One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure (Part II)

Excerpt from “Wild Hope Now” by Danielle Butin, Founder of Afya.

Enter Led Zeppelin

New York, 2009

Wild Hope Now

In Judaism, when a child turns 13, there is a coming-of-age ritual known as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. An important component of this ritual is doing a mitzvah — an act of goodness — and it is up to each child to choose their own mitzvah. It’s not unusual for young teens to volunteer at Afya to do their mitzvah. It is remarkable, however, how sometimes things line up just right, and a child walks in on just the right day with exactly the right soundtrack.

One day a pre-teen walked into Afya with a guitar strapped to his chest playing Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” I sat down with this amazing young man and his mother, and we talked about his Bar Mitzvah. All the while his hands kept quietly picking out notes on the guitar.

Another mother in another situation might have told her son to leave the guitar at home, or even to please leave it in the car. She might have told him that it would be inappropriate to play “Stairway to Heaven” during a meeting. But this mother knew her son and she knew me, and was confident that Afya welcomes people bringing their whole selves. His guitar was everything to him — it was his lifeline, his connection to the world, and he couldn’t just leave it at home.

That same day I had received a call from an Infectious Disease Physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He was heading to a remote area of Malawi to work with HIV-positive teens and wanted to improve their adherence to medication regimes. The teens in this area viewed HIV as a death sentence and saw no point in taking their medications, though by that time the medications were extraordinarily effective at turning the disease into a chronic rather than a terminal illness. People with HIV could live big, full, and long lives — if they took their medication.

The doctor had an idea about how to turn the situation around. He wanted to engage the teens in an activity that would give them a reason to live — something fun to look forward to and a passion to engage them. He thought if they were engaged in this way, they might be willing to take their meds. I appreciated his wide-open clinical lens — the holistic view of the person really spoke to the OT [occupational therapist] in me — but I really loved what he asked for next.

Rock’n’roll in Malawi.

He wanted lots of musical instruments. He was in a rock band in Boston with a bunch of other doctors and felt he could engage the teens in bands if he had the right supplies to start. And I was convinced that the young man in front of me, whose guitar had allowed him to find a way to be in the world, was going to be key to getting HIV-positive teens their instruments.

This highly creative and gifted 13-year-old reached out to every music contact he could think of. He stopped at nothing because he understood how a guitar could save your life. He collected amps, drum sets, guitars, keyboards, and so much more.

Our next container to Malawi included his collected pallets of instruments and music-related supplies. Because of this amazing collaboration, the infectious disease doctor hit a home run with the teens in Malawi.

The gift spawned a slew of new rock bands — and with something to live for, their members took their meds and stayed on them.

About Danielle Butin and Afya

Danielle Butin’s life changed with a simple idea on the plains of the Serengeti. At the time, she had no idea it would change millions of other people’s lives, too. Surrounded by poverty, Butin saw how people can die simply due to a lack of medical supplies.

As a former healthcare executive in the US, she knew firsthand about the waste of medical resources in the US. Everything from unused IV lines to incubators are discarded because of regulations. With the insight to match surplus to need, Butin founded the Afya Foundation. For 16 years, her team has been diverting unused medical supplies. They take useful, sterile items labeled as waste and deliver them where they can save lives.

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