Danielle Butin and the Afya Foundation are a philanthropic triple threat



In 2007, Danielle Butin found herself unemployed after the downsizing of the Fortune 500 company for which she worked. She started looking for work, but nothing suited her. “I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew I wanted to go to Africa,” she says. Divorced mother of three children, her family thought the idea was crazy. But Booty felt something call to her, so she left. What happened next, she describes as fate.

“While I was there in the Serengeti plains in Tanzania, I saw a woman crying all alone in a tent.” Loot sat down next to the stranger and asked what was going on. “I’m one of the best women’s health doctors in London, and I came here on a medical mission, but I can’t save anyone,” the woman told him. “There are children dying on the steps of the clinic because I don’t have any of the supplies I need to treat them. A doctor cannot go this far without the tools he needs to do his job.

So and there, Booty decided to find a solution. “There are times in each of our lives when you bear witness to someone’s story, and you have a great compassionate response,” says Booty. “And then there are times when you feel like it’s way beyond a compassionate response, and you feel compelled to act. And it was mine.

His decades of work in the medical field as an occupational therapist made Loot realize that many medical supplies are wasted in America every year.

Here is the situation: when a procedure is performed in a hospital, the operating room is equipped with the necessary materials: a scalpel, sutures, gauze, etc. But at the back of every OR is what Butin calls a “what if” stock. What if the patient needs more packaging, more stitches, more cleaning? These relief supplies are needed “just in case” but often go unused. Yet federal regulations require that because these still sterile and unopened supplies were simply in the operating room with the patient, they must be discarded. Suffice it to say, unused supplies represent a fair share of the five million tonnes of waste produced by US hospitals each year.

Volunteers from an Afya warehouse prepare supplies for shipment.

Courtesy of the Afya Foundation

“There is an opportunity here to save these things and divert them to another health care system before they are needlessly thrown away,” says Butin. So, she started collecting these viable supplies from New York hospitals and storing them at her home in Hastings with the idea that she could send them to Africa and other places without access to these goods. .

Thirteen years later, what started in his garage now occupies 40,000 square feet in three different warehouses, with more than 20 employees and more than 3,000 volunteers per year. Butin decided to name the foundation “Afya”, which means “health” in Kiswahili. “Hats off from my heart to the nation that whispered this to me.”

To date, Afya has collected over 11 million pounds of supplies from the New York City healthcare market, making it one of the state’s best green solutions for hospitals. And that’s just one aspect of the foundation’s three-pronged mission.

“Our impact on global health is enormous,” says Butin. “We sent $ 39 million worth of supplies to 79 countries. Afya’s first and foremost mission is to improve global health by strengthening communities existing health systems. It’s not about jumping in a parachute, sorting through a disaster, and then leaving so quickly. “If you are a doctor in a hospital in central Nairobi, I would be very interested to hear what you need in this hospital,” she said. “I want to help you stay.”

Loot remembers being in an operating room in Tanzania once, when halfway through an emergency cesarean section, doctors realized they had no stitches to close their incision . They had no choice but to start pulling gauze threads to use as stitches. When this is the reality across the world, Butin says there is no excuse for items to languish in American landfills. (To clarify, Afya can bypass federal regulations as they distribute supplies outside of U.S. borders, although they also operate nationally.)

Booty and his team have an ongoing list of more than 800 projects, including relief efforts following major disasters such as the Ebola outbreak, the refugee crisis in Greece, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. , the recent explosions in Beirut and extensive works in Haiti after the earthquakes of 2010.

“She is a force of nature in the most positive way.”

“What we’re doing is asking which products would make a big difference,” she explains. And the answer is different every time. For an operating room without electricity in Ghana, it is a generator so that it can work at night. For a hospital in Malawi, these are hoses for watering gardens used to feed patients, and rain boots that are now at the feet of midwives “to keep them safe while they give birth, many of them. mothers could be HIV positive ”. It’s not just syringes, catheters, and gauze, though these are important as well.

At the moment, Afya is finding ways to support those fleeing Afghanistan and coming to Queens and New Jersey. Loot works with local agencies to put together products like hygiene kits and pillows to meet initial needs, and have broader conversations about long-term assistance for needs like employment. She says she hopes to partner with NGOs that remain in Afghanistan and focus on women’s health.

When asked how, after all the suffering she’s seen, she doesn’t collapse into despair, Butin is thoughtful. “If we can focus on one thing, we can change that,” she says. “I have to stay extremely focused on what we intend to do. So what can we do? We can do an incredible job of getting the supplies people need for medical and restorative care when hell breaks loose. And we’re good at it. And I can comfort the doctors and nurses who know how to practice their profession with the equipment they need to act.

After Afya’s work in Haiti, Butin was presented to New York State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, now Majority Leader in the New York Senate. Since then, the two have been allies. In 2014, Stewart-Cousins ​​inducted Butin into the Women of Distinction Hall of Fame in New York. “He’s someone who is tireless in their efforts and unwavering in their focus,” says Stewart-Cousins. “She is a force of nature in the most positive way.”

danielle bootin in haiti in 2010
Booty sits with a patient in Haiti after the devastating earthquakes of 2010. Afya did extensive work in Haiti and became the rehabilitation provider at Sean Penn’s “Camp Penn”.

Courtesy of the Afya Foundation

And then there is the third facet of Afya: a volunteer program based on the conviction that by helping, we are helped. For a while, Afya was sort of a one-woman show. When it became clear to Booty that she needed help, she asked herself, “Who needs the experience of volunteering and being as needed as I need help?” She decided to use Afya’s volunteer opportunities to make those who are traditionally considered ‘needy’ feel needed, such as people with disabilities, participating in treatment programs and those who are or have been incarcerated, or are on probation or parole. Afya even matches volunteers with occupational therapy students from across the country. “I implicitly believe in the value of altruism as a cure,” says Butin.

The experiences with these volunteers were among the most memorable for Butin. They have enabled her to change the lives of people right here in her community with the common goal of helping those who are far away. And all the while, they are doing good for the planet.

“It has an impact on the communities. It has an impact on countries. It has an impact on the environment, ”says Stewart-Cousins. “Afya’s work and this energy that Danielle puts into it has given so much positivity in the lives of so many different people that it’s really hard to measure … And I think it’s pretty good for the occupational therapist. from Westchester. ”

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