Foundation urged to help Chuuk

Ayuda working with group to deliver equipment, medicine to Chuuk hospital

by Jayne Flores

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News): May 15, 2002 - Focus on Chuuk. That's the advice given to Ayuda Foundation co-directors Carlotta Leon Guerrero and Shannon Murphy by doctors and politicians in the region.

With 66,000 people spread over 40 islands separated by hundreds of square miles of ocean, it's clear that the poorest state of the Federated States of Micronesia needs the most help. Chuuk is the largest and the poorest of the four island groups that make up the Federated States of Micronesia.

Leon Guerrero formed Ayuda, pronounced a-zu-da and meaning "help" in Chamorro, in 1995 while serving her first of three terms as a Guam senator. She worked with politicians from the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures "because it makes sense for a nonprofit organization to try and get help to the region, rather than each individual government."

Since then, Ayuda has provided humanitarian aid to Micronesia through medical missions and urgent relief efforts, delivering hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of medical supplies to the islands.

Ayuda is working with MedShare International to deliver equipment and medicine to Chuuk State Hospital. MedShare is a nonprofit organization that distributes surplus medical equipment and supplies from U.S. hospitals to developing nations.

Leon Guerrero and Murphy said it is important to enable the island governments to work with Ayuda to receive the donations.

"We are here on the side. We're not trying to take over what they're doing," Leon Guerrero said.

Toward that effort, while an Ayuda-sponsored doctor assessed medical needs at Chuuk and Pohnpei hospitals in February, Leon Guerrero met with the states' politicians to ask them to provide a shipping container each to carry the equipment to their islands.

While the FSM receives millions in federal assistance every year under its Compact of Free Association with the United States, that money hasn't been able to meet all the needs of the people.

"This kind of assistance - that's very special to us," said Chuuk Gov. Ansito Walter of Ayuda's efforts.

Ayuda has quietly established a reputation as a responsive nonprofit organization in the region. It has caught the attention not only of MedShare, but also of Heart to Heart International, a worldwide relief and development organization that gave Ayuda $1.6 million worth of supplies last year.

Ayuda recently received a $50,000 grant from the Hillblom Foundation, established by the will of late DHL founder and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands resident Larry Hillblom.

Ayuda also receives "ayuda" from several Guam companies - Triple B Freight Forwarders, Matson Shipping, Continental Airlines and the Bank of Guam.

With their help over the last six years, Ayuda has made a small but noticeable difference to Micronesia residents - especially women and children - suffering from malnutrition and lack of basic medical care.

But Leon Guerrero and Murphy realize their work to date is just the tip of the island, so to speak.

"People think about the islands as this idyllic setting," Murphy said. "They don't want to hear about the realities."