World Humanitarian Day

Meet the Women of HHI

World Humanitarian Day (WHD) is held every year on 19 August to pay tribute to aid workers who risk their lives in humanitarian service, and to rally support for people affected by crises around the world.

World Humanitarian Day 2019 is set to celebrate Women Humanitarians and their undying contribution in making the world a better place. This year’s campaign on Women Humanitarians supports the recognition that women deserve in the strengthening of global humanitarian response as well as in protection efforts under the international law.

“From supporting civilians caught up in crisis to addressing disease outbreaks, women humanitarians are on the front lines.”
— UN Secretary-General, António Guterres

To celebrate 2019 World Humanitarian Day, we are introducing you to just a few of the women of Heart to Heart International. These women highlight the passion and dedication that everyone at HHI has for making the world a better place.

Joan Kelly – Manager, Disaster Response

“I started my humanitarian career volunteering with a community organization in rural Tanzania in 2007. Learning that there was a lot I didn’t know, I studied international humanitarian aid at the University of Kansas and Cornell University to improve how organizations can save lives, best alleviate suffering, and restore dignity. Over the years I’ve worked for organizations around the world, promoting community-led programs that overcome an us vs. them mentality. Right before coming to Heart to Heart, I worked in Syria coordinating programs that focused on health, livelihoods, and the protection of vulnerable people.

I was raised in Kansas, and feel fortunate to work for Heart to Heart International that is in the Heartland providing humanitarian aid around the world. Whether responding to a Tornado in Kansas, the U.S./Mexico Border, or any where else in the world, I am constantly motivated by the communities that are doing everything they can to help others in need. For me, humanitarian work is a daily dose of optimism, with example after example of the best in people.”

Brittni Blaser – Coordinator, Disaster Response –

“I’m from Lawson, Missouri, and I worked as a CNA while I finished my Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Management and Global Sustainability at Park University. I’ve always loved to travel, so I spent one year exploring parts of Southeast Asia, Europe, and Australia. While in SE Asia, I volunteered with the Khmer Institute for National Development in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I assisted the organization with their “Check My School” program that was working to get textbooks and running water in the schools. After my travels were over, I decided to get my Master’s. I finished my Master’s in International Healthcare Management, Economics, and Policy with a concentration in Global Health at SDA Bocconi in Milan, Italy. Prior to my completion, I did an internship with the Belize Red Cross working on their Zika project.

Once finished with my internship, I knew I’d be moving back to the United States and started looking for disaster response volunteer opportunities. This is how I came across Heart to Heart International. I applied for their Disaster Response Team while in Belize. The day after I moved back, I attended their training workshop, and a couple weeks later I deployed as a logistician for Hurricane Michael in Panama City, FL.

Between my experience at HHI’s workshop and working with the team in Florida, I knew that this was not only the profession I wanted to pursue but the organization I wanted to be a part of. I started with HHI a few months later as their Disaster Response Coordinator.

I can’t think of anything that is more rewarding than being a humanitarian worker. Working in Disaster Response can be very busy and a lot of hard work, but going into a community that has been devasted by a hurricane or tornado and watching that community put everything aside to help each other is one of the most incredible things I have ever been a part of. Another great thing about it is, participating in a response team with HHI and our volunteers. These selfless individuals put their life on hold to go provide much needed services to those survivors.”

Nachelle Kaughman – Manager, Volunteer Engagement

“I have been in the non-profit world for 13 years, helping connect people and resources. As the Manager of Volunteer Engagement with HHI for nearly a year, I have facilitated projects in Haiti and Puerto Rico. Whether corporate volunteer trips or individuals on the Disaster Response Team, I love to be the bridge between need and people who are willing to give of their time and skills to serve others. “ 

Courtney Leeper – Volunteer Coordinator –  

“I was born and raised in Papillion, NE. While attending school at Northwest Missouri State I had no idea what career path I wanted to choose, I just knew I want to make a positive impact on the world with my career. I came across the Emergency and Disaster Management major and quickly realized how much humanitarian aid organizations do and how much I wanted to be a part of it. After graduation, I joined NCCC AmeriCorps to attempt to get my foot into the world of humanitarian aid. Throughout my experience in AmeriCorps being deployed to both Hurricane Harvey and Maria, I realized that the organizations that were really making a difference in the lives of disaster survivors were nonprofit organizations. Which is why I applied at Heart to Heart International. What I love about the work I do at HHI is that I’m always working with volunteers who are just as passionate and dedicated about doing something to make a difference in the world as I am.”

