What if every adventure traveler became a courier of much needed medical supplies to every corner of the earth? What impact would that simple act of kindness and care have on the state of healthcare across the globe? Dare we say, monumental? Under the banner of her nonprofit organization, Medicines For Nepal, improving health care conditions for third world countries is a dream Janice Belson, a former feature film and TV unit photographer, is working hard to fashion into reality, and the SNEWS® team wouldn't bet against her.
Injured severely by an accident during a film shoot in 1997, Belson took the entire sum of her $180,000 settlement to launch Medicines for Nepal in 1999. Since that time, the track record of this one-woman dynamo is self-evident: Expedition 1999 to Nepal delivered 3,000 doses of pharmaceutical strength Vitamin A to help reverse early nutritional blindness in 3,000 children. Expedition 2000 to Nepal delivered 45,000 does of pharmaceutical strength Vitamin A as well as 10,000 full adult doses of the antibiotic Floxin to hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley and 10,000 individual applications of antibacterial ointment to health posts in the Annapurna region. Expedition 2001 delivered $75,000 worth of medical supplies to hospitals and village health posts. All this in addition to the hundreds of coordinated efforts with individual travelers and sponsored expeditions who drop off much smaller, but still much needed quantities of health and first aid supplies as they travel.
For Belson, Medicines for Nepal and now Medicines Global is a personal mission that is rooted in her love for the people of Nepal and Tibet and a belief that travelers can make a difference in the world.
"Instead of bringing candy and trinkets when traveling, how much better and more worthwhile would it be for a culture and a region if travelers brought medicines and health care products," Belson told SNEWS®. "How much better it would be to find a way for everyone to find a way to give back to a culture instead of destroy it."
Belson struck on the idea when on an adventure travel trip and realizing that she was bringing first aid supplies into the country, and so were most of her other traveling companions.
"I wondered then what would happen if we each simply brought in more than we needed and left the additional supplies at the medical outposts along the way," says Belson. "These facilities each serve between 8,000 to 10,000 people and yet their shelves are often empty because the men who carry supplies up the valley can make more money hauling Coke or lumber than they can with first aid supplies. Travelers can make the difference.… We can make the difference."
There is no doubt that movers and shakers, who at first are amused by this ebullient woman who can talk for days about her cause and the people of Nepal, are signing on to back Belson with in-kind support and logistical help. Operation USA has committed to coordinate the shipment and distribution of medical supplies for Medicines for Nepal and Medicines Global, and next week Direct Relief is expected to do the same.
Adventure Medical Kits has stepped forward with $10,000 in individual kit supplies for donation as well as space on the back of its upcoming catalog. Many others such as Leki, ROI of Canada, Kavu, E3 footgear, Body Glide, i2 Foundation, Whole Foods Market, Ralph Lauren Polo Sport have contributed money and in-kind support this year too.
Despite all the additional support of friends and individual donations, Belson is at a point where she simply needs donations of money to keep her dream alive and growing.
"We need to find at least five companies willing to be sustaining members for $10,000 a year because then I can go out and get matching funds from places like the Gates Foundation," says Belson. "Our annual budget needs are around $250,000 a year to be able to manage our operation, get medicines where they need to be, and develop our website so travelers can simply access it to determine where medicines are needed in the world and how they can help."
Expedition 2002 is slated to depart later this year for Nepal and there are several openings still on that trek too. The cost is $5,000 to cover airfare and expenses, with any money left over going directly into the Medicines Global fund. This expedition will be carrying at least $75,000 in medical supplies including birthing kits, antibiotics, and Vitamin A.
SNEWS® View: While our industry has been very generous in terms of in-kind support and small financial donations, SNEWS® has learned that Belson basically lives hand-to-mouth pouring every dime she sees into her cause -- and that doesn't sit right any way we look at it. We don't often endorse (heck, we don't think we've ever really endorsed) a non-profit's mission, but we're doing so here. Supporting Medicines for Nepal is perhaps the most grass-roots and most beneficial way for our industry to give back to a country and people who have embraced us all as travelers, and inspired us all as adventurers. It is a thank-you our industry needs to give, and the cost of entry is not high by any means. One-year sponsorships begin at $3,000, two-year at $5,000, and sustaining at $10,000.