December 20, 1999
Dr. Alan Kelley, who founded Compassion Worldwide, a non-profit Christian medical relief organization, looks for volunteers with giving hearts.
by Deborah Stone, features writer
Woodinville resident Dr. Alan Kelley has been volunteering his medical skills to help refugees and the indigent in undeveloped countries for the past ten years.
His work has taken him to such places as Guatemala, Haiti, Sudan, and Nicaragua, and over the years, he has found that he has been able to be effective in relieving the suffering of others.
"My time with these people has been brief, but even in a week's time, for example, I could treat 700 people, as well as work with local physicians and providers, sharing my resources and knowledge," says Kelley. "Even though I wasn't there very long, I still felt like I had been able to make some kind of dent in the medical needs of the people."
As a father of four children and a family physician with a practice in Redmond, Kelley leads a busy life. He realized early on in these endeavors that it was difficult to be away from his job and his family for long periods of time, yet he still wanted to continue his volunteer work in this capacity.
In 1998, Kelley decided to form Compassion Worldwide, a non-profit Christian medical relief organization that provides supplies, logistics, and medical personnel for those in need anywhere in the world.
Compassion Worldwide sends independent medical teams comprised of physicians, physician's assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, and medical assistants, who work on short-term assignments, ranging from two weeks to two months. The groups work, when possible, in concert with other non-medical groups who have targeted a given population.
Each team brings supplies, medicines, vitamins and immunization kits, as well as basic equipment, to their destination. Often they must hike several miles to reach the people, who live in isolated villages.
"Once we get to where we're going, we set up camp and then the people begin to arrive," explains Kelley. "They communicate by word of mouth and come to the clinic in a steady stream, about one hundred a day. We see every condition you can imagine. These places have no medical care at all, and there's much malnutrition and significant infant mortality. We do all that we can do, but of course, it's never enough, as we don't have the resources to set up ongoing care."
The first trip for Compassion Worldwide was in December of '98. A team of ten went to Haiti for a week to work in conjunction with New Missions of Haiti, an existing group doing education outreach in the outlying villages of the country. Two trips to war-torn Southern Sudan followed, where teams worked with refugees from the country's fifteen-year civil war.
Last spring, Dr. Kelley and two others spent four days in Nicaragua assessing the needs of two specific areas for a possible future trip.
"We found refugees from the Contra War who had settled in barrios for the poor around Mataguas," says Kelley. "We plan to go there this spring and set up clinics in the barrios, as well as do home visits to the infirm who cannot walk to the clinics. We will be working with a local Assembly of God church in the town. The water in the area is unsafe to drink, so we have contacted Living Water International, and as a result, we will be putting in a well of clean water to leave as a kind of legacy. We have also been requested to look at Lebanon to help refugees in that country, so this summer I will go on a fact-finding trip to assess the needs of the people."
The work that Compassion Worldwide does is filled with challenges and risks. Many of the places that the teams have entered are within twenty degrees of the equator. The temperatures average 100 degrees with ninety percent humidity, and the main danger is illness. There are deadly scorpions and snakes, as well as numerous parasites.
Volunteers have also had to watch out for land mines, and know how to deal with the attitudes of any guerrillas and bandits they may encounter. Attempts at kidnapping Americans are not unusual in certain areas, and the teams must be vigilant about the routes they use in and outside of villages.
According to Kelley, a Compassion Worldwide team is comprised of two doctors, one to two nurses and medical assistants, and about five or six non-medical personnel who assist with crowd control, movement of equipment, and communications. All are volunteers with a concern for the needy and a hearty stamina for working long hours and enduring uncomfortable conditions for a limited time.
"Most importantly, they need to have a giving heart," comments Kelley. "Those who do go find it very rewarding and gratifying. They feel they have made a difference, but they also go away with the realization that the needs are overwhelming. They see the last, the least, and the lost of the world who have to fight for their daily survival."
Compassion Worldwide is a small organization with few resources. It needs monetary support, as well as donations of equipment and supplies. Volunteers for the home office in Redmond are sought, along with volunteers for future missions.
For more information or to make a donation, call 425-861-1393.