The Afya Foundation is a nonprofit organization that helps countries around the world who are in desperate need of medical supplies and equipment. Through donations of surplus medical supplies and equipment mostly from the Tristate Area, Afya (which means “good health” in Swahili) works with the people on the ground to ensure the most efficient distribution of supplies, equipment and humanitarian aid possible.
Afya’s focus in the past has been on developing nations in the Caribbean and Africa, and on areas affected by natural disasters, but most recently, Afya has been helping the island of Lesbos deal with the man-made refugee crisis.
Afya Founder and Executive Director Danielle Butin traveled to Greece with her team in January to see for herself how the foundation could help. She said to TNH: “if you had told me one year ago that we would be helping a European country, I would never have believed it.” She went on to describe the devastation on the small island whose infrastructure during the economic crisis is barely enough to sustain the resident population, and is now overwhelmed by the thousands upon thousands of refugees who have washed up on its shores.
Trained as an occupational therapist, Butin saw what she described as “an entire landscape of need,” from the coast guard to the hospitals, clinics, and even the police, all the first responders needed basic supplies and equipment that could be provided through the Afya Foundation and its partners in Project Spora.
She spoke specifically about the Vostanio Hospital in Mytilene, where she asked a doctor “what do you need?” and a moment passed before he responded: “14,000 sterile gloves.” Something as basic as hospital gloves that Americans take for granted can make a huge difference in the day-to-day running of the hospital, caring for patients, residents and refugees alike. Butin observed, “No one had asked them what they needed, so it took a moment to think.” She called the people that she met on Lesbos “angels and heroes” for their tireless efforts to help the refugees in spite of having little resources themselves to do it.
Butin asked Panagiotis Proventzas, the head manager of the Vostanio Hospital for a list to be compiled of all the supplies and equipment needed by the various departments, and he returned with a large stack of handwritten notes. “Helping the helpers,” Project Spora supports the people on the ground who are working directly with the refugees, getting them the equipment and supplies they need, like defibrillators, wound care kits, and warming blankets for the rescue boats.
Project Spora, from the Greek word for sowing of seed, will help bolster the Greek health infrastructure, “sowing seeds of hope for dislocated refugees and selfless Greek humanitarians.” The project has already filled, shipped, and delivered three containers of supplies and equipment for the beleaguered island. The Greek Orthodox Church has been instrumental in facilitating the transport of the containers through customs from the port of Piraeus to Lesbos, and Butin expressed her gratitude for the continuing help of the Church in supporting this worthy project.
The partnership with business, political, and religious groups is already seeing progress, but more needs to be done to spread the word about Project Spora, especially among the Greek-American community, which has seen the toll the refugee crisis is taking on the Greek islands, but may not know how best to help.
Butin also mentioned an upcoming fundraising event to be held on June 16 at Moderne Barn, a restaurant in Armonk, NY owned by Nick Livanos, whose family is from Lesbos. The funds raised will help fill more containers to be shipped to Greece to help ease the burden of the largest humanitarian crisis the world has seen in recent years. More information is available on Afya’s website: afyafoundation.org.