Philanthropy vs. COVID-19
Helping others halfway across the world
This piece was contributed by Joanna Gabis-Słodownik about VV Lead Fellow, 2012 Fortune/US State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership Alumna Dr. Daria Mejnartowicz
March 2020 will be remembered for a long time. We were closed into our apartments, observing the world through screens due to the global onset of a pandemic. At the end of March, I spoke with Daria Mejnartowicz about what was happening in Poland – the shortages in hospitals and the doctors and nurses at the “first front.” While I was feeling worried and sorry for others, Daria was already taking the initiative to help.
During our conversation, she kept receiving notifications of new messages: people both from her home country of Poland and from all over the world kept texting her. As we watched Kenyan services work with fearful citizens on TV, Daria was, at the same time, receiving messages from those same citizens on WhatsApp and Messenger. These people did not have basic hygiene products or access to running water. Masks were rare and difficult to find, many were just a folded piece of paper towel with an elastic band – which was going for $1 in Madagascar. Daria received videos from people all around the world whom she had worked with throughout her career and fellowships with Vital Voices, and was deeply impacted by what she was hearing and seeing. She was not able to bear these injustices, so she decided to take initiative immediately. I cannot describe the energy coming from her through the little phone screen as we talked.
Everything is needed
“The director of one of the regional hospitals called me. She was desperately heartbroken by the situation and said that everything is needed,” Daria told me. She was very moved by the call and immediately started helping others. First, she approached potential sponsors – both private individuals and companies. She had two binders, both filled with examples of aid campaigns from around the world that were used as proof to show sponsors that their funds would be used for a meaningful purpose.
After a few days, Daria secured a budget of about USD150,000. In that time, she persuaded the President of the Management Board of Respect Energy, Sebastian Jablonski, to join the initiative. He donated funds to purchase medical equipment and personal protective equipment for the Polish hospitals. From April to June, respirators and resuscitation carts were sent to two hospitals in Warsaw; the hospital in Wyszkow received respirators, breathing apparatuses and ozonators; the hospital in Wolomin received ozonator for ambulances; the hospital in Gdynia received medical suction devices, anti-bedsore mattresses, and KN95 medical masks. By the end of April, the Oncological Hospital in Bialystok received personal protective equipment. While the equipment was not available to the general public, Daria coordinated and consulted the purchase of all these items.
Who is going to help them?
I wondered how she would convince corporations and individuals to get involved in helping Africa, when so much help was needed all over the world. I also knew that Daria had been changing the world for years. Based in Poland, she travels twice a year to Africa, Asia, and Central America – wherever help is needed. She conducts the research, spends several months coordinating donations and buying specific items that certain people need on the spot. She is convincing and has a strong personal brand, which really helps her. Those who donate amounts of all sizes trust her, she assures them that those who are in need will get assistance.
Daria does not work in theory, she recognizes need in practice. Because of her experience working in the health service, she knows how to identify needs and assess situations where assistance is needed. Through her efforts, she successfully obtained funds for anti-COVID aid in Africa. These funds came from Respect Energy in Poland as well as individuals throughout Poland. Polish communities in Ireland, Germany, The Netherlands, and Italy also sponsored her cause.
Effective help coming from the other side of the world
For Daria, this isn’t about one-time help. She is building relations, involving people who are waiting for help. For many years, she supported Rossina Teye’s pupils through the Dolly Foundation, a Ghana-based NGO. In the wake of the pandemic, she created a tailoring course for these pupils so they could properly sew masks; she also provided them with the funds for the purchase of the sewing materials. Women from Cameroon also helped sew masks, these women were also able to purchase materials for future mask-making. Masks for those in need were also sewn by women from Bangem (Cameroon).
Thanks to the funds collected by Daria, women in Madagascar were also impacted. Girls at the Akany Avoko Faravohitra home in received materials and a sewing machine. Now, they sew masks, panties, and cotton pads. Daria’s past work with this organization allowed it to be equipped with 4 water taps. When the entire world called for hand washing and disinfection, this house still lacked buckets, washing bowls, detergents, liquid soap, and washing powder. Now, the house has a modernized water distribution system, a washing station, and food supplies for its nearly 90 residents.
