Life in Every Drop
New Orleanians are reaching out to provide clean water to the world through LearnToLive.
To many of us, a glass of crystal-clear water is an ordinary thing. We offer it to a guest in our homes, we bring one to our children as we tuck them in at night. We can simply walk to a faucet, turn it on and water magically appears.
But to others around the world, who walk miles to get a few gallons, suffer painful stomach cramps from drinking dirty water or who die way too young from preventable diseases, potable water is a luxury.
A single human being needs 80 to 100 gallons of water per day for drinking, washing and sanitation. However, according to Unicef, nearly 900 million do not have access to water. As a result, 30,000 children under age 5 die from diarrhea and other water-, sanitation- and hygiene-related diseases every day, and many more suffer and are weakened by illness.
Since 2011, LearnToLive (LTL), a nonprofit based in New Orleans, has been joining with communities worldwide to improve quality of life through healthcare, health education and access to clean water.
The organization was started by Yanti Turang, a New Orleans transplant from Australia who decided she wanted to use her skills as a registered nurse to not only help people but also inspire them to be better and live healthier and longer lives. She looked to her family for inspiration.
“My father and his family are from North Sulawesi, Indonesia,” she said. “I often visited this region during my childhood and recognized from an early age the stark difference between their living conditions and the ones I had growing up in Australia.”
North Sulawesi was characterized by rampant poverty, limited healthcare and virtually no form of sustainable clean water or sanitation.
“I’ve seen young men and women die from easily preventable or treatable conditions like diabetes, heart disease and stomach ulcers,” she said. “Moreover, I’ve seen others live their lives with untreated conditions without knowledge of small behavior changes that could help sustain a healthy lifestyle. So many of my family members were dying prematurely from preventable diseases. It made me realize I wanted to do something to change that.”
In 2012, Turang took a team of 24 medical, engineering and public health professionals to North Sulawesi.
“We saw nearly 700 patients from four different villages and created a rainwater catchment system for one community,” explained Turang in a letter posted on the organization’s website. “We return to these villages each year and provide basic healthcare. In addition, LTL helped build two additional rainwater catchment systems with plans to build another in 2015. Since 2012, we’ve seen over 2,000 patients and in 2014, LTL began developing the infrastructure for a community based mental healthcare service.”
The key team for LTL is actually three New Orleans residents. Turang works with international program director Rachel Witwer, a public health specialist originally from Washington D.C., and research and evaluation director Iben McCormick-Ricket, who moved from the Northeast to pursue a degree in epidemiology from Tulane University. The three women now work with a global network of partners, volunteers and local leaders, offering programming in Indonesia, Laos and Kenya.
LTL recently traveled to Najile, a dusty and drought prone town in remote West Kajiado County in Kenya, to develop local partnerships, as well as assess feasibility for future LTL programming in the area.
“After discussions with community members and local leaders, water access clearly revealed itself as the priority need once again,” said Turang. “So, we provided instructional training for adult members of the community on how to clean, operate and maintain the system and facilitated community meetings where the community set its ground rules for management and use of the water system.”
LTL also provides training and capacity building opportunities for a wide range of healthcare providers, from doctors and nurses, to traditional birth attendants and community health educators.
The organization also outfits clinics with necessary equipment, such as ultrasounds, and then offers clinicians intensive training on how to use these tools in their practices.
In order to make all of this possible, LTL relies heavily on a global network of volunteers, program partners and community leaders.
Arwen Podesta, a New Orleans-based adult psychiatrist, has been passionate about LTL for five years and serves on its board of directors.
“As a physician in private practice, I don’t have the global reach to change things,” she said. “I thought that LTL, by combining building and construction of water systems with clinics and healthcare, was a unique approach. It’s also a great way to teach medical students and help perpetuate in them global citizenship and compassion.”
The organization recruits volunteers on social media platforms but Turang said the best recruitment tool is still word of mouth. LTL is always looking for clinicians, pharmacists, builders, architects and interpreters. Besides New Orleans, volunteers come from all over the world, including Indonesia, Australia, Scotland, Laos, England and Mexico.
“I’m proud to say that 80 percent of our volunteers return the next year to serve again.”
Two summers ago, Isaac Watson set out on a journey that would change his life and broaden his understanding of the world. He volunteered a summer helping Learn To Live.
“It was so eye opening,” he said. “I was in a place that was years behind in medical care and technology. And with just our being there, you could feel we were making a huge difference in their lives.”
He remembers one incident clearly.
“We traveled an hour and half from our base and then another hour by boat until we came to a very remote village. They had no resources at all. There was a woman, who was maybe 35 years old, and who maybe had a week to live. She had pneumonia. I wasn’t part of the medical team. I was there for miscellaneous jobs and heavy lifting, so I was asked to carry her to the boat. I knew then I was part of something important. I was part of the team that ultimately saved her life and the lives of so many others. I was 19 years old and this experience took volunteering to a whole new level.”
Watson is currently studying advertising at the University of Texas. He’s stayed in touch with the staff at LTL and is planning to volunteer another summer in the near future.
“It’s made me feel grateful for all I have here to be a part of this effort.”
A large part of LTL’s funding comes from grants and corporate donations, but a good amount of funding comes from individual donors, people who want to be a small part of big change for the better.
“I am proud that LTL has seen thousands of patients to date in Indonesia and together with local healthcare workers have mobile clinics in some of the most remote communities in Indonesia.”
LTL is intentionally a small organization so that it can keep operational expenses lean and in turn devote the majority of its funds to programming costs, such as medication, building materials, clinic supplies and interpreters.
“Even after six years of navigating the global health arena, we feel there is still so much to learn,” Turang said in LTL’s annual report. “Through our successes, and to be honest, also our missteps, we have been able to gain valuable insights and develop the resilience needed to operate in a field where, despite the reward, our work can often feel overwhelming. With this resilience, we will continue to move forward and broaden our impact.”
By the numbers
SUCCESS OF SERVICES
Primary and Emergent Healthcare, Health Education, Capacity Building, Water Access and Global Citizenship.
5,310 people helped worldwide
Works in three countries:
Indonesia, Laos and Kenya
Worked with 39 volunteers who put in 9,504 volunteer hours
1001patients received health services such as pediatrics and dental
120 Phoukoud District High School seniors and Xai Village community members participated in interactive reproductive health education sessions
A Good Match FOR COMPANIES WHO…
have or would like to have a more global reach regarding healthcare and education
LTL relies on a global network of volunteers, including doctors, nurses, birth attendants and community health educators, to work in communities in Indonesia, Laos and Kenya.
Three New Orleanians are leading an effort to bring clean water to the world.
Top to Bottom: LTL International Program Director, Rachel Witwer; Water Project Designer, Elizabeth Chen; and Founder/Executive Director, Yanti Turang.
Learn to Live
LearnToLive joins with communities worldwide to improve quality of life through healthcare, health education, and access to clean water while building global citizens and future leaders in healthcare.
938 Lafayette St.
Basic wound dressings
Major Fundraising Event
Act Global-Party Local is LTL’s gala and major fundraiser. It’s scheduled for Friday, April 5, at The Cellar on St. Louis Street.
James Beard Award-winning chef Sue Zemanick will provide culinary treats with an Indonesian flair. Musical wonders Alexis and the Samurai, and special guests Boyfriend, will supply the entertainment. Tickets are $120 each online at tickettailor.com/events/learntolive
How to help
What Your Company Can Do
Let LTL address your employees to promote the organization
Spread the word about the organization
Buy a table at a fundraising event