By Thomas K. Arnold
(page 1 of 5)
During her bus ride home in Tijuana one day, a Project Concern community health worker spotted a mother whose baby girl had sunken eyes, a distended belly and skinny legs and arms. She approached the mother and gently recommended she bring the baby to Project Concern’s Well-Baby Clinic.
Doctors examined the girl and found she was malnourished. The mother said she didn’t realize girl babies needed as much food as boy babies. The Project Concern worker saw to it that the mother brought the baby to the clinic weekly to be monitored and to receive food Project Concern provides for entire families. The baby gained weight and recovered.
George Guimaraes’ eyes well up at that story, bespeaking a passion for helping needy children. The new president and CEO of Project Concern International has had more than 30 years of experience in international marketing and advertising. But six years ago, harking back to his 1960s experience as a New York City youth volunteer, Guimaraes ducked out of the corporate world. He put his skills to work for Save the Children.
Now he’s enthusiastic about tackling his new duties for Project Concern, which has maintained the integrity of its founder, James Turpin, a Navy doctor in private practice in Coronado, who volunteered at a medical clinic in Tijuana. According to the organization’s latest annual report, 90 percent of its $30 million budget went to program services. And while other charities experienced sharp drop-offs in donations in the aftermath of 9/11, Project Concern raised more money last year—$28 million—than ever before.
“The story here is wonderful,” Guimaraes says. He notes that while the Project Concern network spans the globe, much of its work takes place right here, on both sides of the U.S.–Mexico border. The Border Health Initiative, launched in 1996, has helped tens of thousands of children and their families in such areas as baby wellness, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Project Concern also deploys a squad of “promotoras”—25 longtime Mexico volunteers who have been trained to provide direct health services.
Project Concern also has launched a “New Americans” project in San Diego aimed at new immigrants, chiefly from East Africa.
“Our border work is some of our most important,” Guimaraes says. “We’re literally saving kids’ lives and building a healthier community.”
Dr. Blanca Lomeli will attest to that. Back in the 1980s, Lomeli saw a young pregnant woman at a Project Concern clinic. The woman had developed placenta previa, a condition that threatened her life as well as her unborn child’s. The doctor made sure the woman got to the hospital for the surgery that saved her life. In the years since then, Lomeli and the mother have kept in touch. The baby girl grew up in good health and is about to become a mother herself.