Monday, August 25, 2014

Bolivia Needs a Bigger Boat

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.
--Chinese proverb

I've become amazed how often people refer to that famous proverb after we explain the goals and efforts of the AAVia Foundation for the Health of Bolivian Children.

Typically, we acknowledge the point and move on. But, honestly, it's never felt exactly right.

It was this year's Shark Week that helped me understand what was missing from the idea. Shark Week is an annual summer "event" when Discovery, an American cable TV station, has a week of shark-based programming.

Included in that week of programming is the classic film Jaws. The famous scene when the three protagonists are on the boat looking for the great white shark which had menaced the summer beaches completed in my mind what the AAVia Foundation is doing.

You're gonna need a bigger boat.
--Police chief Brody in "Jaws"

On that boat were three men with a lot of motivation, knowledge and experience -- a very powerful skill set for a team to possess. Nevertheless, police chief Brody, marine biologist Hooper, and grizzled old fisherman Quint were lacking one thing: a boat sufficient for the challenge of beating that shark.

And so it is for our efforts in Bolivia!

We know people with motivation, knowledge and experience working hard for children's health in Bolivia. In so many important ways, they do not need us to teach them anything -- they already know "how to fish." They also understand how great their challenges are to improve the health of Bolivian children.

What they need is a bigger boat in the form of funding and equipment that is lacking in their resource-poor environment.

And that is why we are doing what we do.

--Timothy Malia, MD
Co-founder & Vice President, AAVia Foundation for the Health of Bolivian Children
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Monday, March 17, 2014

Say Ireland ... Think Bolivia

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

May green beer and corned beef brighten your day.

May our Irish heritage and jilty tunes filled with bodhran and flutes warm your heart.

May happy tales and words of affection for all you love fill the air on this day we celebrate that snake-banishing, Welsh-born saint we call Patrick!

On this special Irish day, however, I have one request:

When you say, "Ireland," just think, "Bolivia."

This, of course, is a play on a scene in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid where Butch, the man with ideas, explains why he and the Kid should go to Bolivia. He describes the rich mines and all the wealth they could collect with their bank robbing skills. Comparing Bolivia to the old Gold Rush in California, Butch ultimately says:

So when I say, "Bolivia," you just think, "California."

I trade California and Ireland for one simple reason. Bolivia and Ireland share histories with similar struggles, influences, and high points.

  • Both are physically isolated geographically. Bolivia by mountains and its landlocked modern borders. Ireland by the sea.
  • Both influenced the world during Europe's Dark Ages. Bolivia with the Tiwanaku culture. Ireland with its monasteries, monks and scribes who kept copies of the great books of antiquity and later re-spread Christianity through Europe.
  • Both have often been invaded by foreign powers. Bolivia with the Huari, the Inca, and later the Spanish. Ireland with the Romans, the Vikings, and later the English.
  • Both suffered through centuries of poverty while a small number of people, often foreigners, gained wealth from control of the land and resources.
  • Both were affected by periods of massive death bordering on genocide. Bolivian natives dying of smallpox, cholera and other Old World diseases, and later working in the silver mines, after the Spanish arrived. The Irish through the Great Famine of the mid-nineteenth century.
  • Both have seen a significant emigration of its young and talented looking for opportunities abroad over the years.
  • Both cling to their traditional languages while trying to forge ahead in the modern world. Bolivia with Aymara and Quechua. Ireland with Gaelic. 

Yet their histories do differ in many ways today. Ireland has done well this past century -- its economy is secure, children are educated, health care excellent. Bolivia on the other hand still struggles --  its economy is weak, it struggles with narco-traffickers, its children often work rather than attend school, and the medical system is impoverished (only $235 per person per year on health care).

So today, while celebrating St. Patrick's Day, you may raise a glass in cheer for Ireland, or shed a tear when hearing Danny Boy, or share special moments with family and friends, but please also pause and remember Bolivia, the kindred spirit of Ireland!

We are working to make a better future for Bolivian children. Support our efforts with a donation to the AAVia Foundation for the Health of Bolivian Children. Then pass the word so others can understand the history and the need.

