Since 1997, I have been privileged to volunteer on medical/ surgical mission projects with Medical Ministry International (MMI). I wasn’t even a premedical student at the time, but Dr. Pedro Obregon invited me along with my parents and sister to assist him on a medical mission project in Northwestern Thailand. My experience on that project caused me to change the course of my studies and to pursue a career in general surgery. With MMI, I’ve volunteered on 13 teams in six different countries, the last eight in Bolivia. I can’t even begin to express how important MMI, its employees, field staff, and volunteers have been in my life.
Over the past year, I became aware that MMI was struggling under some financial difficulties. Providing quality free and low-cost medical care around the globe is an expensive endeavor. It entails making many difficult financial decisions and a constant effort to raise funds from a variety of sources. In the end, both continuing projects and servicing their debts became too great a task. On November 9, 2015, after 48 years and providing over $500,000,000 in medical services to the world’s poorest, MMI’s board communicated their decision to cease operations and close the ministry. We were on project at the time. Funding our latest project in Bolivia was MMI’s last effort in the field and I am thankful to the administrators and staff who made it happen, even while knowing they were in their final days on the job.
Since MMI’s announcement went public, many have asked if I will be continuing to take surgical teams to Bolivia. Other natural questions have also arisen surrounding our team in Bolivia and our warehouse of equipment and supplies. I was too busy at the time to address these questions, but feel it necessary to do so now as we have all intentions to continue our work there.
The organizational demise of a volunteer-based, nonprofit NGO is a strange event. While MMI’s closure is in itself a tragedy, it is in no way an end to the work they have been doing. For a while now, their field staff have operated more or less as independent contracting organizations with assets held and controlled locally. To the extent of my knowledge, these field workers fully intend to continue their work, and their assets are not subject to seizure/ liquidation. Likewise their volunteers, myself included, have no intent to stop organizing and carrying out projects in cooperation with these dedicated workers. It is my prayer that even as this seed appears to fall to the ground and die, that it will ultimately bear much fruit as its many volunteers continue to serve and to seek new venues for service. Indeed, even as MMI ceased operations, our own team continued to operate (literally) with joy and care.
Our challenge will come in organizing and recruiting for future projects. We have benefitted much from MMI’s Texas staff as they helped to plan and recruit for projects, clear international credentialing hurdles, and fill gaps from the large pool of volunteers they have accumulated over the years. While this will present a challenge, I do not think it is insurmountable. Already, we have a sizeable and growing team who have verbally committed to our next project. Send Health, inc. (www.sendhealth.org) was created at just the right time to facilitate fundraising activities for our specific projects, and MMI Canada (www.mmicanada.ca) has agreed to assume central organizing responsibilities. They are already working closely with the MMI Bolivia team to prepare for our projects and many more.
Our next project is scheduled for April 16-30 in San Carlos, Bolivia. It will be our fourth time there in as many years. We will have a surgical team as well as an on-site medical, dental, and optometry teams. We will have an evangelistic team meeting with our patients and families and also participating in our integrated health educational efforts. We still need volunteers for specific roles, and many of our volunteers could use financial or logistical support in making their participation possible. Please do not hesitate to contact me at DrCampbell@SendHealth.org if you have any interest in participating, making a donation, or helping in our fundraising efforts.