Blog Home

Medical Teams Blog: Stories of boldly breaking barriers to health

Sign up to receive the blog directly to your email inbox

  • Volunteer Spotlight: Art

    by Camille Freestone | Feb 17, 2017

    Our volunteers are at the heart of everything we do. This is part of a special feature about the volunteers that make our headquarters work possible. Meet Art, a hard-working volunteer who recently helped renovate our Real Life Exhibit in Tigard, Oregon!

    The twinkly-eyed man in front of me has the physical markers of a hard worker. Sturdy, in spite of age, with hands scarred ever so slightly by years of manual labor. Art’s open face and honest eyes seem to tell me that there is no more to him than the former handy-man/teacher standing before me.

    What had brought this unique individual to Medical Teams International? How did a teacher, turned vice principal, become the construction aficionado lending me his expertise? His recent work on two vignettes in the exhibit showed extensive capabilities, but building was not his chosen profession – how did he end up here? These were all questions I hoped to answer during our brief interview.

    Singer, teacher, handyman.

    Raised in the Portland area in the 1950 and '60s, Art spent his teenage days crooning with a singing quartet, made up of five young men. Apparently, they eventually realized their quartet had one too many fellows and Art began accompanying the set on the piano to numerically balance the group. At the time he decided to make this transition Art didn’t actually know how to play the piano, but that was no matter he told me– he would teach himself.

    In describing the volunteer environment, he notes the selfless and kind people - he may not know it, but he’s describing himself.

    At this point I have to pause the interview to let out a laugh. Teacher, construction expert… and singer? But I realize I shouldn’t be so surprised. If I’d been paying attention, I’d have noticed the baritone hidden by his slightly gruff talking voice. And his offhanded way of discussing things he’d learned just because he felt like it was nothing new. That is just Art’s attitude about everything, and what makes him such an invaluable member of our team: No matter – I’ll figure it out.

    After years of quartets and accompaniments, Art tells me that he began volunteering his talents for the Almighty by playing piano in his church. His musical talents escaped no one’s notice, and shortly thereafter, he was asked to direct the choir. He was 17 years old.

    In 1975, at the age of 26, Art began his career as a special education teacher, a career to which he felt an emotional calling. After more than a decade of dedicating his professional life to students with special needs, Art pursued the certifications needed to become a vice principal, a job he stayed in until he retired from Westview High School

    Retirement didn’t really suit Art, so he began investing in and flipping houses until the housing bubble burst in the late 2000s. With house-flipping no longer a stable option, Handyman Art, LLC was born.

    To my surprise (having seen him in action), Art didn’t realize his own affinity for this type of work until he and his young wife Arlena purchased this first home - “a real fixer upper.” By this time, Art’s father-in-law, a farmer with genius for engineering and construction, had taken him under his wing while helping renovate the new house. He quickly became one of the most influential people in Art’s life.

    Working together, using skills to help those in need.

    The skills that he learned with his father-in-law proved to be valuable throughout Art’s life. With the prospect of a second retirement looming in the late 2000s, Art opened business as a general contractor in 2009 and worked for another six years before retiring completely in 2015. But unsurprisingly, retirement’s leisure once again proved too much for Art and he began volunteering for Habitat for Humanity almost immediately. Using his construction skills to serve those in need was fulfilling, but by 2015 Arlena was also retired, and wanted to an opportunity to put her nursing skills to use in an equally meaningful way.

    As they learned more, Arlena realized she could use her medical knowledge to serve alongside Art, sorting medical supplies in the distribution center.

    Providence was smiling on Medical Teams International when Art and Arlena ran into an old friend. She told them all about her own volunteer experience at Medical Teams, and suggested that they explore the opportunity. As they learned more, Arlena realized she could use her medical knowledge to serve alongside Art, sorting medical supplies in the distribution center.

