Appalled by the amount of medical waste she witnessed in her medical career, humanitarian and social entrepreneur Lisa Hopper was compelled to make a difference.
To respond to the need for clinics, medical supplies and basic school supplies, Lisa began collecting supplies in her Tucson, Arizona garage in 1994. She moved the World Care operation to a school building in 2005 when World Care earned its non-profit corporate status in 1996. Since then, World Care has collected and redirected over 15 million pounds of resources valued at over $25 million dollars to aid in humanitarian efforts worldwide.
These efforts have been accomplished with less than 3 percent of annual funds going to administration, making World Care one of the most efficient non-profit organizations in the country.
Through Lisa Hopper’s leadership, World Care has provided relief efforts following many recent disasters:
§ the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York,
§ the December 26, 2004 tsunami in Thailand,
§ Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 in New Orleans, and
§ the January 12, 2009 earthquake in Haiti.
When Haiti was shattered by the January earthquake, Lisa opened the doors of World Care to accept food and other donations for the Haitian survivors. Within a month of the earthquake, a World Care team, with Lisa at the helm, traveled to Haiti to assess the distribution system of donations collected by World Care.
Lisa has experienced the world’s most recent catastrophic events during the 15 to 20 years she’s been working in forensics, and she observed that “Haiti is the worst disaster I have ever seen.”
World Care’s introduction to Haiti began seven years ago when the organization began working with local Haitian orphanages. “We have a real big heart for Haiti” and its people, noted Lisa.
One Planet magazine has been to World Care’s headquarters in Tucson and knows Lisa. Lisa sat down with us for a One Planet conversation and shared some of her poignant observations following her week-long trip to Haiti and on the heels of the earthquake in Chile.
Lost So Much
Lisa and World Care project manager Krista Kinnard, videographer Holly Romero and Elise Harper explored the streets of Port-au-Prince, gaining a glimpse of the magnitude of the devastation, where people “walked around in a daze.” Lisa said the people “lost so much and knew that whatever infrastructure they did have was completely destroyed and people continued to salvage whatever they could from what little they had” and tried to find their loved ones and pulled out bodies and skeletal remains to see if that person was one of their loved ones.
Lisa spoke with compassion as she recalled the experience. She reflected, “People were running up to us, saying, ‘Please, help us. Is there a way you can get the word out to help us get some tools in here so we can find the people we have lost.’ ”
Lisa has spent her entire career in medicine and she was devastated by the lack of medical care in Haiti. One example she shared was seeing a survivor who lost a hand in the earthquake and who received medical attention once but it was uncertain whether that individual would receive additional medical attention.
“There are thousands of these images in our heads where somebody lost a hand and they’re standing there with a bloody bandage.” Lisa said those who were injured like that may not get treated again because of the lack of infrastructure to support their medical needs.
“These are the things that we look at as organizations and say they need to have this continual infrastructure so we can help them build or provide infrastructure in the long term and we can infuse those people into these processes and into these systems that they can benefit from and manage themselves.”
“These are desperate people who need basic necessities in order to survive,” said Lisa, adding, It’s really important for governments, agencies and organizations to work together for the same goal to help the survivors.
One Planet publisher Annie Loyd and Lisa Hopper were both in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and witnessed the confusion and challenges by government entities in the United States, a fully-developed country. Annie posed the question: “How does a country like Haiti begin to re-build when they don’t even have a functioning government?”
Lisa responded, “When you don’t have a system in place, it’s much easier to infuse that system and then people begin to learn that that’s the system they need to work with. A lot of these systems are built with people who think it’s about them and it’s not. You have to stay focused on the reason you’re there and what you need to do in order to manage your task and that takes discipline. If you don’t have discipline and if you have private agendas, things are going to get off kilter.”
When the earthquake happened, we recognized very quickly the number of people who died and were going to continue to die because they don’t have the infrastructure to manage this type of disaster — it was definitely a call for World Care, the Tucson community, Arizona and the world to really embrace this so we can make some change there.”
Managing a Sustainable Supply Chain
The business of providing disaster relief is managing a sustainable supply chain that provides resources for days, decades and often generations particularly in the case of these recurring mega-disasters.
“It’s not just about the immediate disaster, it’s about how do we manage it to sustain a good supply chain in order to allow them to have those resources for a long period of time.
“Our job was to go in and make sure the supplies we collected, sorted and organized from donors in Arizona were being managed and distributed appropriately and that people were actually benefitting from what we had done here. You have to stay on task. You can’t let your emotions over-ride because it would almost paralyze anybody to look at what we look at through all these disasters because you have to get your job done — that’s our responsibility.
“It takes leadership and individuals who know how to organize things on the ground. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Asia, New Orleans, Africa, or Haiti. If you don’t have organization skills, it’s going to get botched up.”
Lisa believes our planet is experiencing bigger, more frequent mega-disasters.
“In our lifetime we’re seeing disasters we haven’t seen before. It’s because we do have a lot of assets and Mother Nature’s pissed! I think she’s really irritated about something. We have to look at the environment and how we’re treating this very earth we stand on.”
World Care’s Systems
Lisa is proud of the systems at World Care, which responds to million in need down the street, or 800 to 8,000 miles away.
“One of the things that World Care does right is follow the rules,” said Lisa. World Care knows how to manage and package resources and how to participate in complex, collaborative processes to get resources through the delivery system. “If you just shovel stuff in a container, that’s going to be a problem on the other end. A lot of people have this illusion that you hand someone a pair of socks one day or a bag of rice and it’s somewhere across the world the next day. It just doesn’t happen that way.”
This issue of One Planet focuses on relationships and empowerment. Lisa has devoted her life to relief causes around the world and in her own backyard, so we wondered: What relationship did she have that empowered her for the challenges associated with World Care?
When Lisa was 18 in 1980 when she joined the Women’s Army Corps, where she studied physics and radiological technology medicine at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. She rose through the ranks and received and honorable discharge in 1984. In 2005 she became the honorary commander for the 355 Aerospace Medical Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base for her leadership in the Tucson community. With that, you might assume that Lisa’s military training provided her with the discipline and systems to run an organization like World Care.
Not so. Lisa gives credit to her mother.
She said, “My mother raised me to have really great coping skills. She said, ‘Lisa, craps gonna happen and I want you to be able to handle things. You gotta suck it up and just do it.’ The military was pretty easy after I lived with my mother for 18 years,” said Lisa with a laugh. “She taught us responsibility.”
One Planet and World Care share a common principle: Those who have the capacity to help, must help. It’s not an elective. To have the capacity to help is a privilege.
Hopper reflected on her early days with World Care. She almost quit when no one would donate a pen or a piece of paper. Had she quit in those early days, World Care wouldn’t be here today.
“We can’t quit, we can’t stop,” said Lisa. “We’re not a perfect world so when we see a situation like Haiti, it’s an opportunity to rise to the occasion and make ourselves better and make them better.”
By Annie Loyd and Jodi Powers