Judy Hastert Laboratory Manager

Before joining Heart to Heart International, Judy Hastert worked in laboratory microbiology and quality. She and Carla Orner were recruited by HHI to work on parasitology on a water sanitation project in Guatemala. The project checked kids for parasites and treated them appropriately. Both women fell in love with the work of HHI.

“I appreciated being able to use my skills, things that not everyone else can do, to help out in the humanitarian field. There was such gratification to that feeling,” Judy said.

Judy and Carla continued volunteering with HHI, setting up point of care labs around Kansas City and performing laboratory training and audits in Haiti. Carla was ultimately hired as Program Director and Judy as Laboratory Manager. They have helped set up point of care testing at laboratories across the U.S., trained laboratorians across the globe and helped organize volunteer service trips to rehabilitate a hospital in Cameroon.

One story from that trip to Cameroon still resonates with Judy. “I took a team of BD volunteers to Fotabong, Cameroon, to train Community Health Workers.  22 women were chosen for this role, which was considered an honor. Those women would take their notebooks home each night and STUDY!  We couldn’t trip them up with our quizzes. They were so invested and so excited about supporting their community is this way. Every day they would get together and brainstorm, creating an original song that would promote or talk about one of the topics of the day – anything from breastfeeding to nutrition to sanitation.  Our classroom got quite a reputation on that trip because there was so much laughing and singing emanating from the space, just pure joy.”

Judy said that one of the things that helped make her decision to join HHI was realizing that she didn’t want to spend the rest of her career on personnel management. She wanted to use her specific skill sets in a way that helps people.

“One of the best things about this work is working with such exceptional like-minded people who want to expand access to health care and serve the underserved. The people who spend their lives working in safety net health clinics or providing health care in developing countries with no water, no electricity and no money are exceptional. Anything and everything we do to support them and this work is very meaningful, very gratifying work.”

We are so thankful for our women humanitarians!

Read More Stories

Healthcare & History in the Heartland


Recently, Heart to Heart traveled to the edge of the Great Plains with the University of Kansas Medical Center to operate a health fair during the annual Emancipation Celebration in the historic town of Nicodemus, Kansas.

The whole town of Nicodemus is one of those quintessential American tales of hardship and hard work, westward expansion, newly-found freedom and finding a place to call one’s own and holding onto it.

Nicodemus was settled as a planned town in 1877, 12 years after the US Civil War during the Reconstruction era, by mostly former slaves from Kentucky and Tennessee.  At its peak the town boasted around 800 townsfolk.  Residents had petitioned for the Union Pacific Railroad to lay tracks trough the town, but the railroad dashed those hopes, bypassed the settlement and its long slow decline began.  However, Nicodemus is a National Historic Site, and is the oldest and only remaining all Black Town west of the Mississippi. A couple of dozen people still reside there.

Every year since it’s founding, the town holds an Emancipation Celebration during the last weekend of July to commemorate the end to slavery, the freedmen and women who founded the town and the town’s heritage.  This is a “coming home” celebration, as many descendents from across the nation come home to visit with friends and relatives while commemorating the rich history of Nicodemus.

It’s a purely small town Americana affair with a parade and talent show, even a pancake breakfast made from wheat grown in nearby fields.

But the celebration isn’t just about history, but the future too. A healthy future. And that’s what brought Heart to Heart International out here to work in partnership with KU-MED.

ayesOWtwSxi7JuMpfrIE4A_thumb_172acDuring last years Celebration’s health fair, 19 medical students and 4 HHI volunteers worked out of our Mobile Medical Unit to conduct laboratory tests, health screenings and physicals for 50 people.


