Helpers with a heart
Lending a helping hand can be so easy – something Janina Beilner, Borke Daniel Thill and Sibila Samardzic have demonstrated. The three women traveled to Sri Lanka earlier this year to help out people in need. It won’t be the last time.
Janina Beilner is still overwhelmed by the impressions she gained on her latest trip to Sri Lanka. It was not vacation that prompted Beilner, a trained doctor who heads up the Application Services department (HC SV CS APP) at Siemens Healthineers, to fly to the island nation off the coast of India in the spring. The reason was her support for D.R.O.P.S. (Direct Relief of Poverty & Sickness) Foundation (www.dropsfound.org), an organization that provides assistance to Sri Lanka’s poorest inhabitants − in places holidaymakers never get to. “It makes me very happy to be able to share my knowledge and help people in Sri Lanka.” Thanks to its natural beauty and cultural riches, Sri Lanka is known as the pearl of the Indian Ocean. But a large proportion of the local population lives in poverty. Decades of civil war have left behind a shattered country. Thirty percent of the country’s 20 million inhabitants are under the age of 18 and almost onequarter of all households have no access to clean drinking water.* It is precisely this group of people that D.R.O.P.S. Foundation aspires to help. This nonprofit organization relies on the support of volunteer workers. Beilner can clearly recall her first project for D.R.O.P.S. three years ago: “I was so excited. So many people lined up for hours to see us.” She spent the whole day, from sunrise to sunset, examining people one after another, handing out medicines and treating skin ailments. “To be able to see how help is given where it is needed and to experience the joy in people’s eyes makes you quickly forget all the hard work,” says a beaming Beilner. So, even then she was sure that this first stint would not be her last.
This year, for the first time, two other colleagues from Siemens joined Beilner in Sri Lanka: Borke Daniel Thill, Head of Human Resources Middle East and Africa Region at Siemens Healthineers, and Sibila Samardzic, commercial manager for smallscale gas turbine projects in Dubai. Along with other volunteers, the three women visited orphanages, churches, and temples in Puttalam, in the northwest of the island. They got to know communities with no access to electricity or clean water. “At some point the road just petered out and we had to take a boat. Later on we continued on foot, carrying boxes filled with medicines and sanitary products on our heads to get to a remote fishing village,” recalls Daniel Thill. A trained nurse, Daniel Thill was responsible for preliminary examinations on site. She took people’s blood pressure and alerted Beilner to any irregularities. “Many have never been to a physician before because a doctor is simply too expensive, too far away or the journey there too difficult,” says Daniel Thill. Beilner carried out the subsequent medical checks: “We start with the patient’s medical history, check their heart and lungs, for example, look for any other anomalies and get an overview of their general state of health,” she explains. They often had to clean wounds that had become severely infected due the poor level of hygiene and were not healing. The unbalanced diet of many patients is another factor slowing down the woundhealing process and can also lead to other kinds of illness. This is a problem that often hits the very young hardest.
Raising awareness of health
In addition to providing medical care, D.R.O.P.S. Foundation is particularly focused on raising people’s awareness of health. “As a volunteer worker, you have to realize that you may find yourself standing in front of 250 or so schoolchildren, having to explain to them how to clean their teeth, wash their hands, and use soap,” says Daniel Thill.The helpers hand out toothbrushes and toothpaste to the children, who try out the right cleaning method under their guidance. They also distribute posters to schools and other institutions showing the key health and hygiene rules, so that the kids always have the information right in front of them. “Knowledge is the key to a healthy life, which is why we use games to teach the children about these things,” explains Beilner, who is also a passionate advocate of education at work. “We really are so well off and this is why I believe we have a moral responsibility to give something back,” says Daniel Thill, who is pleased at being able to make a difference herself where it is needed most.
A small slice of normality
“Whereas Janina and Borke took care of the serious things, my job was more like fun,” says Samardzic with a laugh. Her task was to play with the children, do painting and handicrafts, and even teach them a little dance. “Music was the bridge we used to communicate with each other,” she enthuses. Her work and the direct contact with the children was something very special for Samardzic, who was born in Bosnia: She came to Germany as a refugee in 1993 and received support herself from nonprofit organizations like D.R.O.P.S. Foundation. “It’s a truly wonderful feeling to be able to help people in need, especially children. It really reminded me of my own past and touched me profoundly.”
The charitable work they did in Sri Lanka has changed all three women: “I have become much more aware and am grateful for the experience,” says Beilner. “We have the possibility to help others, so we’re making the most of it.” Above all else, Samardzic remembers her work with the children and how grateful they were for life’s little joys: “It was an extremely emotional experience for me.” And Daniel Thill says she is now much more “grounded.” She found the first few days back in the office difficult. “But, at the end of the day, it’s my job that enables me to do this kind of volunteer work.” All three women agree: “We definitely want to repeat the experience because – everyone can help.”
by © Siemens Healthcare GmbH