    Over the last year and a half, they have served weekly in the distribution center. Art also took a three week sabbatical from the distribution center to help rebuild two vignettes in the exhibit, during which time I had the privilege of getting to know him. The new vignettes – Cambodia and Mobile Dental – helped bring the exhibit into line with Medical Team’s current work around the world and here at home. In describing the volunteer environment, he notes the selfless and kind people - he may not know it, but he’s describing himself. His own dependable and heartfelt service doesn’t go unnoticed. Medical Teams International is lucky to have Art and Arlena on the team.

  • Reflections + Updates: Cambia and Medical Teams International Partnership in Uganda

    by Emily Crowe | Feb 15, 2017

    This post is from Cambia Health Solution's blog, The Pulse. We're proud that Cambia has been our partners for years, providing life-changing support for our dental program and working over the past two years to develop a ground-breaking technical solution for our Uganda clinics. Our goal is that this solution will provide better healthcare for the massive influx of refugees entering the country-- impacting and potentially saving many lives.


    An Android application was the first step to a health management solution created in partnership by Cambia and Medical Teams International. However, the real accomplishment is found in people’s lives: providers using the app can be more efficient in their daily work, and patients receiving the care they need at the time they need it most.

    Last November, we followed Cambia employees Ivan Lebed and Cathi Row as they traveled to Uganda with Medical Teams to implement an Android app for medical records and patient data You can read Part I and Part II of their experiences training staff and observing how the app was used in real time.

    We recently caught up with Ivan and Cathi to learn more about their experiences, their takeaways and progress on the app’s development.

    Reflections from Ivan and Cathi

    A “typical” day in Uganda began early with variable shower temperatures (if water was available), local food like matoke (a type of starchy green banana) served with goat or beef, and long drives on bumpy roads. However, it was the hours spent with clinicians and patients one-on-one that helped Ivan and Cathi see how the cause of simplifying and personalizing health care is profoundly needed.

    Says Cathi, “I was emotionally impacted by a mom with a nearly three-year-old child who received a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. She showed no emotion or reaction; it was a fact of life to her – yet very hard for me.  Even though I was relatively well prepared by co-workers who went last year, I was most surprised by the strength and perseverance of the people who live here. The people I worked with, side-by-side, were employed in good jobs, but don’t have access to much. Yet at the same time, they face adversity with happiness and hope and are open, welcoming, helpful, and passionate about the work they do.”

    “I did not expect the people's optimism,” says Ivan. “Going into Uganda I didn't realize how uplifting the experience would be. Even in difficult economic situations people find ways to innovate. I saw creativity in all aspects of Ugandan life—from agriculture and transportation to education and politics. Having spent time amongst the people of Uganda, I leave full of hope, knowing that innovation here thrives in good spirit.”

    Next Steps for the App Development

    Cambia and Medical Teams’ development teams regrouped in early December for a focused development sprint to resolve issues found in the application during the November implementation. When the new version of the application was rolled out to Uganda users, the team received great feedback—one clinician successfully used the new version to diagnose 81 patients its first day of use.

    The project continues to receive positive responses from clinicians, Medical Team’s Ugandan technical staff, the UNHCR, and the Ugandan Office of the Prime Minister (OPM.)

  • Nola, refugee: "Soldiers wait... They take you away."

    by Emily Crowe | Feb 10, 2017

    In January, conflict in South Sudan forced over 63,000 people into Uganda. Thousands of refugees are entering the country each week, and experts warn that the country is facing ethnically-charged genocide. Women and children are particularly at risk. Nola is one woman we met who described what it was like in South Sudan: "Soldiers wait outside your house leaning on a tree," she shared, "And then when you go out to use the bathroom they take you away."

    “Soldiers wait outside your house leaning on a tree, and then when you go out to use the bathroom they take you away.”

    Although life as a refugee can be very hard, your support helps us reach more and more in need. Seeking safer lives as refugees, your support makes sure they can receive urgently-needed medical care, including health screenings, vaccinations, malaria treatment, and more. 

