Global Links Provides Unique Volunteering Opportunities for Youth

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A nurse in scrubs at a hospital in Guatemala. Photo by Rebecca Droke for Global Links

By Kathleen Ganster

Young folks today are pretty savvy when it comes to other cultures and other environments. Many want to reach out to help others not as lucky as themselves, but they may lack the knowledge and resources to find good volunteer opportunities.

Others lack the number of hours many organizations want from volunteer workers.

Global Links, a local organization with international outreach, provides the perfect venue for these enterprising young men and women.

In a nutshell, Global Links is a Pittsburgh-based non-profit created in 1989 with a basic mission to take surplus medical supplies and provide them to underserved populations in neighboring countries.

According to Angela Garcia, Deputy Director, Global Links partners with existing organizations such as the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) by providing them with these medical supplies. “We don’t want to duplicate efforts, so we work with organzations who already have established programs and provide the services. We provide the equipment and supplies to them.”

A pregnant woman who was taken at a pre-natal check in Haiti, one of the places Global Links send and will be sending more baby bags. Photo by Lynn Johnson for Global Links.

Currently, Global Links has ongoing programs with over 40 hospitals, doctors and medical facilities to send supplies to nine countries including Bolivia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica and Nicaragua.

In these efforts, Garcia said they have a few programs particularly attractive to younger volunteers.

The “New Baby Collection” program at Global Links assists new mothers in the countries they serve by providing mother-baby bags filled with basic supplies for newborns. Global Links donates medical materials to hospitals and clinics to improve conditions in maternity wards and this program assists these efforts by providing the mothers with study, handmade bags fills with these supplies.

“We’ve had some student groups hold baby showers. On our website is a list of supplies or they can go to target.com and find out what supplies are needed,” said Garcia.

Youth groups have also made the actual bags using a pattern from the website and filling them with the supplies such as cloth diapers, baby hats and clothing, blankets, soap and basic care items.

“We’ve also had young people have their friends bring supplies to birthday parties or bar mitzvahs instead of gifts for themselves. They just provide a list or have them go to the website, then collect the supplies,” she said.

Students also like to host Homecare Equipment Collections where they reach out to the community and collect unused home health equipment.

One of the new moms who received one of the first baby bags Global Links sent to Central America last year. Photo by Global Links.

“This is also a great project for youth groups. We often see scouting groups or student councils who collect crutches and wheelchairs that are no longer used,” said Garcia. For example, the students at Hampton High School in Hampton Township School District collect supplies at their annual Recycle Rama for Global Links.

“It can be a one time event or they can approach a senior care facility, for example and create an on-going project,” she said.

A project near and dear to Garcia’s heart is the Scrubs Drive. Global Links collects gently worn medical scrubs to send to healthcare workers.

“My husband went to nursing school and after he graduated, had to get new scrubs for the hospital where he is working – and we didn’t want them to be thrown out,” she said, “This is a great way to meet a need without being wasteful.”

Global Links has reached out to local nursing schools and hospitals as well as students.

“These are things that could just be going to waste,” said Garcia.

Global Links will provide assistance including speakers to groups or events to help create more interest in youth projects and volunteer efforts.

“We donate over 265 tons of material each year with over 11,000 volunteer hours. Our goal is to get everyone involved – we are thrilled to have young people help in our mission,” she said.

For more information about Global Links and volunteer efforts, visit www.globallinks.org.