The Basic Needs Program
VCU School of Medicine student leads Bangladeshi Development Organization
Office of Development, School of Medicine
When Richard Hubbard was an undergraduate global studies major, a summer research grant took him to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. There, for the first time, he encountered extreme poverty and the malnourished slum children who live on the streets of the capital city.
The journey that began on the streets of Dhaka that summer led to the creation of a non-profit organization, The Basic Needs Program, which has already changed the lives of dozens of children from that area. Hubbard, now a second-year medical student at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, co-founded the organization with Sohan Rahman, a Bangladeshi college student, to provide housing, clothing, food, education and medical care to families who have lost a breadwinning father.
Hubbard’s compassion and dedication have left an impression on many. Last week, Hubbard received a 2011 American Medical Association Foundation Excellence in Medicine Leadership Award.
The award, Hubbard says, adds another level of legitimacy and recognition to the work he and his colleagues do. He believes the increased awareness will help the continued expansion of the Basic Needs Program. The leadership award recognizes the “strong nonclinical leadership skills in advocacy, community service and/or education” of approximately 15 medical students, 10 residents/fellows and five early career physicians.
During that first summer in Bangladesh, Hubbard met Halima, a year-old infant who weighed no more than seven pounds. Her eyes were sunken and distant, her extremities limp. As is often the case for Bangladeshi families whose father has died or abandoned the family, her mother could not provide for her five children on her wages as a dirt mover. In fact, three other children had already died due to circumstances connected to their poverty.
Hubbard intervened, taking Halima to a nearby hospital. He covered the resulting hospital bill, and Halima eventually recovered. Hubbard would never be the same.
When he left the hospital that day in 2007, Hubbard thought to himself “Now’s the time to make a decision about what you’re going to do with your life.”
As it turns out, that was the first of Hubbard’s five trips to Bangladesh, a South Asian country that squeezes the seventh-largest population in the world into a geographic footprint about the size of Iowa.
While Rahman manages day-to-day operations, Hubbard, the organization’s president, handles big-picture decisions and raises funds to meet a steadily increasing budget that is expected to top $20,000 this year.
Last year, Hubbard was a recipient of a 2010 Salute to Service Award from the Medical Society of Virginia Foundation. The award recognizes “outstanding efforts that have substantially improved patient care, both locally and abroad.”
With the help of the MSV Foundation award, generous donations from a number of supporters and fundraisers, such as last week’s talent show fundraiser hosted by the VCU-MCV Student Government Association, the Basic Needs Program has been experiencing promising growth, according to Hubbard.
Lending more than a hand
In Hubbard’s view, medical school is an avenue to getting the skills he needs to return to Bangladesh better equipped to meet the children’s needs and to provide funding. But he acknowledges that even in the midst of studying anatomy and physiology, his mind is often occupied with the children he has met. “It can be all-consuming.”
In 2009, the Basic Needs Program opened its first school and orphanage. The product of $20,000 in private gifts and named in honor of his mother, the Susan Hubbard School and Children’s Home provides free primary education to the most disadvantaged children in the village of Choichachia. Earlier this year, the school started its second class of students. Currently, there are 20 orphans and 60 primary school students that benefit from the program.
“Bangladesh is a rural, agrarian nation, and the majority of its poverty is diffused across thousands of small villages,” says Hubbard.
A Christmas fundraiser hosted by Hubbard’s brother and sister-in-law surpassed initial goals to raise $1,000 to buy a solar panel for the school. Hubbard said the pair sent out an email to all the people in their address book.
“In the end, they raised $6,000, besting the record set less than a month before! With that money, we will electrify the school and start our healthcare project, which will provide low-cost or free care to all children in the village in which we work,” says Hubbard.
|The Basic Needs Program at work
The Model Village Program aims to improve the lives of impoverished children and families in a small village in the Mymensingh District of the country. The broad-based effort has plans to intervene in both small and large ways.
- Low cost or free sandals will prevent the hookworm infection that is a major contributor to illness in Bangladeshi children.
- A small primary care clinic operating even part-time can help villagers manage and prevent medical problems before they become debilitating or life threatening.
- Zero-interest microloans and assistance in the form of agricultural products and technologies can help farmers achieve greater yields, diversify their crops and achieve a fair price for their products.
Read more at http://bangladeshbasicneeds.org.
“Also, we are creating a program whereby students from the VCU School of Medicine can do rotations in Bangladesh for month-long periods, working both in a large hospital and in our own clinic,” he says.
Last year, Hubbard spent four weeks in Bangladesh. During this visit, he ran a free clinic to treat about 150 village children and conducted a complete pediatric survey of the village with the support of a $1,200 grant from the VCU Department of Family Medicine.
He also lectured on the ethics of doctor-patient relationships, a topic that interests him because of the Bangladeshi paternalistic approach to delivering care. Earlier this year, Hubbard wrote about the topic for Dhaka’s Daily Star newspaper.
“Medicine is an elite profession there,” he explains. “And patients are often looked at as a problem to be solved.” He offered his audience his own perspective on medicine that has been shaped by the medical school’s Project HEART program. The initiative’s name is a reminder to heal with empathy, acceptance, respect and integrity.
His return trips also provide the motivation to continue his work when he sees the children’s progress first-hand. On a recent trip he visited with nine-year-old Jannat, an orphan who was abandoned two years ago but now makes her home with the Basic Needs Program. Today she reads English-language stories to Hubbard.
“She can read!” he says. “She could do anything. She could go to medical school.”
For more information about the organization email email@example.com, or donations can be sent to 10132 Camden Lane, Ashland, VA, 23005.