The Colors of Health and Hope

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version of this blog was originally posted on LillyPad U.S. by my colleague David Marbaugh. 

Courtenay Fields, a member of our sales team from North Carolina, served as a Connecting Hearts Abroad ambassador in Tanzania in 2011--the first year of our global volunteer program that deploys Lilly employees from around the world to serve in impoverished communities for two weeks. Can 14 days really make a difference? We think so. But you decide after reading her story.

What does fire-engine red have to do with cholera? Kelly green with HIV? Or bright blue with tuberculosis? For Courtenay Fields, a senior executive sales representative for Lilly oncology, the answer is simple: When it comes to improving health in some of the world's most impoverished communities, crayons matter.

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Fields, a 2011 ambassador for Connecting Hearts Abroad, observed during her two-week assignment in Ghana--and later in Tanzania on a personal trip with her husband--not only the absence of electricity and clean water in some communities, but the scarcity of school supplies such as paper and crayons.

As Fields worked with other volunteers and instructors to teach school children in Africa the basics of health education, she searched for scraps of paper on which the kids could color and draw--and hopefully ignite their imaginations and aspirations for a brighter future.

"Creative art can inspire them to think about all of the possibilities for their lives. If we can first inspire, then we can make the connection to good health and hygiene," Fields explained. "These children are the future leaders of their communities and countries. Through creative thought, they can aspire to become teachers, nurses, and doctors--and give back to their communities."

Convinced there was more she could do following her Connecting Hearts Abroad experience, Fields established a non-profit organization--named Crayons Matter--to collect and distribute backpacks stuffed with school supplies for first through sixth graders at two schools in Ghana. Each backpack includes crayons, paper, pencils, a pencil sharpener, and inspirational artwork created by children in Fields' hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina, and neighboring communities in North Carolina and South Carolina--all for a child in Ghana to call his or her own.

This fall, Fields and other volunteers have raised money through Crayons Matter and will travel to Ghana to make the organization's first drop of 800 backpacks. It's a milestone that seems almost surreal to this North Carolinian.

"From the moment I read [Lilly CEO] John Lechleiter's message about the Connecting Hearts Abroad program, I knew I had to do it," she recalled. "There are many ways we can serve patients--and the opportunities to do so come in many forms. It has been one of the coolest experiences to see how doors have opened since my trip."

After she returned from Ghana in 2011, Fields started to host regular calls for Lilly Oncology teammates to learn about the program and share other community service opportunities. "I think two people joined that first call," she admitted. "Now we sometimes have 60 to 70 people on our calls."

Fields acknowledges that not everyone can or wants to travel globally. "But there are so many opportunities in our local communities to serve," she said. "I think of those children in Ghana--and the excitement and hope on their faces. You never know how one small moment of service can have a lasting impact on a person's life."