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Throughout a Tumultuous 2023, Ordinary People Achieved the Extraordinary

Responding to complex, unfolding emergencies and ongoing needs puts Direct Relief in contact with health providers and community members stepping up to meet the moment.



Heba, a midwife at a hospital run by Syria Relief and Development in Jindires, NW Syria, utilizes a midwife kit provided by Direct Relief in September 2023. Direct Relief supported many medical providers like Heba providing healthcare in their communities, even in challenging circumstances. (Photo by Boraq Albsha for Syria Relief and Development)

2023 had no shortage of precedent-breaking situations, from natural disasters to civil conflict and war. Events unfolding around the world in rapid succession have required Direct Relief to do more, more often, than ever before.

As a support organization, Direct Relief works to equip medical providers in their own communities. Often, this occurs during times of unimaginable crisis, when people step into the unknown to help.

A 23-year-old in eastern Ukraine deciding to stay and help his community. A midwife reaching patients by watercraft after land routes were destroyed or cut off by wildfire. A mother, with her two children in tow, leading her family through the jungle to receive life-saving medical care in the U.S.

These, and many others, are a few of the individuals Direct Relief’s work has overlapped with over the past 12 months, and they reveal the creativity required to survive — and help others — along the way.

Here are some of their stories.

Jungle, Thieves, and Worse: A Mom’s Epic Journey To Save Her Daughter

Alejandra Jimenez and her family lift her nine-year-old daughter, Nicole, onto the ferry connecting Manhattan and Ellis Island. The family migrated north from Venezuela to seek medical care for Nicole’s medical conditions. (Photo by Oscar B. Castillo for Direct Relief)

 Alejandra Jimenez, 27, her husband, and her young daughter stayed in their hometown of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, for as long as they could. But when her daughter’s serious medical needs exceeded the care available, Jimenez made the decision to undergo the perilous journey from Venezuela to the United States. She and her family are among the 100,000 migrants who arrived in New York City from spring 2022 to August 2023.

To meet the health needs of those new arrivals, Ryan Health, a federally qualified health center, part of a national safety net clinic system that provides care for everyone who requests it regardless of their ability to pay, has stepped up.

“We reached out to the mayor’s office, catholic charities, and shelter providers in the area to offer our services because we suspected individuals would need health care,” said Daniel Pichinson, executive director of Ryan Health’s Chelsea-Clinton clinic, estimating that Ryan Health has onboarded about 3,000 migrants in the past year. Direct Relief’s Noah Smith and freelance photojournalist Oscar Castillo met Jimenez, as well as health providers meeting the needs of those seeking asylum in the United States.

Read more.

After Fighting Erupts in Eastern Ukraine, a Young Volunteer Steps Up

Staff from Yevgen Pyvovarov’s Charity Fund, which operates in the region of Kharkiv, received 38 pallets of medicines and respirators for hospitals throughout Kharkiv. (Courtesy photo)
Staff from Yevgen Pyvovarov’s Charity Fund, which operates in the region of Kharkiv, received 38 pallets of medicines and respirators for hospitals throughout Kharkiv. (Courtesy photo)

In May, Direct Relief’s Nick Allen met with a young volunteer in Eastern Ukraine, who was one of many whose world had been turned upside down after the Russian invasion but who quickly swung into action to help fellow Ukrainians.

“I want to be useful,” said 23-year-old Pavlo, whose last name was withheld for security reasons. Pavlo works with the Yevgen Pyvovarov Charity Fund to deliver aid to besieged communities in Eastern Ukraine.

Covid-19 had forced him to return home from a study abroad program in China, and the attack on Ukraine upended his plans once again. Pavlo and his family found themselves in occupied territory and eventually made it to Ukrainian territory. Declared unfit for military service because of a long-time knee injury, Pavlo had a decision to make: To endure the constant bombardments in Kharkiv city or head elsewhere, abroad even. “I had an opportunity to leave, but I declined. This is a decisive point for my country,” he said.

Read more of Pavlo’s story here.

Supporting Physical and Financial Health in Mississippi

Demetric Burrage, nurse at Aaron E. Henry Health Center in Clarksdale, Mississippi, is part of the health center’s work to reach patients and support their physical and financial health. (Photo by Oliver Riley-Smith for Direct Relief)

Health providers screening for the social determinants of health — information about the conditions of a person’s life, from housing and transportation to access to clean air and water — is nothing new. Adding a picture of a person’s financial health and stressors, like debt burden, is a new angle.

It’s one the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Center, located in Clarksdale, Mississippi, is asking about to help their patients more holistically. It’s also the goal of the center’s Health Wealth program to address financial insecurity and its direct impact on health.

Aaron E. Henry received $100,000 from Direct Relief’s Fund for Health Equity, via the AbbVie Foundation, to launch the program with the goal that it serves patients across the Mississippi Delta, and could be replicated in health centers across the U.S.

