Earthquakes happen routinely in Mexico, which is one of the most seismically active places in the world. But the one that struck the small community of Salinas del Marqués in September 2017 was far from ordinary.
The 8.2 magnitude earthquake caused widespread devastation, destroying homes, businesses and schools. Two years later, the town is still rebuilding.
In 2019, a team of Medtronic volunteers traveled to Salinas del Marqués to help with those efforts, focusing on building a new elementary school for the town. The trip was one of five disaster relief trips the Medtronic Foundation coordinated in 2019 to mobilize Medtronic employee volunteers. In addition to Mexico, volunteers traveled to Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and Puerto Rico to help communities impacted by natural disasters.
“Natural disasters are on the rise, and today they are among the greatest threats to global health,” said Paurvi Bhatt, President, Medtronic Foundation. “Medtronic employees can make a sustainable, long-term impact on communities in need by helping communities not only recover from a disaster in the months and years following, but also by taking steps to prepare for and better respond to future disasters.”
Medtronic offers employees five additional days of paid time off to volunteer on disaster recovery efforts. And because disaster relief usually involves a longer time commitment, many Medtronic volunteers also earn a $500 volunteer grant from the Medtronic Foundation for the non-profit partner they work with on disaster relief.
“People and organizations around the world respond to the immediate disaster, but what we’ve found is the real need kicks in much later,” said Sarah Boulle, program director for All Hands and Hearts, an international disaster relief organization supported by the Medtronic Foundation. “When there’s no media attention and people have forgotten about the disaster, that’s when we can often have the greatest impact.”
The grants are part of a broader efforts to support the passion of volunteerism by Medtronic employees, retirees, and patients. For example, the Medtronic Foundation also supports employees’ charitable giving with a one-to-one match on donations up to $5,000 to local non-profits.
“As global citizens, we are committed to making a positive impact around the world,” Bhatt said. “That includes supporting our employees in communities where they live and give.”
On a typical day rebuilding the school in Mexico, volunteers woke up for breakfast at 6 a.m. They headed to the work site, where they were assigned tasks like painting, mixing cement, or removing debris from a future playground site.
Though the days were challenging, they were life-changing for many volunteers.
“It’s not easy, but it’s worth it,” said Sherri Watson, a Medtronic employee from Tennessee. “I’ve lived a very blessed life and I wanted to give back. There’s definitely a need in this community, and I’m glad I came.”
Matea Thomas, a project coordinator for Medtronic in Minnesota, was a first-time volunteer when she arrived in Mexico.
“It’s been awesome,” she said. “Even though it’s hot, people are smiling and singing. I’m amazed at how committed everyone is. The hard work really shows.”
Thomas was encouraged by her colleague Nik Ludgate to attend. Ludgate was initially drawn to the opportunity because his grandfather lived in Mexico.
“I want other employees to know that a project like this is going to be one of the most amazing experiences you’ll ever have,” Ludgate said. “It can be overwhelming to think about doing a project like this. You break down the details on how long you’ll stay, the flights you’ll need to take, how you’ll interact with a different culture. But if everyone here can do it, I think anyone can do it.”
For Michael Swartz, a technical services specialist, hands-on volunteering allowed him to see that his efforts were making a difference.
“When you donate money, you don’t always know what happens with it in the end,” he said. “But when you give your time to a project like this, you get to see the people you’re helping and know you’re making a difference. You know what you’re doing matters.”