Through my friend, Mark Curtis, former KTVU news anchor now working on the East Coast, I learned about the Gretta Foundation that is led by Tri-Valley residents Meg Styles and her brother Mike Styles. Meg founded the foundation in honor of her mother, Dr. Margaretta Madden Styles, who did pioneering work nationally and internationally in nursing education, regulation and credentialing.
Gretta served as a professor and dean of nursing colleges at the University of Texas, San Antonio, Wayne State University, Detroit and the University of California, San Francisco. She also was president of the International Council of Nurses in Geneva, the American Nurses Association and the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
Meg established the foundation to train nurses and midwives in 2007 after her parents had passed on. Previously, she has worked in commercial real estate, but transitioned to the non-profit sector as community relations director with the Global Interfaith Alliance that provides community-based HIV prevention and care in Sub-Saharan Africa, the world-wide hot spot for HIV/AIDS. In that area, nurses and midwifes provide 85 percent of the medical care.
She what she learned in Africa and did plenty of homework on the ground to determine the best way to fill the health care gap caused by the lack of nurses and midwives in most of Sub-Saharan Africa. The initial program was to provide scholarships to train young people in nursing and midwifery in Malawi where Meg had contacts from her work. The foundation focuses on conflict survivors and orphans who do not have the financial resources to pursue an education.
During my board tenure with Heart for Africa, a faith-based organization that was coming alongside a non-profit in serving orphaned or vulnerable children in Malawi. I have served in Swaziland (current site of Project Canaan for Heart for Africa), as well as in Kenya and South Africa. I have never seen the depths of poverty with no economy that I saw in Malawi. We were staying in the capitol city of Lilongwe, yet driving five miles from the city center and there was no clean water, no electrical power and no transportation alternative other than your feet.
The slums in Nairobi have horrible living conditions, but there’s a vibrant economy operating there. You find nothing in rural Malawi other than subsistence farming.
After starting in Malawi, the foundation since has transitioned to Uganda. The scholars are carefully screened by volunteer teams there who identify people who have both a heart for their community and a financial situation that would not allow them to pursue an education. These scholars pursue a three-year program that results in a nursing diploma that is internationally recognized.
The second thrust is to help people currently working in in the field upgrade their skills so they can earn international certification and pursue a career. This is designed to keep people who already have shown an aptitude for the work in the field and equip them for long-term success, both personally and professionally.
Their record to date is impressive: 29 graduates who are working in the field and another 21 in the program with 10 more in the queue for the May class.
Equally impressive is the cost: $6,000 for the three-year program for people with no experience to $2,500 for an 18-month program for a person working in the field to upgrade their skills to the international diploma level. The low cost with high leverage is typical of wise investments in Africa. Our dollars go a very long way there and these are one-time investments.
The Gretta Foundation works with all faiths and has found that the Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau has the best infrastructure to partner with them to identify potential candidates for their programs. It becomes a win-win because the bureau can refer talented employees without international certification who then can obtain scholarships and upgrade their skills.
The next major initiative also is a critical one—to train midwives in private practice to upgrade both their professional skills and their business aptitude. Here again is a win-win: the midwife learns better skills to serve her clients and learns how to build a business that is sustainable to serve those clients.
Most of these women (the vast majority are women although the program to open to women and men) go far beyond delivering babies. They also deal with HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and pre-natal care. Depending upon where their practice is located, they may also be doing all facets of primary care medicine. Training them well professionally will benefit the entire community they serve.
The foundation operates quite efficiently—all the people helping in Uganda are volunteers (remember the win-win for their agencies).
To learn more about the Gretta Foundation and to help (there’s a $4,000 matching grant to support educating nurses), please visit the foundation website.