Snag That Dream Job: I wanna...start a worldwide charity!
Think for a sec about how many times a day you use your hands. Whether you’re brushing your teeth, snackin’ on a bag of pretzels, or writing that five-page essay for English, having coordinated hands sure is…handy!
Now imagine what it would be like to NOT have those motor skills. And…what if you couldn’t get the medical help you needed?
Unfortunately, kids all over the world have been the victims of serious fires and accidents that have left them in this horrible situation.
That’s why foundations like HandReach were started in the first place. HandReach works hard to raise money and provide doctors to help kids with severe burns and injuries.
We got to chat with the founder and executive director of HandReach, Brecken Chinn-Swartz, about the amazing and inspirational work that she does. Everyone (even you) can lend a hand!
Brecken: HandReach is working to reduce the suffering of kids with very serious burn injuries and orthopedic injuries—things that happen traumatically and suddenly—that then change their bodies forever. Most kids with these injuries in the developing world can’t get access to proper care or full rehabilitation, so we’re trying to bridge that gap.
GL: What are some examples of projects that you have worked on or are planning to work on?
Brecken: We just recently had a group of American surgeons and physical therapists go to China to work with the top burn hospital to train the staff there in new upgrades in techniques of surgery, splinting and rehabilitation therapy for kids. We did 85 procedures and dozens of hours of rehabilitation training that would have cost several hundred thousands of dollars, but some kids in China (who would have never had access to that kind of care) got it all for free!
We were really happy to see all the doctors and families come together. People were so overwhelmed with the kind of care that was offered. It was really beautiful. We’re working with families that are really poor. Burns are the riskiest injuries for poor children, and those are the families that are the least able to pay, so we’re making sure that those families can get access to care for their kids.
GL: What inspired you to start HandReach?
Brecken: When I was working in China, I met a little girl named Zhou Lin who was begging on the street. Half of her body had been burned by a very bad kerosene explosion. She hadn’t gotten proper medical care, and her condition was just so horrifying to me. I realized that no one was helping her. People would help if they knew more about these kinds of accidents and had a way to, so we decided to take HandReach in the direction of educating doctors and institutions to provide the kind of care that’s needed. We realized that burn survivors are suffering from the most expensive injuries in the world, and there’s almost nothing out there for them. We decided to fill that gap. Right now, we’re working mainly in China, but we realize that there are kids all over the world who aren’t getting the care, so we’re trying to build an international network.
We call it HandReach because it really is hand-to-hand contact and communication between patients and doctors and people who want to help. It’s a beautiful, uplifting experience to see so many people coming together to reduce suffering. Kids who never really envisioned a hopeful future now have a completely bright future.
GL: There are so many people who would love to work on such amazing projects, but don’t know how. How do you even start an international foundation like HandReach?
Brecken: HandReach started very, very small. We only raised about a thousand dollars a year, but we just tried to make sure that every penny was spent well, that all the money was used to really helping people. People would just give us a dollar or two, so we tried to always use it well. Once people see that you’re using the money well, they want to give you more.
When they see you’re managing well and you’re working with good people, they offer you help to create a lasting effort that keeps growing. People come forward once they know what you’re doing and offer the help you need right when you least expect it. They’re like angels that appear out of nowhere and give you what you need if you’re really committed to work. So I can’t say I’ve done it alone by any means. It’s been a contribution from dozens of people over the years.
GL: What is the best part about your job?
Brecken: The best part about my job is getting to work with good-hearted people. When you’re working with burn survivors, it’s a difficult thing to face. It’s really hard, but everyone who comes forth to work on it is brave and loving and caring and genuinely interested in making other people’s lives better. I love working with people like that. If you work with a business, you’re working with people who want to make money. For different fields, you may not find such golden-hearted people, but every day, I get to work with people who truly care. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.
GL: What is the most challenging part of your job?
Brecken: I don’t like raising money. I don’t like asking for money. I don’t like having to deal with money. But the fact is, unless we do that, nothing’s going to happen. There’s no help that we can give without money because the care the kids need is very expensive. So, I’m facing my fears. It’s kind of like being afraid of a lion and walking into a lion’s den because I have to worry about making sure everything lines up and is spent well. In working with money so closely, it’s scary and frustrating, but it’s also rewarding because I’m overcoming my own “biggest fear.”
Brecken and her daughter, Zhou Lin
GL: What can others do to help?
Brecken: Any time people come together to think about or care about burn survivors, they’ve done something good. People can host little events, even if it’s just a family dinner, or a picnic, a dance, a benefit concert or anything to bring people together and raise awareness. They can donate money, pray or write letters to donate supplies that are needed.
Every little contribution makes a huge difference. It’s like how the ocean is made up of so many drops of water. Each drop thinks it’s not important, but without it, there would be no ocean. There’s no contribution that’s too small to make a difference.
GL: Do you have any advice for young girls who would be interested in this field?
Brecken: Follow your heart. When you see something that really disturbs you or moves you or challenges you, don’t run away from it. When I first met Zhou Lin on the street, I wasn’t ready to talk to her. I wasn’t sure that my language skills would be enough. But, my heart was breaking to see her in that condition, so I followed my heart and talked to her. It was hard at first, but we were able to communicate through our eyes and our body language. Somehow I committed to her, and knew that I would find a way to help her. Once we made the commitment, the resources came together to do just that.
Now she’s walking, going to high school, getting straight A’s, learning to drive and thinking about college. She has so many possibilities now. If I hadn’t followed my heart and been courageous and stepped forward and made a commitment, none of that would have happened. I think so many some girls see something on the news or on the street, or they hear about something, and they think, “Oh, I wish I could do something.”
What they should do is hold onto that dream and say, “I can do something, even if I just do one tiny thing for this every day.” If you raise one dollar every day for the rest of your life, you will have raised a lot of money. Even if you do a small thing, make a commitment. Girls have so much power, and if they follow a dream all the way through to the end, they will have achieved truly magnificent results no matter what.
Wanna learn more about HandReach and what you can do to help? Check out handreach.org for more info!