Every year Heart to Heart is honored to have been a part of both the past and the present of this rich historic community and to have broadened access to healthcare out on the wide open Plains.



First Images from HHI Advance Team in Nepal

Our Advance Team has reached Nepal and is already at work coordinating our Nepal Earthquake Relief response, preparing the way for our Medical Team which will arrive soon.

Advance Team 1

Because of the earthquake damage, internet communications are sporadic.  But our team was able to send back a few images of what it looks like on the ground in Nepal.

These pics are from the village of Kokona.  Dr. Gary Morsch tells us there were about 20 deaths from the earthquake here.  The village is essentially deserted, with those remaining sleeping outdoors due to the fear of more earthquakes.  There was another aftershock here, which our team felt.

Advance Team 2Passing by this alleyway, our team learned that five people had perished in the collapse of this home.


Advance Team 3Dr. Morsch explains the photo above: “Delivering rice to a village where we saw so much destruction.  The man in the Scout uniform is the village leader, and he asked for our medical team to come tomorrow.  That means Sue and me, until the full medical team arrives!”

Our medical team – two doctors, three nurses and a paramedic – are scheduled to arrive Friday in Nepal.

Please support our Nepal Earthquake Relief response.

Donate Now

Advance Team Departs for Nepal

Our advance team is on the way to Nepal.  They will lay the groundwork for our medical team to arrive two days later, ready to provide aid to the survivors of the Nepal Earthquake.

Gary departs 3

Our Advance Team is a three-person team – a doctor, a nurse and another HHI staff member.  All three are departing from different points on the globe.  In these photos, Dr. Gary Morsch, founder of HHI, is seen departing from the Kansas City airport.  The team’s nurse, Sue Mangicaro, is leaving from New Jersey.  And Julie Hefner, just recently our Liberia country director, is flying out of Monrovia, Liberia – all three bound for Kathmandu, and the earthquake disaster zone.

Gary departs 1

As he was departing from Kansas City, HHI’s hometown and HQ location, Dr. Morsch had the honor of hauling giant bags of supplies to check in for the flight, beyond his own personal gear.  This ‘luggage’ contains medical supplies, medicine and quite a bit of work and camping equipment – tents, sleeping bags and mats, gloves, water filtration and satellite phones – gear needed for a team to operate in a disaster zone.

Gary departs 5

Our medical team is made up of two doctors and four nurses.  They are packing right now and will arrive two days behind the advance team, ready to hit the ground and begin providing medical care to earthquake survivors.

You can help with Nepal Earthquake Relief.  Please give as you can.

Donate Now


photos by Peggy Breit & KMBC-TV9

VIDEO: Working Together to Fight Ebola

A new video gives a glimpse into the early days of Heart to Heart International’s Operation Ebola in Liberia and showcases the importance of partnership to combat the Ebola epidemic.

For many weeks, Heart to Heart International CEO Jim Mitchum has been in Liberia overseeing the building of the organizational infrastructure needed to support the opening of an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU).   Along with Country Director Julie Hefner and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rene Vega, our team in Liberia has been putting all the pieces into place, hiring staff, and coordinating with multiple aid agencies as part of the global response to the epidemic.

Watch the video to learn the reasons why HHI has taken on the responsibility of running an ETU.  Hear from our new Liberian staff members about their desire to bring healthcare to their people and why it’s so important that HHI has come to help.  And learn how we’re working in partnership with other NGOs, like the International Medical Corps, to tackle this continuing humanitarian crisis.


Video by: Blake Nelson


Advance Team in Liberia on Front Lines of Ebola Fight

The HHI Advance Team arrived in Liberia and is already hard at work – meeting with partners, touring facilities and getting a lay of the land – prepping the way for the deployment of volunteer medical teams to provide care for the people of Liberia.

Advance Team & James

The team is being assisted by James Williams (striped shirt in photo above), the acting director of Healthy Women, Healthy Liberia, a Liberian non-profit that develops community-based healthcare programs.  James is helping to serve as a guide for our Advance Team.  A great connection!