Daria regularly posts on her Facebook account about her current and past achievements, as she wants to connect the donors with the people who have received their help. You can get to know Consoler Eliya Wilbert from New Hope for Girls Organization from Tanzania, who received disinfectants, liquid soap, food supplies, and washing powder. The same aid was distributed to the Kenyan female football team and to the slum residents of Monrovia, Liberia. In cooperation with Jane Anyango from the Polycom Development Project, 12 handwashing stations were built in the huge Kibera Slum in Nairobi. Additionally, hygiene products, masks, and food were provided to 40 households where disabled, poor women lived.
On Daria’s Facebook page, you’ll find the story of Silpa, a grandmother. Silpa lives in the countryside and, having 1 son and 3 grandchildren, she was supported by the community to see the dance of joy performed by Silpa – the grandmother. When COVID-19 hit, her community was struggling and could not support her as much; her son, the breadwinner for the family, died in May 2020. The entire village organized a money collection to buy him a coffin. Thanks to the financial aid from Poland and Ireland, Silpa has enough food supplies and will receive EUR 70 per month. Until now, she had lived with no electricity, bed nor telephone. There is no water access in the village – no pump or stream. Silpa and other inhabitants had to use paddle water for cooking and showering. Not it is the past for 11 families as Daria sponsored barrels for rainwater. Now it will fall into the barrels from the rain (roof).
The biggest concerns coming from Liberia to Daria were about sanitation and hygiene. Now, slums in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, have dozens of handwashing stations and cleaning products. In Sasstown, Liberia, a pump, which was the only source of freshwater, was damaged. For three months villagers had to walk long distance with buckets to the saltwater stream. They did not have a choice. Daria found a solution to fix the pump. She was also able to provide food and organize sports activities for the children in the slum in Monrovia.
She did all this despite being thousands of kilometers away.
‘Further support in progress’
These are just some of the success stories made possible by Daria’s vision. She communicated with me that there is ‘further support in progress!”. I have no doubt that this is the case. She’s already started a new project, in which she supplies refugees in Syria with food and sanitation. This time she will be working with one of the VVLEAD Alumni from Damascus. In the meantime, she continues her other projects, such as supporting the education of girls and young women from Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar, and Ghana. She already found the sponsors for the school’s annual fee or vocational training for 121 girls, and one of the sponsors is the VVLEAD mentor from the USA.
End of October she is going to Kenya and together with Jane Anyango will support women from Kibera Slum and countryside through creating job opportunities (starts up), developing sport, helping senior women to survive Covid-19 time.
Daria receives lots of support and appreciation through her Facebook page. She receives comments such as “Daria, what you do for people, always fills me with faith that there are wonderful and endlessly good people in the world. Thank you for that”. It turns out that her actions change and impact a lot more than she expects.
Author: Joanna Gabis-Słodownik – Journalist, co-owner of media and communication agency Just Communication.
Daria Mejnartowicz – Ph.D., MBA, professional manager – is the President of Salveo Medical Care Warsaw; physiotherapist and philanthropist. Nominated for the title of Superhero by a Polish national magazine ‘Wysokie Obcasy’ in 2018, ‘Why Story’s’ Charismatic Women 2019. Nominated to 2018 edition of ‘Rodowicz Anoda’ Awards called ‘Peace Time Insurrectionists’ – one of top five finalists. Global Goodwill Ambassador, USA. Nominated by Dolly Foundation, Ghana for ‘CNN Hero 2018’ to honor Daria’s engagement and support for numerous VVGP Alumnas She is one of the three top finalists nominated to the prestigious tittle ‘Polish Ambassador 2020’.
Daria is an alumna of the FORTUNE – U.S. Department of State Global Women’s Mentoring Program, a 2014-2015 VVLEAD Fellow, a Vital Voices Chapter Poland Alumna, and a Global Mentoring Walk Poland Flag Bearer.
All photos courtesy of Daria Mejnartowicz.