Read more.

After the Fires, Providing Community Care in Maui

Staff from Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawai’i arrive in the harbor at Lahaina with an emergency medical backpacks for care. (Brea Burkholz/Direct Relief)

After devastating fires swept through Maui in August, local groups quickly mobilized to help those impacted. One of those groups, based in Oahu, worked to get medical care to people in any way possible.

The women of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawai’i and the nonprofit’s partners arrived at the site of the wildfire by jet ski, boat, and car to help those in need. Direct Relief has funded the group with emergency operating grant and has also shipped requested medicines to the group so they can continue their work providing care.

Read more.

Medical Interpreters Improving Health for Patients, One Conversation at a Time

Medical interpreters are trained at Centro Hispano in Knoxville, Tennessee. They serve as a bridge between patients and doctors for better health. (Image by Olly Riley-Smith for Direct Relief)

During a medical visit, communicating the symptoms and state of one’s health is essential to receiving sound treatment and a diagnosis. For patients communicating in a language different than that of their medical provider, medical interpreters can help bridge the language gap, as well as advocate for their patients.

That’s exactly what a group of young interpreters with Centro Hispano de East Tennessee are accomplishing. They’ve expanded to include medical interpretation, one of the most requested services by both the Latino community, as well as the medical facilities in the area.

Centro Hispano received $186,000 from Direct Relief’s Fund for Health Equity, via Eli Lilly and Company, to develop a pilot program of medical Interpreters that will address current inequities by recruiting and training a group of multi-lingual youth seeking to learn new skills, join the healthcare workforce and serve their community.

Read more.

Direct Relief Equips Doctors Providing Care After Hurricane Otis

Medical Impact volunteers prepare emergency tools for 12 doctors who arrived on Oct. 30, 2023, to provide basic medical services in Acapulco this week. Direct Relief provided the group with a $25,000 emergency operating grant as well as essential medications and field medic packs to support services. (Courtesy photo)

When Hurricane Otis, a devastating Category 5 storm inundated Mexico’s west coast, local groups jumped into action, including Medical Impact. After the storm left more than 100 hospitals and clinics damaged or destroyed, the group took medical care into the community to meet needs.

Read more.

Rehabilitation Effort in the Twin Cities Helps Ukrainians Recoup from War

Ukrainians who have lost limbs during the war are given prosthetics and learn rehabilitation exercises at the Protez Foundation. (Olivia Lewis/Direct Relief)

Direct Relief’s Olivia Lewis traveled to Oakdale, Minnesota, to see the efforts of the Protez Foundation in action, which connects Ukrainians living with amputations to customized prosthetics and rehabilitation. Yakov Gradinar, a certified prosthetist and orthotist with the foundation, was working to fit people with prosthetics when Direct Relief visited the foundation in August.

Protez provides prosthetics to children and soldiers who have lost limbs during the Russo-Ukrainian War, and had provided over 260 high-quality prostheses and over 90 prosthetics. At the time of Direct Relief’s visit, six patients and their families were participating, the thirteenth group to take part in the program.

Read more about their work.

‘Death Just Beneath You’: Doctor Describes Turkey Earthquake, Ongoing Challenges

Dr. Yusuf Cekmece transporting donations from Direct Relief into his makeshift office inside a shipping container. (Photo by Francesca Volpi for Direct Relief)

Dr. Yusuf Çekmece, 40, is a family medicine specialist based in Antakya, Turkey, which was hard hit by the devastating earthquakes on February 6, 2023, that killed more than 50,000 people.

Dr. Çekmece is part of the Turkish Medical Association, which Direct Relief has supported with grant funding to meet the needs of earthquake zone-impacted doctors, many of whom were displaced by the damage from February’s quake, including Dr. Çekmece. His home and office were destroyed, so he practices medicine from a shipping container and continues serving the community.

Read more.

“Providing Dignity to Humanity,” Free Clinics Expand Mental Health Care

Shawn Smith (second from right) with Symba Center staff (Ben Bishop for Direct Relief)

About 85 miles northeast of Los Angeles, in the high desert, sit the ruins of George Air Force Base. From World War II through the end of the Cold War, activities on the site helped prepare pilots for battlefields worldwide. But today, a new fight is taking place at the decommissioned base.

Symba Center is a free clinic that operates out of a former gym that was converted into a wellness center for the community during the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year, Symba Center was among 11 free and charitable clinics which received a $75,000 grant to expand mental health care access to some of the most vulnerable populations in the United States. Over $17 million worth of mental health-targeted Teva pharmaceuticals were also made available to over 400 free and charitable clinics.

As a result of the grants, free and charitable clinics have been able to hire additional staff, launch internship programs, offer educational resources, including group sessions, increase collaborative efforts with local organizations and providers, and implement mental health screening programs for their patients. In total, these clinics have reached, directly and indirectly, about 22,000 people.

Read more.

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