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Global Good Health: Providing Medical Supplies to Needy Countries

AFYA unloading trucks
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TJ Allan
TJ Allan

Danielle's enthusiasm can also be credited with galvanizing kids to initiate their own projects. When Courtney Hughson, 13, learned that women in Malawi walk barefoot for miles to reach clinics to deliver babies, and the blisters they develop on their feet can expose them to deadly diseases, she spearheaded a rain-boot drive; within three months she gathered 200 pairs.

Danielle Polland, 17, collected over 1,000 pens through a drive at her Long Island high school to enable African doctors to keep medical records. After being told that patients' children often wait for hours outside Tanzanian hospitals with nothing to do, Alex Strauss, 14, acquired enough soccer cleats, balls, nets, and shin guards to start an entire league. There are so many kids rounding up the much needed ancillary supplies (like sporting equipment and kitchen utensils) requested by the hospitals that Danielle's 18-year-old son, Sam, produced a video about them. "The film helps spread my mom's work across the country so kids will know exactly what they can do in their own communities," he says. Sam's film is included in the information packets that Afya sends to teens interested in helping out, which tells kids how to start an official Afya Club— there are now a dozen in middle schools, high schools, and colleges nationwide. The packets also include handouts about the foundation, a list of the most-needed items, and directions on starting a fundraiser or collection drive.

During the five subsequent trips Danielle has made to medical facilities in Africa and Haiti, she's seen firsthand how the supplies are making a significant difference in the lives of patients, and the doctors and nurses who treat them. As word spreads about Afya's success, the number of requests has skyrocketed too. To meet the growing demand, she has ramped up collections and now receives supplies from as many as 40 different hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and rehab centers in the greater New York area. Danielle's aiming to at least double the number of Afya Clubs in the U.S. and abroad to increase nonmedical supply donations. "Kids give Afya enormous support. When we say, 'here's a need,' whether it's funds or footwear, they're very creative about coming up with a way to fulfill it," she says.

There's another vision for the future that Danielle holds close to her heart: To get everyone, from young children to older adults, to realize they can repurpose almost anything—unused surgical supplies and hospital beds, rain boots and soccer balls. "It'll help create a world," says Danielle, "where nothing valuable ever goes to waste."

Originally published in the March 2010 issue of Family Circle magazine.