that have monitoring and budgets for WASH, trained operation and maintenance staff, in-service and pre-service training on hygiene and cleaning, WASH standards and accountability mechanisms, are uncommon. This should be the norm.

That’s why I’m excited about the prospect of leading the WASH element of BASICS (Bold Action to Stop Infections in Clinical Settings), on behalf of WaterAid. Through the work I’ve done, I have learned the importance of integrating basic WASH into broader patient safety and infection prevention control programes. Without such integration, a system-wide approach is not possible and WASH will never become part of the day-to-day routine of health center operations.

BASICS brings together NGOs, researchers and the private sector to support health systems to sustainably address WASH and patient safety. The BASICS team has a wealth of expertise on health, WASH and evidence-based behavior change. This combination is essential for improving patient safety, health and the quality of health care facilities for all.

To learn more about BASICS (Bold Action to Stop Infections in Clinical Settings) is a new initiative that will transform healthcare and reduce healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) by at least 50%, visit savethechildren.org.