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Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. This axiom is especially appropriate when applied to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
When Danny Thomas and his friends at American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC) established St. Jude, they wanted all children in the world—not just Americans—to benefit from the institution. In those early days, St. Jude gave the world a “fish.” All patients were brought to Memphis, Tennessee, for treatment, because foreign affiliates and international outreach efforts had not yet been established.
Today, St. Jude and ALSAC have partnerships with foundations in countries such as Brazil, Chilé, China, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco and Venezuela. Through the hospital’s International Outreach Program and ALSAC, doctors and fund-raisers in distant lands are being taught how to “fish.”
But when it comes to raising funds, the individual foundations must cast the lines.
Finding the right hook
St. Jude and ALSAC were established in a nation where volunteerism was ingrained in citizens; Americans were already accustomed to giving time and money to organizations. But in other countries and cultures, a new breed of fund-raisers encounters different challenges. The trait of volunteerism is absent in many areas of the world, so fund-raisers must create that environment—often by transforming part of the culture.
In Recife, Brazil, members of Núcleo de Apoio à Criança com Câncer (NACC) face such a task. “The Brazilian people do not have the volunteer culture, and they don’t have the habit of donating to institutions,” says Arli Pedrosa, president of NACC, which raises funds for the outpatient pediatric hematology-oncology clinic called Centro de Hematologica e Oncologia Pediatrica de Pernambuco (CEHOPE). “Today, that way of thinking is changing,” she says. “We have tried to make people [learn] that they can change the rules; they can make things happen in a different way.”
And they are.
Established in 1994 to offer adequate cancer treatment to Brazilian children, NACC and CEHOPE have significantly increased both survival rates and volunteer recruitment. In the 1980s, survival rates for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer, stood at 29 percent. Today, 65 percent of Brazilian children with ALL will survive. “This dramatic change is attributed to the scientific support that CEHOPE has been receiving from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,” says Pedrosa.
The foundation blazed new paths into Brazilian culture including the construction of a 40-bed hospital to further improve survival rates.
In 2000, members of NACC and other Latin American organizations traveled to ALSAC for an international workshop. “During our time at ALSAC, we learned how to raise funds in a professional way,” Pedrosa says. “We learned how to present our institutions as partners to local corporations and how to organize fund-raising projects. But some of the ways [Americans] raise money are not useful here because of the culture of our people and because of their social and financial condition.”
ALSAC can only light the path; the foundations must walk it.
Reeling in results
Fund-raising activities in Brazil differ from those typically held in the United States. “We don’t have big events for fund raising,” Pedrosa says. “Our city … is a very poor place.” NACC has been coordinating projects with volunteers and developing partnerships with corporations such as McDonald’s. Every year, each McDonald’s in Brazil donates the proceeds from one day’s sales of Happy Meals to NACC.
Another fund-raising project is a program in which parents of children treated at the hospital are trained to create handicrafts. The parents then sell the items in their hometowns, keeping part of the proceeds and giving some of the money to the foundation. This process could put food on the table for people in an area where the monthly household income is equivalent to $150 U.S. dollars. “It’s a great incentive for them to work and learn a skill,” observes Bassem Razzouk, MD, director of Middle East Programs in the International Outreach Program and medical director of the hospital’s telemedicine initiative. “They serve one of the poorest regions of Brazil.”
NACC has established a small factory where families will make brooms to be sold in the community. “The patients and parents are going to be responsible for everything,” says Pedrosa. “It’s going to be their factory. They will have their own jobs and their own money. It’s like giving them a chance to control their own lives.”
A crucial problem in many Third World countries is the rate at which patients abandon treatment. As a result of NACC’s work, the abandonment rate in Brazil has fallen from 20 percent to 0.5 percent. “The [foundation] now provides transportation,” says International Outreach Program Director Raul Ribeiro, MD. “They provide a bus ticket for them to return, and they work with social workers closest to the family to try to motivate them to come back. The work of Arli (Pedrosa) and her group is really incredible.”
Last update: January 2004