By Josh Engel
Photographs by Tracy Allan
For those interested in starting a nonprofit organization, Danielle Butin, MPH, OTR (B.A. '85) has a simple recommendation-experience. "Experience gave me the faith that it could work, and the knowledge that I needed to start," she says of the forming of Afya, an international humanitarian aid organization which she founded in 2008. Danielle looked to her education and experience as an occupational therapist for the skills to form and run Afya, in both conventional and unexpected ways.
Danielle had a committed interest in occupational therapy from an early age; Howard Rusk, founder of the Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (Rusk Institute) at New York University, was her godfather, and she remembers hearing life-altering stories about rehabilitation and treatment from her childhood on. She studied at the NYU Steinhardt Department of Occupational Therapy, and recalls the excellent faculty, and the unique experience of attending NYU-studying in the heart of the city, being able to walk from a rigorous science class to an art exhibit in SoHo. This fall, Danielle's son continues the tradition, beginning college at NYU with plans to focus on film.
Danielle found herself focusing on psychology courses during her own time at NYU, and continues to draw on that experience in her work as an occupational therapist. "Psychology training is still the most relevant for me;" she says, "motivating behavior and understanding people are a vital skill sets." She recalls a volunteer event that she organized with Afya, for the collection of medical supplies. She was acutely conscious of trying to match her volunteers to their best tasks; one ten-year-old boy who was overabundantly energetic was assigned to throw small boxes from one end of the warehouse to the other, a necessary job that might have been tedious for another volunteer, but that he emphatically enjoyed. Similarly, when Danielle was launching Gloria's Gathering, a program aimed at collecting and donating medical supplies like wheelchairs from recently bereaved families, she thought of a woman that she'd met who'd just lost a loved one to cancer, as a potential manager of the program. Danielle remembers it as a perfect match; an experience that was fulfilling and rewarding for the woman involved, and resulted in an extraordinarily compassionate, devoted participant in the aid effort.
The experience and attention of occupational therapy training was at work in the development of Afya as well. While on a vacation in East Africa, Danielle met health care professionals in missions, with whom she discussed the state of medical care in the area. There were many other health care professionals there, they said, but a drastic shortage of supplies. Having experience in the health care industry in the U.S., Danielle knew that many supplies here went unused or discarded. She also had an understanding of the processes required to get these supplies to where they were needed-what hospitals' concerns would be, how best to find volunteers. This mindset was an important one in Afya's founding-what Danielle describes as "thinking both analytically and globally." It's a philosophy that's evident even in its name; Afya is the Swahili word for good health.
Afya continues to promote the international distribution of supplies and medical aid; among many efforts, the organization was recently involved with the recovery effort in Haiti, with the participation of Steinhardt students and faculty. The organization is also an active fieldwork site for NYU Department of Occupational Therapy fieldwork students. Danielle says that involvement is always needed; those interested in volunteering to assist with the collection and distribution effort can contact Afya at mailto:email@example.com, or visit its website, www.afyafoundation.org.