Nurse’s nonprofit grows up

Hanan Waite burps a newborn baby at the Northside Hospital Women’s Center in Atlanta on Wednesday March 15, 2017.
Caption
Hanan Waite burps a newborn baby at the Northside Hospital Women’s Center in Atlanta on Wednesday March 15, 2017.

We revisit Earth’s Angels as they expand their scope.

The mantra of helping “mother and infant mortality one mother and baby at a time” are words Hanan Waite lives by.

Not only does it come into play during her job as a neonatal nurse at Northside Hospital, it’s the driving force of Earth’s Angels, a nonprofit Waite founded in 2012 to provide supplies to neonatal, obstetric and pediatric units in Third World countries.

When Pulse first spoke to Waite in 2015, she explained the genesis of Earth’s Angels. Born and raised in Ghana, West Africa, Waite lost both of her parents at an early age due to the country’s lack of high quality healthcare. After being adopted by an aunt and uncle, she relocated to America in 1997.

The challenging pregnancy and premature birth of her son Ramzi in 2011 caused Waite to wonder what would’ve happened to she and her infant had they been in Ghana instead of Atlanta. A year later, this led to the idea of the Earth’s Angels concept. Not surprisingly, Ghana would be her starting point.

By 2014, Earth’s Angels had sent three shipments of supplies to Ridge Hospital in Accra, Ghana, with Waite delivering the third batch herself. Think medical supplies, diapers, clothing, infant food, formula and more. This took place in tandem with assisting the Gwinnett Children’s Shelter in Buford with financial donations, and infant diapers and clothing.

“Part of my promise is to make sure these items are delivered and put in the hands of those who need them most,” Waite explained to Pulse in 2015. “And being from Ghana, I am able to do that. I speak the local vernacular. I’m able to get it in the hands of those who actually need it, despite the corruption, which is part of the problem.”

Fast forward to 2017, and Earth’s Angels has been taking flight in additional directions. While continuing working in Ghana, Earth’s Angels now provides assistance for those in Lebanon, Botswana, and Punjab, India. The challenges, however, remain the same.

Logistically, this requires more outside assistance than the nonprofit’s early days when Waite handled everything herself. She currently relies on a five-person board with hope of eventually adding more members. Board members not only gather for meetings, but lend their own hands for administrative and other volunteer needs.

When it comes to focusing energy on those additional countries, Waite relies on contacts she has in each locale who take on Earth’s Angels leadership roles on her behalf. For example, Sulakshana Chand, a charge nurse at Northside, informed Waite about the healthcare issues regarding mothers and babies in Punjab.

Chand, who visits Punjab one to two times each year, volunteered to be her on-the-ground liaison. When Chand visits Punjab, Earth’s Angels coordinates a shipment that Chand will either take with her or receive while she’s there. Waite and company provide Chand with the appropriate paperwork or funds to clear or pay for the items. If there’s an issue in the neonatal intensive care unit of the hospital in Punjab, she’ll then speak to the neonatologist. Chand compiles a list of needs, and all of the information is then sent back to Waite to asses the next steps.

Waite says it’s essential that she and her respective volunteer contacts brainstorm and make the best decisions for each country and hospital. Being able to rely on these sources allows Waite the freedom and ability to grow Earth’s Angels. Blindly sending a container of supplies to a country isn’t an option.

“These are honest civilians that I’ve typically known for years,” Waite said. “I trust them to make good decisions after we put our heads together. So it’s a collaborative and trusting relationship.”

While these collaborations illustrate the most positive scenarios for Earth’s Angels, Waite says she learned one of the most difficult and “blood pressure-rising lessons” when sending a sizable shipment to Lebanon last year.

Earth’s Angels designed the shipment especially for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. In addition to medical equipment and clothing, it included infant formula for orphaned Syrian babies with no mother to nurse them. Due to paperwork and the proper legal preparation, it took six weeks before the shipment left US soil. This required “a lot of money and a lot of hard work,” Waite said.

DHL’s global arm delivered the shipment. Yet due to an enormous amount of red tape, it took eight months for the supplies to get in the proper hands. Lebanese officials finally informed Earth’s Angels the infant formula was considered a prescription, wouldn’t be cleared and had to be destroyed. Waite said her emotions still well up at the thought.

“Until I have a better way of getting it there, I will not ship to Lebanon again,” Waite said. “What we’ve done since is just sent money to our volunteers on the ground, who have purchased the supplies for us. So that was probably the hardest lesson of my five years of Earth’s Angels.”

Another challenge, Waite says, continues to be funds. After Earth’s Angels raises money for missions —this goes to the shipping, the handling and the buying of the supplies— funds become depleted and it’s back to square one.

In addition to its annual gala and smaller fundraisers, Waite and her board have a potential solution to bolster the monetary end. By early 2018, Earth’s Angels hopes to have its own Gwinnett-based thrift store in place to help support its work. The idea, Waite says, is to have a community center attached to it where they’ll offer free prenatal and lactation classes to women and their families who otherwise couldn’t afford it. The goal is to raise $45,000 by the end of the year to open the facility.

Other projects on tap for 2017 include a return trip to Ghana in May, this time with her husband, Christopher, and sons Ramzi and Cyrus in tow. This marks the first trip for Waite’s family. In between visiting Waite’s relatives in Ghana, the family will be bringing supplies with them to do Earth’s Angels work at Ridge Hospital, an orphanage and a teaching hospital.

Still the struggles of expanding Earth’s Angels into areas in dire need loom large for Waite. While she would love to provide direct assistance to Syria, her contacts in Allepo have been unresponsive. Due to lack of food, babies continue to perish in Yemen hospitals. Yet Earth’s Angels doesn’t have contacts in Yemen and no direct way to move supplies.

The frustrations might be enough to cause others to raise their hands in submission. Waite, however, continues abiding by that “one mother and baby at a time” mantra and sticking to her call.

“It’s not an option to stop,” she said. “After I lost my parents when I was 8-years-old, I always knew that my purpose was to help other children. …It just took me growing up and having the experiences that I’ve had to know where to channel this painful desire to help others. That is my fire. I just want to do it so badly.”

For more information on Earth’s Angels: 678-508-9229, earthsangels.org.