Nina Yousefzadeh, or as her friends call her – “Penicillin Girl,” is our feature “Fierce Woman” for the month of May. A fierce woman as we define it is a woman who sees the beauty and potential in places of hardship and suffering.
Nina is May’s celebrated woman because she had and still has the courage to challenge the status quo. She has the power of immortal hope, which fuels her endeavor of making the world a better place. An Iranian immigrant and a frequent volunteer for medical missions to South and Central America, Nina learned the value of humanitarian work at a young age. Her compassion for the less fortunate and her interest in Global Health led to two accomplishments: her Doctorate in Pharmacy and the founding of her own non-profit called The Global Penicillin Girl Project.
The mission of the Global Penicillin Girl Project is to provide vulnerable populations access to essential medications and nutritional supplements in a sustainable manner. The ethics of the project are grounded in the belief that all human beings have a right to live with dignity and that basic medical care and nutrition are fundamental rights, regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic status.
The program allows volunteers and medical professionals, such as doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists, to visit underserved areas and provide diagnoses and treatments to people in need. In order to ensure that the provision of care is not erratic or disrupted, local NGO members or health workers work with the project members and are trained to take over care once project members leave. Additionally, for their upcoming project in Guatemala, the team is working on a grant that will help establish a permanent clinic employing local mid-level health providers to ensure the local community can access consistent, quality care.
Involving local members is crucial for any program’s success. Not only does it enhance sustainability, which increases the potential for long-term impact, but it also allows a sense of empowerment amongst community members that are able to help their own populations. It gives a sense of ownership to members of the local population and eliminates any notions of dependency or inadequacy. It also allows people to continue the services in a way that is culturally and logistically appropriate. The Global Penicillin Girl Project shuns the hubris and conditionality attached to many aid programs.
To fund her non-profit’s upcoming work in Guatemala and ensure a plentiful supply of medicine for the local community, Nina has paired up with Urban Athletics to organize a 5K run/walk around Riverside Park in New York City on Saturday, May 12th, 2012. The entry fee is $40, which includes a Nike Dry-fit T-shirt, and an after-party at the Hudson Beach Cafe with music, refreshments, and prizes. Some of the goody bags you can take home will contain free samples of Maxim organic cotton products.
Seizing on an opportunity to speak with Nina, we asked her some questions about her inspirations, challenges in her journey to beginning a successful non-profit, and more. Read her answers below:
Maxim Hygiene defines a Fierce Woman as “a glorious female creature whose idea of beauty is hinged upon the idea that she can change the world with each choice, each moment and each breath of her life.” Who in your life would you describe as a fierce woman and why?
“My mom is the fiercest woman I know, and it is only because of her that I am the woman I am today. She single-handedly rescued her three children from the Islamic Fundamentalists of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and raised each of us to be loving, giving, successful individuals with high integrity. She used her only skill as an immigrant (sewing) and created a hugely successful fashion business in one of the most competitive markets in the world. Growing up, my mom believed we could be anything we wanted to, and when I was 12 or 13 years old and wanted to be an astronaut, she sent me to Space Camp. Throughout my entire life, she always set us free to explore the world, set our goals high, and live life extraordinarily.“
Who in the field of global health do you look up to?
“Dr. Paul Farmer is one of the founders of Partners In Health (PIH), an international health and social justice organization. His work is the subject the book Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. PIH began in Cange in the Central Plateau of Haiti and has developed into a worldwide health organization. The PIH hospital in Haiti provides free treatment to patients living in poverty to obtain effective drugs to treat tuberculosis and AIDS. He is a genius and a healer, and has devoted his life and career to helping the underserved.”
What are your core values as an individual and how have these been channeled into your work and non-profit?
“I believe all people have the right to live with dignity, basic medical care and nutrition regardless of race, religion, or socio-economic status. After volunteering for missions to Peru and Honduras and seeing the suffering of the poor first-hand, it struck a nerve in me. I realized, here in the US, we live with so much excess and take so much for granted. Since then, I made it my mission and the mission of our non-profit to ‘help distribute the world’s abundance’.”
What factors determine the countries you choose to visit and volunteer in?
“Unfortunately, there are many, many countries with underserved populations, including our own. The factors that we look at when choosing a location include degree of the need of the population, accessibility, and safety for our volunteers. We are currently working on a long-term project in Guatemala, and our goal in the next few years is to visit and volunteer in South Africa, Senegal, Haiti and Southeast Asia.”
Our celebration of Nina and her work is timely since May is Women’s Health Month. It is the month where people vocally recognize the marginalization of women and young girls around the world who are not fortunate to have voices that are heard. What can we do to help? Become aware of the issues facing these women and become an advocate for them. Find organizations whose mission and values speak to you and volunteer.
Nina’s non-profit, like so many others, “needs volunteers. Many volunteers. To help run our non-profit here in theUS, and also to help us during our missions abroad. EVERYONE has something they can contribute!” The Global Penicillin Girl’s upcoming 5k Run/Walk Event is a great place to start. We’ll be there; sign up and join us for not only a good cause but a great way to get a healthy start to Women’s Health Month!