This is part 4 of 4 in a series about Heart to Heart International, a non-profit organization that seeks to strengthen communities through improving health access and providing humanitarian development and crisis relief worldwide. You can read part 1 about Steve Hower, the Director of Corporate Relations, here; part 2 about Dr. Rick Randolph, the Chief Medical Officer, here; or part 3 about Monica Enloe, the Director of Strategic Giving, here.
“Knowing the cost of a bad donation for the recipient has stuck with me and influenced the kinds of things I’ve allowed Heart to Heart to accept,” said Dan Neal. “I don’t know that we’ve ever done that perfectly, but [our mindset is], ‘How is recipient going to be able to use this?’ . . . The idea that, ‘Oh, they’re poor, they can use anything’—I consider that blasphemous.”
As the Vice President of Operations at Heart to Heart International, Dan works day in and day out to ensure quality control over the donations HHI accepts and sends to their partner organizations in 40-50 countries around the world.
Just recently, an individual called asking HHI for a donation of infant formula that she wanted to pass along to people in Honduras. Dan asked a series of questions: “Have you thought about the condition of the water of the person you’re giving the formula to? Do they have a refrigeration capability? Could you actually be doing more harm than good by providing someone there with infant formula?”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought about those questions,” she responded.
Dan’s process of questioning the end result of a donation began when he was growing up as a missionary kid in Papua New Guinea. While he was there, he saw an unfortunate number of donations go to waste because his parents and the other missionaries had no use for them.
When he graduated from high school, he moved to the U.S. where he studied international agriculture at MidAmerica Nazarene University. After he completed his degree, the first job he found was one working for a warehouse with HHI—a job that had little to do with agriculture, but piqued his interest due to his previous overseas experience. This was in 1999, making it sixteen years now that Dan has worked with HHI.
Although Dan initially saw the job as short-term, his attitude changed once he began working directly with the partner organizations to which HHI distributed product.
“Hearing from them, ‘This is what I need,’ and being able to say, ‘We have that right here in our warehouse,’ or hearing them say, ‘This is what I need,’ and saying, ‘Well, we don’t have that, but I can talk to someone and figure out how to get that for you’—at that point, I was like, ‘This is cool—I want to keep doing this.’”
Most of the time, Dan works in the U.S. office, helping to get product approved and sent to HHI’s partner organizations. But a few times, he has also visited other countries to see how HHI donations have been used.
Once, HHI sent a few pallets of a very high-powered antibiotic to Honduras. Because the donation had been so costly, HHI scheduled a team that included Dan to go on a follow-up trip about six months later to see how the antibiotic was being used.
While in Honduras, they visited a health clinic that was treating HIV patients. There they met a man named Ernesto.*
“I’ve seen a lot of sick people over the years, but this guy was skin and bones, like something out of Ethiopian famine or Nazi concentration camp,” Dan said.
He learned from the doctor at the clinic that several years before, Ernesto had illegally emigrated to the United States, contracted HIV/AIDS, and received treatment from a safety net clinic in the U.S., before being deported back to Honduras where his health rapidly declined due to lack of proper medical care. He had shown up at the clinic earlier that week, and the antibiotic HHI had sent was immediately prescribed to him in order to treat the opportunistic infections (such as pneumonia) that had been caused by his AIDS.
“Don’t worry—he’s going to live,” the doctor told them.
Yeah, right, Dan thought, unable to imagine that this skin-and-bones man could ever regain his health.
So when he followed up with his contacts in Honduras three months later and asked about Ernesto, he was honestly expecting to hear that he had died.
But instead they said, “He’s better. He’s not in the clinic anymore. He’s back on his antiretroviral drugs that the clinic provided. He has a job, and he’s supporting his family.”
“I was just like, ‘That. Is. Absolutely amazing,’” Dan said.
It is stories like this that make Dan passionate about what he does at HHI.
“From the aspect of caring for our fellow man, I would make an argument that being involved in healthcare and improving healthcare is one of most basic things you can do if you want to help someone somewhere else in the world,” Dan said. “I feel called to work at things that will help fix our broken world—for me that’s part of the Gospel message. Our world is broken, and Christ came to fix our world . . . but I don’t think Christ limited us to just fixing spiritual things. He saw it as all-encompassing. He healed the sick in body and in spirit. So that’s what I get to do here—help fulfill that mission Christ has given to us.”