Author: Eric Talbert via Bay Area International Link (BAIL)

I began working with EMERGENCY USA in 2011 and when we first opened our office in San Francisco I was very excited. As a member of Tides’ Thoreau Center for Sustainability in the Presidio of San Francisco, we were part of an intentional community of over 60 organizations working to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. EMERGENCY USA is the San Francisco-based office of the international humanitarian organization EMERGENCY, which was founded in 1994 in Milan, Italy.

Being based in the Bay Area has been great for EMERGENCY USA as we continue to build and grow here in the Unites States. Doing the work we do, being located in an old military hospital that is now a part of a national park, feels fitting. Over 6 million people worldwide have received high-quality free-of-charge medical and surgical care provided by EMERGENCY. This work is carried out in war-zones and post-conflicts areas, with the majority of people being treated in Afghanistan.

Our mission includes promoting a culture of peace, solidarity and respect for human rights domestically and internationally. EMERGENCY USA is made of mostly volunteers – from the board of directors to committees and grassroots groups around the country. As human rights advocates, local volunteers find or create opportunities to engage their communities in learning more about the realities our fellow civilians are facing in war-zones by sharing the stories of people who are treated and work at our hospitals worldwide. We also recruit nurses, physicians and surgeons based in the US who have international and teaching experience, along with six months of availability, to work at our hospitals and clinics in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Sudan and the Central African Republic. They also need at least three years of post-residency experience because part of their role is to help train local staff. Building this local capacity is key to achieving our goal of ultimately turning each medical facility over to the local community.

Our grassroots volunteers, located in major US cities and universities, are self-directed and supported by the office in San Francisco. The groups are made up of a wide variety people from dentists to teachers, but they all have shared values and want to do something to help provide direct medical support to people in need. The volunteers are each committed to and enjoy working together towards making the world a better place. They do what they can with the resources they have, coming up with inspiring ideas for new ways to help that are fueled by the passion in their hearts.

Our hospital in Sierra Leone is located just south of the country’s capital city of Freetown (on Peninsula Road on the way to Lakka Beach for those who know the area). EMERGENCY built this surgical center during the decade-long civil war and fortunately the war ended a few months after the hospital opened. Since peace has returned to Sierra Leone, the medical services provided at our hospital have shifted from war-related injuries to traumatology with most surgeries being orthopedic due to broken bones from work- or vehicle-related accidents.

On this most recent visit I was able to bring a large suitcase of much-needed medical supplies including surgical gloves and gauze with me to Sierra Leone. That delivery was made possible by the generosity of our donors and through our partnership with a program at MedShare, located in the East Bay. Those supplies have made a tremendous difference in serving the patients in that hospital.

Now that I’m back in the office at EMERGENCY USA, I am again reminded how thankful I am to have the Bay Area as my base and the base for EMERGENCY in the US. Having moved out here after living in New York City for nearly a decade, it has been inspiring to see the growth of international development in the Bay Area. It’s been an honor to be able to connect with some of those brave souls who have been here from the beginning. It’s a wonderful community to be part of and I’ll continue to do what I can to foster its healthy growth. I’m exited for the future – for us here in the Bay Area and for those resilient patients recovering and being treated in our hospitals around the world.