The founder of FIRE is Flagstaff-based photojournalist David Edwards, who began extensively traveling and photographing in Mongolia in 1992.The collapse of the Soviet-supported economy in 1990 left Mongolia in economic ruin and one of its darkest periods ensued. In 1993, from a desire to give back to the struggling society that had given him so much, Edwards began hand-carrying duffel bags of winter clothing donated by the people of Flagstaff, and delivering them to orphanages in Mongolia. Edwards focused on placing aid directly into the hands of the people who needed it most, without middlemen. By 1997, Edwards and a group of Flagstaff residents founded a grass-roots aid organization called the Mongolian Orphans Association.They shipped the first 40-foot container and conducted the first hand-to-hand aid distribution in 1999. The name of the organization was changed to FIRE – Flagstaff International Relief Effort – in 2000 to reflect the evolving scope of aid programs envisioned for the future.
In 2003, Meredith Potts, Edwards’ business manger at the time, resumed the aid distribution trips after a brief hibernation period. Since 2003, Potts has remained at the helm of FIRE as executive director, staying true to FIRE’s mission of delivering necessary assistance directly to underserved populations. FIRE’s distribution trips reached two thirds of Mongolia’s provinces. American volunteers went door-to-door guided by local social workers seeking out the most needy families directly on their doorsteps. These distribution trips gave FIRE a unique and comprehensive understanding of the logistical challenges and cultural barriers within Mongolia. This has allowed for a well-developed and efficient outreach method specialized in rural Mongolia. In 2005, FIRE expanded its programs to include medical mission trips inclusive of training and medical supply distribution, in conjunction with the winter clothing distribution trips. In 2008, FIRE began hosting international orthopedic surgical volunteers in Ulaanbaatar.
In 2009, from a desire to have a greater long-term, sustainable impact on Mongolia, FIRE stopped the basic aid distribution trips to expand the public health work into multi-year, year-round programs.That year, FIRE began partnerships with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on a viral hepatitis research project and with Rotary International on a medical waste management training and supply distribution program. These programs paved the way for FIRE’s current hepatitis and liver cancer prevention programs, staying in alignment with FIRE’s core value of person-to- person outreach. In 2010, Dr. Munkhjargal Ayurzana joined FIRE as the medical director. Dr. Munkhjargal’s extensive history in the public health sector of Mongolia and the loss of both her parents to cirrhosis caused by viral hepatitis C has enabled and helped to solidify FIRE’s long-term commitment to the elimination of Mongolia’s silent killer.
Over the last 16 years, through working relationships with diverse people and organizations including members of government, health sector authorities and facilities, donor organizations, social workers, and many more, FIRE has become a recognized entity throughout the country. All of FIRE’s medical programs are coordinated in collaboration with the Mongolian Ministry of Health and Sports under a Memorandum of Understanding signed in November of 2009, and in support of the World Health Organization (WHO) Representative Office’s policies.
Between 1999 and 2009, FIRE:
- Shipped ten 40-foot containers lled with 76 tons of donated winter clothing, medical supplies, and educational materials
- Organized 46 American FIRE clothing volunteers to personally distribute winter clothing to over 65,000 individuals
- Hand delivered 46,500 hand-knitted winter clothing items
- Delivered 80 computers with English language training software and 6,000 English language library books to one dozen schools
- Organized 23 foreign FIRE medical volunteers to conduct more than 1,200 hours of training with 2,100 Mongolian medical professionals around the country
- Delivered $720,000 worth of medical supplies
Since 2009, FIRE has:
- Distributed 152,000 sharps containers (biohazard boxes for sharp medical waste) to 305 clinics and hospitals countrywide
- Trained 1,000 health care workers on medical waste management and health safety
- Produced and distributed 2,000 copies of a training video for health care workers on medical waste management, health safety, and hepatitis prevention
- Intensive training and supply distribution for the comprehensive upgrade of the entire medical waste management system of 4 rural hospitals
- Advocated 31 policy makers to improve medical waste management
- Tested 2,500 rural people for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and liver cancer
- Tested 1,000 rural health care workers for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV
- Vaccinated 135 health care workers against hepatitis B
- Trained 74 physicians on viral hepatitis and liver cancer early detection, prevention, and treatment
- Screened and counseled 1,999 people for hepatitis and liver cancer
- Distributed over 10,000 copies of awareness materials about viral hepatitis treatment and prevention across Mongolia
- Conducted awareness campaigns on World Hepatitis Day (July 28) with the World Health Organization and Ministry of Health and Sports in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015
- Examined 523 kindergartner’s oral health •Trained 231 parents and 68 teachers about oral health for children
- Produced training tools including booklets, video and inter active aprons for kindergarten age children’s oral health
- Organized 6 foreign FIRE medical volunteers to conduct more than 116 hours of training with 33 Mongolian medical professionals
- Distributed $50,000 worth of medical supplies