One child every three seconds. That’s the estimated number of deaths that occur around the world each day as a result of extreme poverty, hunger and preventable illness, according to UNICEF. The organization recently estimated that out of the 2.2 billion children worldwide, about half live in poverty. Thousands of Canadian aid workers worldwide devote their careers, and sometimes their vacations, to help alleviate this issue. ParentsCanada brings you a few of their stories.
Nurse Anne O’Connor, Toronto
Bringing new life into the world is certainly a perk when youíre a labour and delivery nurse like Anne O’Connor, who grew up in North Bay, Ont., and works at Torontoís North York General Hospital.
But Anne longed to travel and help patients around the world. In 2008, she became involved with a medical mission through St. Michael’s Hospital that sets up medical outreach clinics in the Philippines. “This experience changed my life and path forever,” says Anne. “I saw up close the struggles, the pain and the inequality suffered by people in developing countries.”
After four missions, Anne was ready to make a long-term commitment. Last spring, she signed on with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), an international medical relief organization. “People asked me where I was going and for how long. All I could say was, ‘I don’t know and I don’t care’. I wanted to go where my skills would be of most value.”
In July 2011, Anne was sent to war-torn South Sudan as an outreach nurse in charge of four free clinics, close to the contested border between the North and South, where emergency medical care is most needed. “Almost every day, I travelled by boat down the Nile to these clinics to provide support; there was poverty, malnutrition and disease everywhere,” she recalls. “The outreach clinics gave people the opportunity to receive lifesaving treatment closer to their homes. In times of insecurity and uncertainty, people need to be close to their families. I supplied clinics with medication, and educated staff about proper treatment techniques.”
Children in Upper Nile and Jonglei State, where Anne worked, face many challenges. First, they have to survive the early stages of life without succumbing to one of the many tropical diseases that are common to the area. “With lack of food and malnutrition being permanent fixtures in their lives, it is difficult to avoid getting sick,” says Anne, adding that many clinics and hospitals are a four-day walk from people’s homes. “Many children and their caregivers aren’t strong enough to make the journey. There are people in each country who have the drive and potential to change their world for the better. All they’re lacking is the opportunity. Education provides opportunity.”
Learn what you can do: Medecins Sans Frontieres, msf.ca
Wendy Helfenbaum is a Montreal writer and television producer and a frequent contributor to ParentsCanada. Read more about her at taketwoproductions.ca.
Originally published in ParentsCanada, April 2012