Team member Sue Mangicaro, RN, from HHI’s corporate partner Welch Allyn, reports they heard both good and bad news when they met with representatives of Medical Teams International.  The good: MTI is in the process of training community healthcare workers on prevention and treatment of Ebola, however the bad is that they have had to pull their staff out of clinics because of the inherent risks involved in triage and contracting the disease.  The real fear of Ebola is causing the healthcare system to collapse, as HHI CEO Jim Mitchum recently discussed in an op-ed.

MTI clinic closed

A clinic closed in Monrovia, Liberia due to the Ebola outbreak.


handwashing station

Pictured above is one of many handwashing stations the team has come across in Liberia’s capital of Monrovia.  They reported the smell of bleach hangs in the air, a comforting aroma, as bleach is used to kill the Ebola virus on surfaces, protective equipment and on skin.

Look for more updates from the Advance Team in Liberia soon!


Donate now to sustain OPERATION EBOLA and help save lives in West Africa.

Donate Now!






Haiti Medical Team Delivers Baby on the Side of a Road


One of Heart to Heart International’s Haitian Medical Teams helped a woman deliver a baby girl this week alongside a rural road in southeast Haiti.

Dr. Kethia Lamour delivers a petite fille – a little girl!

Here’s how it happened:  Our Southeast Medical Team, along with some volunteer nurses from Pennsylvania, was working in our clinic in Cascade Pichon –  a small, remote village found at the end of a road beneath towering mountains.  Word came that a pregnant woman was just up the road and about to deliver.  The mother-to-be had been walking to the Heart to Heart Clinic seeking help at the only medical facility in the region – but the baby was ready to come. Now.

Baby on the way!

Baby on the way!

Our team rushed up the road, and while family and other neighbors gathered around, helped the woman deliver a healthy petite fille, a little girl, right then and there.

Swaddling the brand new babe...

Swaddling the brand new babe…

All went well, and mother and child went to the clinic to rest and get cleaned up.  It’s a good thing our folks were there as complications can always arise, especially in such a remote area.  Great job by our Haitian Medical Team and by our volunteers!

The proud volunteer nurse!

Dana, the proud volunteer nurse!

These are the Heart to Heart staff & volunteers who helped deliver the baby girl in Cascade Pichon:

HHI’s Haitian Med Team – Southeast
Dr. Kethia Lamour
Nurse Elisabeth Lindor
Nurse Nathalie Pierre
Rodney Numa

HHI Volunteers
Nurse Dana Darnell – Downingtown, PA
Nurse Dianne Finnegan – Allentown, PA

HHI’s Haitian Medical Teams

HHI has three med teams comprised of Haitian medical professionals, who travel on a weekly circuit to all of our 14 clinics in the country.  The teams are made up of a doctor, a nurse, another nurse or a pharmacist, and a clinic/team coordinator.  While they work on a rotation, HHI brings in volunteers from the US and other countries to augment the team.  We’re always recruiting medical volunteers to work with us in Haiti.  Join us!


In Haiti, A Future Shines at the End of the Road…

At the end of the road in Cascade Pichon, Haiti, a little bit beyond the Heart to Heart International clinic and just past the “hotel” there is a path heading to the left, away from the waterfall.

cascade pichon   5I recently took this path to check on the construction of a new school building that sits atop a hill, overlooking a valley and more mountains.  I was in Cascade Pichon, this time, showing a colleague around Upper Pichon, where the clinic is located.  Following us up the hill were four boys who are always together – Antionne, Alex, and brothers Deswin and Fresno.

I’ve developed quite an appreciation for Deswin.  He’s very bright and carries little notebooks with him that he uses to teach himself English, French and Spanish.  This 10-year-old is an immense help and is always eager to let me practice Creole with him and to teach me new words.  Besides Fresno, Deswin has two older brothers who walk a few hours to go to to school in Belle Anse and a sister that lives and attends school in Port-au-Prince.   Deswin and his brothers live in Cascade Pichon with their mother. Their father works across the border in the Dominican Republic.