We are getting started and your help so far has given us the footing we need. Word is coming soon for projects on the ground in Bolivia -- and you'll be to thank for them.


Timothy Malia, MD
Co-Founder & Vice President
AAVia Foundation for the Health of Bolivian Children
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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Caring for the Kids of Prisoners

Program providing medical care for small children living in 
prison with their mothers in La Paz, Bolivia needs new funding.

Obrajes is a nice section of La Paz, Bolivia. It's not too far from downtown, has a nice mix of businesses and restaurants, and enjoys milder weather than much of the city due to its lower altitude. So it may be a surprise to have a women's prison in the neighborhood, yet that is where you will find COF (Centro de Orientacion Feminina Obrajes).

The street view of the prison is nondescript other than the sign on the wall identifying it and the metal door answered by uniformed police. A former school, the property behind the wall has a central building from that earlier era surrounded by newer structures and shacks crowding the space.

Also behind that wall are over a hundred children living with their mothers. And, I learned, a health program for those kids in need of support and new funding -- you can help! (keep reading to learn how)

A couple weeks ago, I joined Dr. Sergio Armaza Virreira and Dra. Jimena Condori Surco from the mobile medical unit of Hospital Arco Iris on a stop at the prison. It was one of many visits and tours I made during the ten-day long official visit to La Paz for the AAVia Foundation for the Health of Bolivian Children.

Making weekly visits to the prison, the mobile medical unit provides care for the children who live there, most under the age of five, who do not get medical services from the prison system. It is programs like the Hospital Arco Iris mobile medical unit that serve the needs of the kids.

Famously overcrowded and with decaying infrastructure, Bolivian prisons are also known for the high number of children living within their walls. The women's prison in Obrajes is no different. Designed to hold about 100 prisoners, the facility actually holds about three times that currently -- plus another 120 kids!

Entering the prison for the visit, I handed over my passport, was patted down, and entered a courtyard crowded with women and children. Some prisoners were doing some morning calisthenics, others were chatting in small groups, and many sat in chairs along the periphery. About a quarter of the facility is another courtyard where laundry hangs from wires, drying in the sun -- a service the women do for the public to make money to pay for what they eat and own while in the prison.

We made our way into the main building where the medical team met with prison officials to discuss how the financial support the program had been receiving is not being renewed. The team, however, reported they would continue visiting the prison each Wednesday to care for the kids even while funding opportunities were searched for.

This prison program is one part of what the mobile medical unit team from Hospital Arco Iris do, but its funding is separate. The mobile medical units provide free medical care for La Paz' street kids and poor when parked by plazas and markets. When special care is needed, the patients are served at Hospital Arco Iris, a private charity center that is now perhaps the best hospital in all of La Paz.

The children in the prisons get the same free care both on-site and at the hospital when needed. Visiting the prison weekly, the mobile medical unit provides continuity of care and  timely services before problems become severe. There were many smiles and happy conversations between the doctors, the women and many of the children during our visit -- evidence of the trust and respect these doctors have developed in the prison.

At this time, the prison program is not formally part of our plans at the AAVia Foundation for the Health of Bolivian Children. But it is a good program in need of support, and promoting such efforts is part of our mission, even if the support is not directly through us.

I wish to vouch for the prison program and the efforts of the doctors, colleagues I am happy to now call friends. And I also wish to offer you a way to support their efforts with a tax-deductible gift.

HOPEworldwide-Bolivia has been working closely with Hospital Arco Iris for the last three years and is focused on pragmatic efforts that have a positive effect on real lives. Having been in touch with them for many months, we formally visited them during our trip to La Paz and appreciate their efforts to improve health care in Bolivia. Our two organizations are truly kindred spirits!

Please take a minute and go to the DONATION page for HOPEworldwide-Bolivia. Their country director has assured me that funds will be directed to this effort when the Comments section says "Prison Program" (see middle of the donation page and "Additional Information"). Then please let others know of this need and opportunity.

There is a very capable program on the ground in La Paz offering care to children who need it. That program has capable doctors and staff, and it has a proven track record. Your support with funding will have immediate impact.

Thank you!

--Timothy Malia, MD
VP & Co-Founder, AAVia Foundation for the Health of Bolivian Children

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