When they’re not walking the red carpet, these A-listers are doing their part to make the world a better place. Each Feel Good Friday: Celebrity Spotlight, we’ll highlight these do-gooders along with simple ways to support their efforts.
I’ll admit it; I watch a decent amount of TV like the rest of the country (five hours+ of live viewing according to Nielsen). And while my boob tube consumption focuses on
Real Housewives CNN and HBO shows, a new CBS drama has been added to my DVR queue this fall. Code Black, which Entertainment Weekly reviewed saying, “if you watch one show this season, make it ‘Code Black’,” is a hospital-based series reminiscent of ER with a lot more tea.
Melanie Chandra, who plays Malaya on the hit show, already had some training in the medical field when she arrived on set in 2015. The Stanford grad and some of her classmates founded Hospital for Hope in 2009, which serves 1,500 patients per month in one of India’s poorest regions. “The closest hospital was over a half a day’s trip away and was both overcrowded and mismanaged, leaving over 100,000 villagers in this remote region without accessible health services,” she explains.
Ahead of Code Black’s season 2 premiere on September 28th, the actress, do-gooder, and 2nd degree black belt in Shotokan Karate (yep!) tells Random Acts of Lipstick what inspired her to take action, the biggest challenges the team faced, and the surprising way you can help.
Alexis Farah: What inspired you and your Stanford classmates to create the Hospital for Hope?
Melanie Chandra: As undergrads we spent a summer volunteering with an NGO based in one of the poorest regions in India. We worked with children in various villages and met with rural community leaders to brainstorm solutions for watershed development and reforestation. We fell in love with the people there, their spirit and their tenacity. But we were devastated to learn about the rampant health concerns that were going unaddressed: malaria, tuberculosis, dysentery, and most saddening to me, child mortality. The closest hospital was over a half a day’s trip away and was both overcrowded and mismanaged, leaving over 100,000 villagers in this remote region without accessible health services. And we learned the government wasn’t doing much to help. Somehow, someway, this had to change. And thus Hospital for Hope was born, with the goal of building the villagers a local, self sustaining hospital to empower them for a brighter future.
AF: And what logistical challenges did you face getting the project off the ground?
MC: There were a lot of challenges, namely money, time, manpower, and time zones. There were just five of us on the team, fresh out of college with full time jobs and large student loan debts, living in different US cities. Somehow, remotely, we needed to build a volunteer development team and raise $100,000 toward initial construction as quickly as possible. Once we made headway with that, we faced an even larger problem. Our local partner in India, and a beloved community leader, fell ill. We were tasked with finding and training his successor and re-rallying a local volunteer team, which is not easy to do from halfway around the world. And when the hospital was nearly complete, we had an additional problem: staffing. Because the hospital was in such a remote region, it was hard to attract qualified doctors, who would receive lower pay than what they would be earning in a larger city. But we’ve pushed past these obstacles and are proud to say we have the hospital up running, serving anywhere from 1000-2000 patients a month.
AF: How often are you able to visit the hospital?
MC: While I am definitely overdue for a physical trip myself, we’ve enabled a slew of incredible volunteers to visit over the years to engage with the hospital and its community. But I guess you can say we do visit the hospital “virtually” on a monthly basis. Instead using donor money towards flights for the team, we’ve been able to operate extremely lean from abroad – leveraging WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook to hold monthly progress meetings and fundraising calls and share pictures and video of the hospital and patients. Because of this, we are able to send about 97 percent of what we raise directly to the people on the ground, which is nearly double typical non-profits. It’s amazing to see how the hospital is growing month to month.
AF: Do you have a favorite story or memory from a recent visit?
MC: On one of my visits, I took part in a health camp providing vaccines and health education to the community. The monsoon season was just beginning and that morning it rained so much we were positive no one would show up. We were proven wrong. The camp was packed, with villagers even traveling from hours away. It was incredible. Even more recently my colleague, Amit, visited with three of our US-based supporters. On their last day, the community arranged a cultural dance performance by the local high schoolers. When the students finished, they naturally begged to see the four Americans share some of their customs too. Little did they know Amit and his colleagues were all swing dancers! The students went wild for it. By the end, the whole school was swing dancing with them.
AF: Ok, ok this is all amazing – now how can we help support your efforts?
MC: Thank you for asking! One time donations toward the organization are always hugely appreciated, but we find people get even more meaning by targeting a specific 3rd world health issue they are passionate about and organizing a local fundraiser, even a small dinner party, with proceeds going toward that issue. For example, right now there is a huge need for more dental and women’s health clinics, and one could specifically work toward supporting those. We also hope people can spread awareness over social media, to rally ongoing backers.
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