Deswin says to me, “This is going to be the best school in all of Pichon.”

On this particular day, while my colleague tried to find a cell signal at the top of the hill, Deswin says to me, “This is going to be the best school in all of Pichon.”   I thought to myself, “Well, that can’t be too difficult… the school you have now is a tiny one-room building with overflow benches outside under a tarp that has seen better days. The school is so small that hundreds of children don’t go to school because there is simply no room.”

Instead, I said, “Oh really? Will you go to school here?”  Deswin responded, “I may go to school here or in Belle Anse, but I would like to go here.”

I asked him why he would prefer to attend the school in Cascade Pichon and his reply surprised me. He said that he would prefer to go to school in Pichon because of the volunteers that come there. He explained how it gives him the opportunity to learn more English that will give him more opportunities later.

In my head this is where the work that we do in Haiti comes full circle. Heart to Heart International’s development work in the southeast of Haiti started in Cascade Pichon with a federation, just like all of our work.

A federation is essentially a community civic organization. Federations take ‘ownership’ of the needs in their communities and HHI works with these federations.

The first essential need the Cascade Pichon community wanted to address was healthcare. The federation donated the land for our clinic in Cascade Pichon a few years ago. Once built, the clinic was staffed solely by ex-pat volunteers.  Now, a Haitian Medical Team works in the clinic and is supplemented by volunteers.  Since the clinic is owned by the federation, the federation keeps half of the consultation fees incurred from patients coming to the clinic.

In 2013, the Cascade Pichon Federation decided it was time to start addressing the next big need – Education.  The federation purchased land for the school and then, through building partnerships, Heart to Heart International helped to facilitate the building of the school, working in coordination with the Haitian government which has agreed to send teachers to instruct the children.  Hopefully, the building will be completed, staffed and operational this Fall.

I think this is what Development is. And it doesn’t happen quickly.  But I can’t wait to see what Deswin is doing in 10 years, to see how he is impacting Haiti because of decisions being made today by elders in his community, supported by HHI and its volunteers.

A few years ago, Deswin’s future certainly looked different. He didn’t have access to healthcare, he didn’t have access to a school in his community, and he didn’t have access to volunteers coming to his village to widen his world-view and let him expand his own horizons and quite literally alter his own future.  Now he does.

– Julie

Arkansas Tornado: Three Sisters & Sunscreen

Three sisters copy

Photos by: Jen Mellard/HHI


Their mother had lived in the house for 30 years.  But those many years of building memories and strengthening family ties were not enough to hold the house firm to its foundation when the storm came.

Sunday, April 27, 2014 a massive tornado, an EF-4, plowed through Faulkner County, Arkansas and wiped the home away.  Fortunately, it didn’t erase the family.

We met these three sisters in the photo above – Ruby, in red, Wyvone in the middle and Helen – while driving from the town of Mayflower to Vilonia.  They had come, along with other family members, to pick through the rubble, trying to collect the bits and pieces that were once their mother’s home.

sunscreen unload1A team from Heart to Heart International (HHI) is on the ground in Arkansas, delivering aid and supplies to folks who survived the storm.  We brought in items like Johnson and Johnson Hygiene Kits and children’s blanket kits assembled by HHI volunteers; a lot of bottled water; batteries and flashlights; and Neutrogena sunscreen.  Quite a lot of sunscreen, actually.  Boxes upon boxes. And as these things happen, sunscreen is exactly what these three sisters were really needing.

Just before we met, the sisters had just been telling their elderly mother, who was picking through the debris, you need to get some sunscreen!  But from where?  Where do you go when everything near you is destroyed?

Not long after, our team came rumbling by in a truck full of supplies, water and sunscreen.  We made some friends this day.  Not only were we able to provide the desired sunscreen, but we also passed out hygiene kits and blanket kits with coloring book and crayons for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

It was a good day with the three sisters. A good day helping the good folks of Arkansas.

sunscreen 2