    Check out photos from the field of your support in action:

    Despite losing homes and love ones, refugees show the true resiliency of the human spirit. Thank you for sharing health - and showing compassion for our global neighbors in need.

    Safe, accessible healthcare and medicines are critical to keeping families healthy.

    Your support trains volunteers, staff and sends medicine and medical supplies.

    Refugees wait to be seen at a medical clinic. As violence pushes more refugees into Uganda, need for healthcare grows.

    Without care - malaria treatment, vaccinations, etc. - children are particularly at risk of preventable disease or death. Thank you for making a difference!


  • Tracy: Healthier Down The Road

    by User Not Found | Feb 07, 2017

    Most mornings, our Mobile Dental vans full of volunteers and staff go out to serve patients in Oregon and Washington. Recently, we had the privilege of meeting Tracy, one such patient.

    “Thank you for having these vans available for the people who need it.”

    This was Tracy's 4th visit to a Mobile Dental Clinic and she drove nearly 70 miles to be seen. She had a tooth abscess - a pocket caused by infection that can be extremely painful. Untreated, abscesses can lead to life threatening conditions. Thankfully, our mobile clinics are staffed by more than 800 volunteer dental professionals that are ready to help people like Tracy.


    Tracy continues to look at the positive side of the situation, saying she looks forward to being “healthier down the road.” Although Tracy was nervous for the pain involved in a tooth extraction, she was very thankful to have it done to prevent further issues. She has a wonderfully supportive community at home that she greatly appreciates and were ready to care for her post-tooth extraction.

    There is no other way she could afford this care. “Thank you for having these vans available for the people who need it,” she shared. “It is greatly appreciated.” These clinics are a miracle to her. She made a point to say she wants to give back and donate once she gets the funds to do so.

    Since 1989, Medical Team International’s program has provided care to more than 293,000 children and adults who cannot afford or access dental services. 11 vans and over 300 sites make our Mobile Dental fleet the largest in the U.S. Thanks to our faithful volunteers and generous donors donating supplies, we can provide $4 worth of dental care for every $1 donated. Being able to give 4x the care multiplies the impact on our local communities.

    The goals of our Mobile Dental Vans are to identify and treat those who have the greatest dental and economic need, free patients from dental pain and help them return to full and productive lives, alleviate costs and workload impact of dental related emergency room visits, and give back to our community. We are so thankful for your support in helping us achieve these goals by helping people like Tracy.

  • From Martha's Desk: Fellowship & calling in 2017

    by Martha Newsome | Feb 02, 2017
    President & CEO

    Reflecting on 2016, I’m filled with deep personal gratitude for the many blessings of family, friendships, and the purposeful work we do together at Medical Teams International.

    Is this not an opportunity for the Church to step up, be relevant and provide light to our lost world?

    And yet, I also felt daily distress at the headlines of sorrow that so often blighted my screen. I found myself depressed and disappointed by the lack of leadership or viable solutions offered to heal our world.

    As we head into 2017, though, I find myself thinking, Is this not an opportunity for the Church to step up, be relevant and provide light to our lost world?

    Listening to the stories of refugees in Uganda, where our teams are providing medical care. Your support is truly doing God's work. 

    Like the servants in the Gospel of Luke who got dressed, trimmed their lamps, and waited, ready through the long night to serve whenever their lord called them, am I preparing myself for my Lord’s call, to hear His voice and respond? Will I go out to the byways and highways to call the poor, the lame, the sick, and the forgotten to our Savior’s banquet? Am I – and are we – ready for the most surprising banquet that is open for all?

    Our society and the people of our world are hungry, waiting, longing, desperate to join the feast. As 2017 dawns, my prayer is that the Lord opens the doors to His banquet hall, and that we hear his voice, ready and willing to go out and invite those in need to come in, to be fed, to find fellowship, and fullness of life.

    -Martha Holley Newsome, President & CEO