What One Person Can Do
Two summers ago, Danielle Littrell was working at a medical clinic in Guayaquil, Ecuador, when a family from a remote village on the banks of the Amazon River walked in. The parents were looking for help for their six-year old son, who seemed to be growing more ill by the minute.
Littrell, now a senior biology major at Elmhurst, was spending three months at the clinic as part of an International Partnership for Service Learning posting. Her job was to check patients in, record their blood pressure and other basic medical information, and make them as comfortable as possible—if comfort is at all possible in a crowded, un-air conditioned clinic in 110-degree heat.
Littrell and everyone else at the clinic recognized the boy’s high fever and jaundiced appearance as classic indicators of advanced yellow fever. Treating his condition would require hospitalization and intensive care. It would also require money that the boy’s family did not have. So Littrell and some of her coworkers each donated ten dollars, enough to provide the care the boy needed at Guayaquil’s best hospital.
The experience has been on Littrell’s mind ever since. She is a charter member and current president of the Global Poverty Club, an Elmhurst student organization devoted to spreading the message that students can make a difference in the lives of the poor. Her work in the clinic in the slums of Guayaquil that summer has kept her thinking about the possibilities and limits of what one person can do.
“It blew me away to know that something as simple as contributing ten dollars could mean the difference between life and death for that child,” said Littrell. The problem is that the boy she helped in Guayaquil is just one of far too many around the world whose poverty stands between them and the medical care or the food or the shelter they lack. Facing such enormous need, it’s easy for even the well-meaning individual to give in to apathy or resignation or helplessness. How, exactly, can an ordinary college student be expected to make a difference?
That’s just the kind of question the Global Poverty Club hopes to answer. Littrell said the club is all about engaging the energies of students who want to help, but don’t know how.
“The first step is learning,” Littrell said. “And one of the important things to learn is that everyone can help. You don’t have to go to Ecuador to make a difference.”
The club has helped educate the campus about micro-lending web sites like Kiva.org, which pool small loans (as little as $25) from individuals to support the business plans of enterprising poor people around the world. It has sponsored rummage sales, raffles and other events to raise funds for causes like Nothing but Nets, a United Nations Foundation initiative that fights malaria by distributing anti-mosquito bed nets in Africa. Littrell said the Global Poverty Club has raised about $18,000 since its founding in 2009. (The club’s founder, Dan Zarlenga, a 2010 graduate of Elmhurst, now works for the microfinance organization Opportunity International.)
Now the club’s members are getting ready for their annual five-kilometer fundraising walk on Sunday, May 1. Registration costs just one dollar. The idea, Littrell said, is to remind people that every little bit makes a difference. “It’s not just the big things that change the world,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a lot of little things that add up to something big.”
After graduation in May, Littrell is bound for Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica, West Indies. She sees herself one day working for an international aid group like Doctors Without Borders. Her summer at the medical clinic in Guayaquil made her want to pursue a career in medicine. But it was just one leg of an international odyssey for Littrell. She said she has been to 12 different countries during her time at Elmhurst for travel courses and service-learning projects. Last summer, she spent a “semester at sea” that took her to the Mediterranean and North Africa, and coincided with an Honors Program independent research project on comparative health care. The experience provided an appropriately global perspective for the president of the Global Poverty Club.
“There are a lot of opportunities to travel on this campus,” she said. “I’ve become pretty good at finding them.”
Photo: Danielle Littrell (far left) and some members of the Global Poverty Club: (left to right) Olivia Schultz, Rachel Hartman, Courtney Hayes, and Romison Saint-Louis.