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Shellie Carlson: Moving the Needle to Self-Sufficiency

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Do you ever find yourself feeling overwhelmed after watching a news story on poverty or child hunger? Does the thought of being only one person in a world filled with so many devastating issues stop you from taking action? How can one person make a difference in a third world country? When I asked Shellie Carlson this question, she smiled and answered, “One bite at a time!” 

Tackling obstacles and overcoming adversity has become second nature for Shellie. By trade she is a registered nurse at Adventist Health in Lodi; by passion and calling she is an answer for thousands of people in Ethiopia who struggle to live a sustainable and healthy life. As women and children in Ethiopia are identified as living in extreme poverty, Shellie’s focus starts with helping women in some of the most basic ways that can change the course of a young woman’s life for the better. 

Life’s Purpose
Shellie’s passion for helping those in need is tradition in her family. When she was only nine months old, her parents traveled to Ethiopia as missionaries and settled in the capital city of Addis Ababa. “My father was the director of missions; he was the pastor of the church and helped organize and develop missionary programs including training other pastors, ESL and music,” Shellie shared proudly. “My mom taught at another school for embassy children; she trained Sunday school teachers and helped lead women’s groups.” Some of the ESL classes held nightly included up to 600 students at a time. From a young age, Shellie was exposed to bringing change and education to large groups of people. Her parents worked together for almost 14 years until the Marxist government overthrew the royal family and the “Red Terror” began forcing her family to flee the country. Her parents planned an escape and her father risked his life to stay behind and help protect six children from the royal family. After several attempts, they narrowly escaped the war-torn country with the fugitive children and their lives. 

As a young teenager, the transition from living in Ethiopia and speaking Amharic fluently was challenging for Shellie. “Our life was so different. I missed Ethiopia; it was part of my soul,” Shellie reflected. In 2002, Shellie’s mother, Jodie Collins, knew she wanted to do something in Ethiopia even though the danger of returning was unclear. Humani Inc. was founded in 2002 to help reduce and end extreme poverty in the country they grew to love. As a family, they traveled back to Ethiopia in 2009 to assess the needs and identify a starting point. “Everything was demolished and the reconstruction efforts were a slow build back,” commented Shellie. 

Empowerment
“We decided, as a family, our focus would be impoverished single women. We saw the need and knew we could have lifesaving impacts on these women and their children,” she continued. The mission was clear for Humani Inc. and Shellie’s family; women were the answer to an end of a vicious cycle of poverty and sickness. “Our mission is to empower impoverished single women and their children in Ethiopia to become economically self-sufficient through a sustainable, community-based program providing healthcare, training, education and jobs.” 

At this point, it would be easy to be overwhelmed and quit. The economic crisis and extreme poverty in a country with 109 million citizens is daunting for most. In this moment, with the support of her family, Shellie’s attitude toward tackling large problems one bite at a time helped identify a small problem that in fact changes the course of young women’s lives every day: lack of sanitary napkins. Young adolescent girls often stay home from school and end up dropping out because they don’t have resources to protect their clothing, and the shame associated with menstruation keeps them home. “The need for sanitary napkins has huge implications for women and young girls,” Shellie reiterated. This began the start of the re-usable sanitary napkin kit project. 

The Resources
“God will provide the help; you just have to ask for it,” smiled Shellie. And that she did when she approached members of her church community at Good Samaritan Covenant Church in Valley Springs, California. The kit would include eight reusable pads, two shields, two pairs of underwear and soap. The first goal was 100 kits and with the help of Shellie’s friend, Katie Harris, they quickly met the first goal and haven’t looked back since. The kits have grown to include a baby blanket and baby hat for mothers leaving the hospital. Hypothermia is a danger facing new moms and their babies and having something as basic as a baby hat and blanket saves lives. 

Shellie and her family haven’t stopped at the sewing of reusable sanitary napkins. The ultimate goal is to educate, train and create opportunities for sustainability. A new vision and goal of ten trainers on 28 industrial sewing machines, training women to provide the kits for 250,000 women over the next five years, is the strategy aimed at tackling this issue one bite at a time. In addition to the reusable sanitary napkin kit project, Humani Inc. has targeted other areas of need to pave the pathway toward sustainability. Dairy and poultry projects are in the works as well, as the organization has been given property to build on and architectural renderings of a facility that will house education, manufacturing, day care and a medical clinic begin to take life. 

Supply Chain
As Shellie continued to share with me the different aspects of Humani Inc., I didn’t think she could have anything else to share. I was surprised to learn about another piece of the puzzle that includes medical supplies, equipment and a supply chain that extends from storage units in Lodi to ports in California, that continues across the world to a poverty-stricken country, Ethiopia. “Think about one hospital that serves seven million people, and doesn’t have an X-ray machine,” explained Shellie. “They have 40 percent of what they need, but only 15 percent actually works,” she continued. Another challenge that would seem impossible to most, Shellie has taken head on. Creating a process and a supply chain of medical equipment through which the equipment can be tagged, tracked and repaired was her answer. In keeping with the mission of job training and sustainability, biomedical engineers will be trained to service and repair medical equipment and they will be able to track where the equipment is going and where it is needed most. 

“God is opening up doors; I simply continue to walk through them,” Shellie laughed. She continued to share the involvement of different area hospitals including Adventist Health. From equipment and medical supply donations to medical staff traveling with Shellie to offer their services and training, the medical community in the Central Valley and beyond has surprised Shellie with kindness and support. “My family and I are truly blessed to have the support of our community,” she shared. “My family of nurses at Adventist Health donated 640 blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes during Nurses Empowerment Week last year!” boasted Shellie proudly. 

Plans for skills training later this fall are in development as Shellie will travel to Ethiopia with 25 nurses with the goal of training 400 nurses during their visit. There doesn’t seem to be a challenge that Shellie won’t tackle as she navigates Ethiopian Shipping Lines to deliver 60 containers full of hospital beds, medical equipment, supplies and life-changing sanitary napkin kits. Meeting Shellie and learning about her family’s passion and mission with Humani Inc. has been an inspiration for me personally. I hope as we share the story of the impact of one, as a community we can find the motivation to tackle large obstacles within our society, one bite at a time.

For more information on Humani Inc., please visit humanivillages.org or email Shellie, shelliec.humani@gmail.com.