Thursday, October 18 , 2018, 8:41 pm | Fog/Mist 61º


Santa Barbara Student Set to Embark on ‘Life-Changing’ Mission in Bolivia

14-year-old Heather Harkness will join the Rio Beni Health Foundation in bringing health care and outreach to isolated communities

Santa Barbara Middle School student Heather Harkness will depart July 11 with the Rio Beni Health Foundation for Bolivia, where they’ll help bring better medical care, clean water and health education to the people of the Rio Beni region.

“From the beginning, the project has coordinated its work with local municipal governments, the Department of Beni and the national government in La Paz, always determined to strengthen its commitment and cooperation,” said Dilo Negrette Arze, former mayor of Rurrenabaque and 
board director of the Rio Beni Health Foundation, which is celebrating its 10th year of helping the people of Bolivia.

The project has three principal activities, according to the Netzer-Brady International Web site: to provide regular clinical services to isolated communities, to promote preventive health care through education, and the provision of potable water.

Clinical services are conducted by mobile clinics, facilitated by small boats or 4WD vehicles. Education and prevention activities are carried out in the schools, at community health meetings, and by training community health workers in preventive and basic primary health care. Potable water initiatives are carried out directly with community participation.

“It is an honor to remember and give thanks to people who have big hearts, and who feel and see the necessity to help families and communities that lack the economic resources to cover their basic health needs,” said Alejandro Alvarez, lead guide and naturalist at Chalalan Ecolodge in 
Madidi National Park.

Harkness, 14, became involved when inspired by teacher Jim Brady of Netzer Brady International. The organization’s name “honors and celebrates the close friendship and working relationship between the Netzer and Brady families over the past 25 years, in particular Lou and Christopher’s collaboration on their work in the Upper Amazon rainforest in Bolivia whose family, along with the Brady family, forms Netzer-Brady International.”

Netzer-Brady International is committed to supporting the work being carried out by the Rio Beni Health Foundation. Brady mentioned an El Puente trip to Bolivia during class, sparking Harkness’ curiosity. She attended a meeting and said she was “amazed” at the opportunity.

What started as a small project by Dr. Luis Netzer, who began giving medical attention to a sprinkling of isolated villages along the Beni River, now reaches more than 60 villages in an area of more than 2,000 square miles.

The project has had key administrative support in the past from two nonprofit organizations, Direct Relief International (2000-04) and Concern America (2005-08).

Harkness said she was driven to step outside of her comfort zone and throw some elbow grease into a good cause and an unbelievable opportunity.

“After seeing what an amazing and life-changing experience this looked like, I really wanted to go,” she said.

Despite being deeply compelled, she admits it wasn’t an instant decision.

“Although I was really jazzed up about it, I did have my doubts,” Harkness said. “What if I couldn’t do it? Couldn’t afford it? Wasn’t qualified?”

Such questions were just a smattering of those that she said ran through her head. “Jim saw the ‘what if game’ playing on my face, and told me I was perfectly eligible,” she said.

Harkness added that on the plus side, she would get to visit a place she had never been to, one very different from what she was used to, and it would be a valuable experience.

“I would also be helping people, which I love to do,” she said.

Harkness said she hopes to fine-tune her Spanish-speaking skills, as she reminisces about the days when she used to be fluent, along with learning more about health care.

She said her concerns include the possibility of altitude sickness — those who journey to El Alto, Bolivia, from Santa Barbara are used to sea level — but “it will go away pretty soon, though.”

Another worry of hers is creepy crawlies, which is “thanks to the people who gave me the shots needed for the trip,” Harkness said, adding that mosquitoes have a “sweet tooth for me,” and that her parents are “lemons” and she’s “chocolate,” in a mosquito’s point of view.

Harkness gave a presentation before the congregation at her church, Unity of Santa Barbara, and shared a tri-fold display of pictures and information after the service. She said fellow church members were wholeheartedly supportive of her journey, with words of praise along with financial contributions.

Interested in following Heather’s journey? Click here to check out updates from the team.

Noozhawk intern Lindsey Weintraub will be a sophomore at the University of San Diego in the fall. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.