The heartbeat of REI since its inception has always been “Building People to Build Nations.” Incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1990, the work began to grow under the leadership of REI-Vietnam founder Doug Sparks (in foreground, third from right below, with original Vietnam survey team). In 1992 Doug organized several teams to visit different regions of the world, entering into discussions with national and local leaders, to see what partnerships we could forge to encourage the development of human capacity in these regions.
From the outset, Doug was committed to REI being field-driven, bringing service that met needs which were identified by the nationals. He would often say to national leaders, “You tell us what you need, and if we can find the resources, we’ll do it.” The objective was not to bring in material aid, although REI has done that in a limited capacity, but rather to identify the areas in society where REI can bring in training, to develop and build up people who in turn can build up others.
And that has taken a surprising variety of forms! Some look more like the leg of the elephant, some more like the trunk...but it’s all part of the elephant! Over the past 27 years we have worked in over 20 countries, and each country has had its own set of priorities—priorities which we have sought to honor.
Currently our work focuses on five countries:
Vietnam—one of our oldest and most developed partnerships. Here we have a small team of resident staff, which focuses primarily on teaching English and training teachers of English, as well as providing training in social work and counseling. We also have volunteer teams of specialists who come into the country regularly, bringing training in medicine, in dentistry, in business, in social work, and in veterinary science.
Lao—where we also have a resident team which provides training in clinical pediatrics, general surgery, neonatology, executive leadership and management, hospital administration and management, general English and medical English.
Indonesia—where our work is primarily agricultural. Resident staff there have developed a business model for low-income rural families which harvests mangos, prepares and dries them, and packages them for market. Local Indonesians are being trained in agriculture and business management, that they might bring this training to neighboring communities.
Djibouti—where our resident staff have launched the International School of Djibouti, designed to become an English-based K-12 school that will provide a much-needed English education option for students, and to serve as a laboratory for training Djiboutian teachers and administrators to lead, manage, and teach an English-based curriculum. Over the next 15-20 years the government of Djibouti plans to transition from a French-based to an English-based education system.
Egypt—where our resident staff trains local specialists in a maternity hospital, as well as training young mothers in prenatal care, neonatal care, and basic principles of hygiene and nutrition for mothers and children.
And although our work in Nepal has not yet been designated as a full-fledged REI project, we have had medical teams travel there twice, with additional training planned for the future.
REI also brings in professionals from our partnering countries on a limited basis, to provide further professional training in the United States. We have sponsored 100 J-1 Visa Fellowships, with more in the pipeline. (Perhaps that’s the elephant’s trunk!)
Hopefully this has given you an overview of what REI is currently doing internationally. In the coming months we intend to drop down from this stratospheric perspective and share stories of people from our partnering nations, with our feet firmly planted on the ground!
Many of you who read this have made a significant contribution to this vision of “Building People to Build Nations.” We are grateful for you. And if you haven’t yet had opportunity to serve with us in this way but would like to, please get in touch! We always have room for people with skillful hands and noble hearts!