Delivering Aid to the Amazon
Edition: November 2003 - Vol 11 Number 11
Author: Beth Blaney
Tribal Outreach Medical Assistance provides help that fosters healing.
A bush plane carrying healthcare workers and supplies lands deep in the Amazonas, a remote part of Venezuela. With its dense jungles and maze of rivers, this is one of the least explored regions of the world. Indigenous Indians – dressed only in loincloths – swarm the plane. With machetes in tow, the natives hack through thickets of vine to guide the new arrivals to outlying tribal villages. They dodge quick sand and venomous snakes on their mission to aid the sick and dying.
While it sounds like a scene from an action thriller, this is no movie script. It’s a snippet from the life of Randall Green – a son of missionaries, who spent part of his childhood living among the Yanomami Indians.
Today, Green is the director of Latin America for Rusch Inc. (a division of Teleflex Medical), a medical device manufacturer based in Duluth, Ga. But he has never forgotten the inspiring influence the Yanomami had on his life. And so in 1997 Green took action to help the plight of these isolated people facing such a high incidence of tropical diseases. He co-founded a non-profit organization called TOMA (Tribal Outreach Medical Assistance) with his sister Tressa Green. Year after year, members of the Green family – along with dedicated TOMA volunteers – make the arduous trek to the Amazonas to help deliver medical aid to the Yanomami Indians.
Far Removed From the Outside World
“The Yanomami is one of the last stone-age tribes. They still live the way they lived thousands of years ago. They make loincloths from the cotton they grow. Bows and arrows are their tools of choice. They even use stone axes,” says Green.
The presence of gold has attracted many adventurers to the Amazonas, which poses a major threat to the thousands of Yanomami located in Southern Venezuela and Northern Brazil. Exposure to disease from the outside world results in scores of deaths.
“Mosquitoes are the chief culprits in the spread of diseases that threaten lives here,” explains Green. Virulent strains of malaria, yellow fever and dengue are the most devasting killers in the jungle, much more dangerous than the snakes and jaguars, he adds. The health of the Yanomami is also compromised by parasites and poor hygiene.
Green describes the heartbreaking plight of Yanomami mothers who do not name their children at birth. In fact, not until a child has lived through two malaria seasons – two years – will a mother name her baby. “This gives you an inclination of the power that sickness has,” he says.
But the lifespan of the Yanomami is much greater for those who have access to healthcare clinics. And that’s how TOMA has become a healthcare godsend to this primitive tribe. Twice a year, TOMA brings medical teams, vaccines, medications and supplies to over 25 villages with tribal clinics managed by missionary nurses or government healthcare personnel. They provide hands-on support to treat acute illnesses and prevent epidemics.
Trips are made in October and March to coincide with the beginning and end of the dry season. Green, who has a total of five siblings, traveled to the Amazonas last month with his brother Richard Green of Cumming, Ga., his sister Tressa of Austin, Texas, and his sister Shelly Mauldin, an R.N. who lives in Grayson, Ga., along with a team of healthcare professionals.
TOMA volunteers spend about two weeks in the Amazonas. They visit Yanomami villages they’ve been to before to follow up on vaccinations (vaccinations need to be administered to children twice a year), and they visit new villages as well.
They face incredible dangers getting by foot from one place to the next. Hiking to a village can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Typically, the TOMA volunteers separate into two teams of eight people, which include a couple doctors, a dentist and healthcare assistants.
“During a recent trip, a volunteer nearly died after he slipped into a quick sand pit. He sank up to his chest. Luckily, he was able to wriggle himself out of it,” recalls Green.
“The odd thing about doing medical work with such primitive people is that we never know what we’ll encounter,” says Green’s sister Tressa. “Sometimes everyone is in pretty good health, so we administer vaccinations and move on to the next village. Other times, it’s one trauma after another – a child with an arrow stuck in his eye, children whose feet are being eaten away from the worms of sand flies, men screaming from the intense effects of malaria.”
Enriched by Lessons Learned
Green thinks the Yanomami way of life has much to teach us. “The Yanomami are not afraid to show their emotions. Crying [openly] for a lost loved one often goes on for days. They’re not wasteful. They reuse and recycle everything possible. They’re self-sufficient. They grow their own tobacco and cotton. They make hammocks from vines, bows from palm trees, arrows from reeds and baskets from grass.
“Part of their value system is sharing with others. Being selfish or stingy is a major sin in their culture,” adds Green.
“Being with the Yanomami cannot help but change you,” notes Tressa. “You leave with a whole new set of things to wonder about, and you can’t help but have them in your thoughts when you go through a ‘normal’ day back home.
“It’s unbelievable that they’re still out there, making their way and laughing through the hot days and months of rain,” she says. “The sound of their laughter often comes to me when I think I have it hard. They’re happy with what they have and that truly inspires me.”
Bold New Undertakings
TOMA is committed to several new projects, which include:
Amazonas MedLink is a project that establishes a communication network between 12 remote jungle clinics and tropical medicine specialists working in hospitals in the region. Communication is established by means of an innovative ham radio/e-mail connection. Village clinics, in need of medical recommendations are able to get immediate feedback from specialists through Amazonas MedLink.
The Cold Chain Vaccine Project will enable TOMA to preserve vaccines at each of the 12 clinics through solar-powered refrigeration units.
The Parima Pure Water Project replaces contaminated creek water with pure drinking water. Because of the size and scope of this project, both the American and Venezuelan Red Cross have joined the effort.
You – and Your Company Can Help This Worthy Cause
TOMA protects and preserves the health and survival of the stone-age Yanomami tribe.
A non-profit medical and humanitarian foundation, TOMA is supported 100 percent by contributions.
With an expanded project list and an increasing number of villages slated for medical care, TOMA needs your help. Contributions to TOMA can be made in the form of monetary donations and medical supplies.
Donations to TOMA help pay for travel, computers, solar panels, malaria test kits (which are very expensive), among other expenses. To contribute, contact:
C/O Rusch Inc./Randall Green
2450 Meadowbrook Pkwy. • Duluth, GA 30096
email@example.com • www.galinks.com/toma
Supplies needed include:
• Sutures, gloves, scalpels
• Stethoscopes (neonatal, infant and adult)
• Lab supplies (lancets and portable,
• Diagnostic instruments
• Portable lights
• Portable X-ray equipment
• Lap-top computers