Gringo Runs Three Different Charities

Juggling his passions with compassion
BY: MARSHA MELLOW

Greg Edwards has spent his entire adult life toiling away for others, mostly for those not in his own country. This middle aged American excels at non profit administration, and he’s practiced his craft in such diverse countries as the Czech Republic and Argentina, before we in Los Cabos were able to snag him. His most recent post he has left was as executive director of the Los Cabos Childrens Foundation. Now he’s involved with three different aid organizations, working with disbursing wheel chairs, to repairing children’s hearts, to working with adolescent boys and girls. This is a man with a variety of interests, but all driven by the desire to help.

Let’s take the hearts first. His interest in repairing hearts is a hold over from his days working with the Los Cabos Children’s Foundation, as that is one of their many programs. This spin-off is called Abrimos Corazones, or Opening Hearts.

Greg tells us that each year about 40 babies are born with defective hearts.in our state.  Of those, about 20 would be fixable, if they were born in a first world country, but the Mexican national health insurance doesn’t even tackle babies with these issues, so most of them would die by the time they are about 10. There are a few pediatric heart surgeons in Mexico but of course they are not in Baja, as this entire peninsula is considered the wild and wooly West by most Mexicans over on the mainland. The money isn’t good enough here, nor the equipment, nor the facilities. So the LCCF would send the children up to Nebraska where they had alliances. But that was expensive and disruptive to families already under stress. So Under Greg’s watch, Dr. Jim Hamel of Children’s Hospital of Omaha started coming down here to perform the tricky operations, bringing with him his entire team. It seems to be a good system, as average loss in this type of surgery is 12% to 20%, but out of 68 operations, Dr. Hamel has only lost two. And, it’s not as if they can cherry pick the easiest cases, as they have to take all comers in the state.

Each surgery is performed in La Paz because that’s where the politicians wanted it; in the capitol city, not necessarily in the city where the donors are from. It is here that local doctors are being trained in pediatric cardiology. In this way Dr. Hamel and his team are trying to work their way out of a job. That is on track, and getting closer with every surgery.

Greg Edwards’ second responsibility is with Mobilize Mankind, a program that distributes wheelchairs to locals. His wife Gail is a pediatric physical therapist by training so she works with these patients. Greg helps her with the business end of her mission, while she’s best dealing with the patients,

“A decent wheelchair that assists a long term patient costs $5,000 to $10,000,” he explains. “The chairs that some organizations hand out with a showy flourish are sometimes called in the industry, ‘the evil red chair,’” he tells us. “They’re good for short term broken legs or as a brief transport chair, but long term patients need more support at various points of their body.” If they don’t get this support at those critical spots, their feet can turn backwards on them, their hands can start resembling claws, they get dislocated hips, and their backs can degenerate into painful contortions.

In the past 10 years Greg has wrangled $3 million in wheel chairs from the United States because medical equipment manufacturers won’t let orthopedic appliances like walkers, canes and chairs be recycled to needy patients. They have a strong lobby and have used it to keep their sales going. So Greg goes up to the States, loads up a truck with this equipment and tries to massage it through customs where he usually has to deal with the border guys trying to extort money out of him. “I refuse to pay the bandit customs officers,” he says. “Our donors don’t support our programs to pay these people.” So he out waits and out argues them, sometimes driving from one point of entry to another until he finds one honest man who will let his equipment through.

In his spare time, Greg moves on to his third job at Gente Joven Por Cambio, or Young People For Change.

Greg’s background is in education, and he has seen how the critical time, the golden years, for reaching children is between 10 and 14 years old. Before this, they can’t grasp concepts, and after this, well, we all know that after about 14 years of age, the high school kids already know it all. That makes it pretty hard to reach them, he says.

The Gente Joven program is a seven step program that’s a global movement, worked here in Mexico in cahoots with SEP, the federal education department. The aim is to build confidence and self esteem, in 14 to 16 week increments for a few hours every Saturday for six months.

 Small groups are led by some coach volunteers, many of them local university students, as well as young people who have already gone through the program. Each group picks a community involvement program  that is designed to show results fairly quickly. In this way the kids’ confidence is boosted and they learn they can make a difference in their community if they just try, says Alma Cortez, Greg’s boots on the ground day to day administrator of the program. “It’s very empowering,” she adds.

The Club Joven Gente is the after school aspect to this program. It’s a place for those kids to hang out in the afternoons to have their homework supervised and to participate in structured sports. Grupo Questro, which developed the marina in San Jose, has donated some unused land adjacent to the marina, to be used until Greg can move his charges to a more permanent spot they have lined up. While we were there we watched as the kids cleared the land for their baseball field and were planting bushes along the perimeter.

Greg looks at all three of his jobs as simply being focused on relationships. Although his background is in education, he believes wherever he goes in different countries or in different aid projects,, he is there to build relationships with collaborators that allow the organizations to push forward for the good of all. The wheelchairs, the youth programs, and the heart surgeries, all are about relationships, and if those relationships are successful, so will be the program.