Nestled in the hills just outside downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a large, nondescript warehouse that is home to an organization that has been mending the world and quietly leaving its mark on health care providers all over the globe, one donation at a time. Global Links, like many organizations in today’s environmentally-conscious non-profit community, has a mission that includes an emphasis on environmental stewardship: recycling, repurposing, and sharing. But this is no ordinary recycling program. An equally important, and complementary part of Global Links’ mission focuses on getting that surplus into the hands of underserved clinics and hospitals, mainly in developing countries. Global Links’ staff collects tons of medical surplus, including expired but otherwise serviceable medical supplies, and recycled durable goods, such as wheelchairs, that would otherwise be thrown away and helps distribute them to health care providers that desperately need them, in nine countries in Latin America and the Caribbean: Bolivia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica and Nicaragua. Recently, the organization has added Colombia to the list of countries it serves.
As part of a volunteer project during my bar mitzvah year, I started to volunteer at Global Links, (the former location, a small building on Penn Avenue), helping to sort medical products such as sutures and syringes, assembling mother-baby bags and labeling and packing supplies. I had a unique opportunity to learn about people and situations in parts of the world that I had never seen and could hardly imagine. The disconnect between desperate scarcity, on the one hand, and the abundant waste of resources on the other, made a vivid impression me as a twelve-year-old child. In addition, I had a unique opportunity to learn about the importance of reusing and recycling first-hand, seeing the sheer amount of donations that filled almost every nook and cranny of that site. Suddenly, every visit to a doctor’s office or hospital made me acutely aware of just how much we waste and take for granted.
Global Links’ beginnings were humble. Disturbed by the huge amount of medical surplus that was going straight to the dumpsters, three women began Global Links in a Pittsburgh garage in 1989 with the goals of “focusing on recovery of surplus from hospitals, rather than medical manufacturers’ surplus; to establish long-term programs in targeted countries in this hemisphere, in order to have a sustained impact on healthcare; and to rely on volunteers to accomplish most of the labor-intensive sorting, preparation and packing of the recovered materials.”
For almost 25 years, having partnered with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health- Organization (WHO), Global Links has been assisting with global health projects and stimulating aid programs. In recent years, the organization has ballooned -- even needing to move to a larger space to accommodate the volume of donations and the work areas used for repair, sorting and storage. True to its commitment to environmental responsibility, the new facility has many features that make it as green and sustainable as it can be. For example, skylights allow workers and volunteers to conserve energy by not using electric lights during the day. Global Links trucks have engines that have been adapted to use recycled vegetable oil as fuel.
Global Links does not only assist needy communities in other countries—it also aids resource-poor organizations and individuals in western Pennsylvania as well. From bandages, to sutures, to wheelchairs and more, Global Links strives to be as open as possible in its recovery and reuse efforts, truly proving the notion that “every little bit does make a difference.”
If you live in the Pittsburgh area, check out the Global Links web site’s list of events open to the community. Becoming involved in Global Links is as easy as signing up online and getting to the location in Greentree, PA. The hours are flexible, the staff is helpful, and Global Links has established itself as one of the most reliable and progressive non-profit organizations in Pittsburgh today. Finally, although Global Links is quite unique in many ways, you may be able to find other organizations that do similar work in your community by searching for ‘organizations that recycle and reuse medical surplus.”