Partnering for Health

How to do a lot with a little
Anna Fryxell

Anna Fryxell, master of public health (MPH) degree student in environmental health, has spent time this past summer sorting medical supplies and doing research at Mano a Mano International. The nonprofit organization collects, organizes, and ships medical supplies (either donated or outdated, but still useful and safe) from Minnesota to rural Bolivian communities.

The Bolivian-based organization has a warehouse in St. Paul and works with local Bolivian partners to build roads, clinics, schools, reservoirs and wells, and even airstrips for emergency transport in this country that is among the most impoverished in the world. 

Fryxell chose Mano a Mano for her applied practice experience (APEx), which is a hands-on public health work experience requirement for MPH students. 

For 27 years, Mano a Mano has worked side by side with the Bolivian people. Founder Segundo Velasquez, a Bolivian native, and his wife, Joan, originally started the organization when his brother, a pediatrician working in Bolivia, needed medical supplies. Part of the organization’s mission is to keep Minnesota landfills free of medical supplies that could be used in other parts of the world. 

Along with sorting donated items, Fryxell collected medical supplies at Goodwill and conducted broader research on places the nonprofit could approach for supplies. 

“I’ve been learning how a nonprofit works, and public health in general, and it helps to see how efficiently Mano a Mano packs supplies, from tongue depressors to wheelchairs, to send to Bolivia,” says Fryxell. “I’m seeing how little should go to waste.”

Students in the APEx program are asked to create “products” to further the mission of the organization they choose to work with. For Mano a Mano, Fryxell compiled and described a list of grants that the organization could seek and wrote a literature review about training and supporting rural Bolivian farmers in sustainable resource use, including how to access affordable technologies.

“It helps to see how efficiently Mano a Mano packs supplies, from tongue depressors to wheelchairs, to send to Bolivia. I’m seeing how little should go to waste.”

Anna Fryxell

Carmen Paredes Dockry, a native Bolivian, has been the operations manager at Mano a Mano for 15 years. Dockry is Fryxell’s preceptor, the person who guides and advises a student’s applied practice experience. She said having Fryxell work with the organization has been very helpful. 

“With Anna, we figured out from the beginning that she needed to divide her time between her research and being available at the warehouse to understand what we do on a daily basis,” says Dockry. “Anna is very methodical, and she has a deep understanding of things, like how to collect data and get access to funding. She has taken the initiative in all the little facets that constitute the work of Mano a Mano.”

When Fryxell was an undergraduate biology major at the University of Puget Sound, she didn’t know how to combine her love of environmental science with human needs and experiences.

“Being an undergrad and studying STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] meant going on to medical school or the lab,” Fryxell says. What she wanted was the human health aspect of environmental science, the side that delves into health disparities, environmental justice, and community-driven research.

She discovered that opportunity at the School of Public Health’s Division of Environmental Health Sciences.

“I didn’t know you could go to school for public health and environmental health,” says Fryxell. 

Fryxell will be writing a capstone paper this fall, another graduation requirement. Her subject is environmental contaminants of water in Bolivia and she’ll approach it now with a more multifaceted understanding of the country. Contaminated water is a major threat in Bolivia and even the capital city of La Paz has no wastewater treatment.

“There’s a lot of drought where Mano a Mano works in Bolivia, and they don’t have state of the art technology for filtering water,” says Fryxell. “I’m interested in learning how to partner with and support rural farmers in Bolivia in sustainable use of their resources, including water, land, and foliage.”

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