A group of concerned citizens of Flagstaff have been reaching 13,000 miles across the world for about 16 years to help citizens of all ages in Mongolia stay warm and healthy during harsh winters there.
Since 1997, that group has operated under the name Flagstaff International Relief Effort, or FIRE.
It was originally called Mongolia Orphans Relief when local photographer David Edwards founded the nonprofit in 1995.
Edwards has been regularly visiting Mongolia, a landlocked country between China and Russia, and has established an international reputation for his documentary photography of Central Asia.
Mongolia is very photogenic as it is one of the last places on the planet where nomadic life is still a living tradition.
The primary focus for the group he started was providing warm clothing for those in need in Mongolia, where the weather is bitterly cold during the winter, dropping down to minus-40 degrees in some areas.
In recent years, the focus has shifted to helping fight the hepatitis epidemic in that country. Mongolians have amongst the highest rates of hepatitis B and C in the world.
Last year, FIRE opened a medical office in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city.
FLAG PARTY FOR JAGAA
In November, the medical director at the office, Dr. Munkhjargal Ayurzana, affectionately called Jagaa by her FIRE friends, visited Flagstaff on her way to a medical conference on liver disease in San Francisco, where she said it was a great opportunity to learn.
"I was amazed when I came to Flagstaff," the doctor said during a party in her honor. "So many people know about Mongolia just because of the FIRE program. I'm so glad David and others started FIRE for Mongolia; it makes me excited!"
Meredith Potts, executive director for FIRE, said she was delighted to have Ayurzana here and to return the hospitality she has experienced on her visits to Mongolia.
"It's just great to have her," she said. "It's the first time we've had one of our Mongolian employees come here. It's really exciting to show her Flagstaff and to make that connection with Flagstaff for Mongolia."
The doctor is a general practice physician and said she is married and has "two fine kids" at home.
"We still get the hand knits sent to us, the blankets, scarves, hats and jumpers for kids," she said. "Sometimes we get gloves and such things. It's a big help to us to get people to know about FIRE."
DONATIONS ARE NEEDED
Yorool bat orshig: "May your wishes be fulfilled." The FIRE year-end newsletter wished everyone best wishes and also asked for donations to the cause.
"Because of you, FIRE is succeeding," the newsletter said. "With your help, in the coming months, we will train more doctors and nurses, make hospitals safer and save lives. We count on grants and fundraising from people like you for our entire budget."
Organizers are hoping to raise $20,000 by the end of the year to stay on track, which is 200 people each donating $100.
According to the newsletter, Since 1999 FIRE has personally distributed 76 tons of winter clothing to 65,000 individuals, 80 computers and 6,000 English language books to 12 schools, $690,000 worth of medical supplies to 54 clinics and hospitals, and organized more than 1,000 hours of medical training with 635 medical professionals.
FIRE programs have provided aid and training in 12 of Mongolia's 21 provinces.
Betsey Bruner can be reached at email@example.com or 556-2255.
Many successes for FIRE in 2011
* Collected and shipped 300 serum samples to the National Institutes of Health in Washington DC.
* Tested 370 health care workers for hepatitis B and began to vaccinate more than 200 health care workers who tested negative.
* Received $15,000 and $21,000 grants for hepatitis testing, vaccination and education programs.
* Facilitated the distribution of 19,000 sharps containers (biohazard boxes for sharp medical waste) and training materials to 21 hospitals and clinics.
* Created Mongolia's first health care worker training video about the essentials of medical waste management emphasizing safety in the health care environment.
* Trained 100 health care workers on Medical Waste Management and Health Safety.
* The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases sponsored FIRE's Medical Director's attendance at their annual meeting in San Francisco.
* Developed partnerships with the World Hepatitis Alliance, Family Health International, the Onom Foundation and Health Care Without Harm.
* Developed a Diabetes Prevention Program with the support of the Ministry of Health and Millennium Challenge Account - Mongolia (MCA-M).
* Received 500 pounds of donated hand-knitted winter items in Mongolia.
To help FIRE
For more information about how to help FIRE, call 779-2288 or visit www.fireprojects.org