Foundation helps children in Bolivia

Teaching proper hand-washing to children may seem like a simple task.

But in the rural areas of Bolivia, a project led by a nursing school there and supported by a local foundation is creating healthier lives for hundreds of children.

The Malia family created the AAVia Foundation three years ago, said Mackenzie Malia, its cofounder and director. The name honors her Bolivian maternal grandmother, Adriana Aguirre Via, who died in June 2014, she explained.

"She worked very hard throughout her life," Malia added. "We wanted to honor her strength."

The goal of the nonprofit organization is to improve the quality of health care and access to medical and other services for children in Bolivia while increasing awareness about the challenges they face, Malia explained. Her mother, Ana, is from Bolivia, and Malia said that she traveled there throughout her childhood.

But the roots of the foundation go back more than 20 years when her father, Dr. Timothy Malia, had the opportunity to spend time at a pediatric hospital in Bolivia’s capital city of La Paz during his time in medical school at the University of Rochester. He later returned during his residency years to conduct a self-study of the health-care system at a women’s hospital there, Timothy Malia said.

He and his family then began collecting medical and other supplies to bring during visits to the country. About 10 years ago, he and a fellow doctor from Strong Memorial Hospital also offered lectures to medical students. And a team of local doctors provided an assessment of pediatric emergency services that led to a paper published by Nancy Chin, an anthropologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

A similar study at Strong showed that the challenges faced by doctors, nurses and patients were similar in both countries, Timothy Malia said, including language barriers to effective care and respecting cultural differences.

"It was an interesting perspective," he said.

In recent years, Timothy Malia and his daughter, now a graduate of Cornell University with a degree in anthropology, decided they needed a more formal structure for all the piecemeal work they have been doing over the years.

The AAVia Foundation was incorporated in October 2012, Mackenzie Malia said.

"We wanted to (serve in) a more organized, formal fashion so we could have more impact and benefit more people," said Timothy Malia, a doctor at Immediate Care East in Victor.

Last year, the foundation brought in artist Roberto Mamani Mamani to Rochester to meet with local groups and students as well as help raise money for projects they are working on, including providing bili lights to treat babies born with jaundice and the hand-washing project.

The Malia family also connected with husband and wife, Dr. Stanley Blanco and Luciana Laruta Salazar. She is director of the "Unidad Académica Campesina," which is accredited by the Catholic University of Bolivia, said Blanco, who is a global health specialist.

The nursing school provides training for indigenous people to provide treatment in rural areas, he explained in an e-mail. This is especially important because the people in the school’s Altiplano region, which sits 4,000 meters above sea level, still live as they did 400 years ago and speak their native language, Aymara, he said. 

So far, 1,000 nurses have graduated and all speak that native language as well as Spanish, Blanco noted.

The nursing school project, "Manos Limpias — Escuelas Saludables (Clean Hands — Healthy Schools)" is having a great impact, he added. With the $5,000 grant from the AAVia foundation, they were able to purchase hygiene supplies and coordinate lessons, Blanco added, for students from 10 schools in the city of Pucarani to learn proper hand-washing and tooth brushing.

Each child receives soap, toothpaste and brush, a towel and a nail clipper, Blanco said, and the nurses will train teaching staff and parents throughout the province.

The project is important for several reasons, said Blanco:

* Decreasing the high incidence of parasitic infections influencing growth, nutrition and development of children.

* Teaching healthy habits that are easily replicated at home, thus amplifying the effect.

* Reducing incidences of other associated infections, skin infections, eye infections, diarrhea and respiratory infections such as influenza.

"The life and health of entire communities will be improved, just with soap and hand washing," he said.

The hand-washing project is a perfect example of the foundation’s mission to make a positive impact on the children of Bolivia, the Malias said. The foundation is looking to partner with existing organizations in the country and support projects that are fulfilling that mission, Mackenzie Malia added. They also want to create opportunities to share information and will provide grants to American students interested in volunteering for Bolivian health projects, they said.

The personal impact of the foundation’s work was evident when a group of mothers brought lunch for the group while they were visiting a school in Bolivia, remarked Timothy Malia. Each brought something to contribute for a smorgasbord of food that was laid out before them.

"It was a moment to pause," he said. "We touch lives no matter who you are or what you’re doing."

EDITOR’S NOTE: The AAVia Foundation will hold its annual gala Sept. 11 at Casa Larga, featuring a presentation by Dr. Stanley Blanco and Luciana Lurata Salazar. For more information, visit AAViafoundation.org.

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