International Relief Teams (IRT) is an international nonprofit organization that responds to global crises by sending teams of volunteers with the right skills to areas where help is needed most.
The organization was founded in 1988 by Barry La Forgia, who was inspired to enter humanitarian work by the experiences he had constructing shelters in Peru. When he returned to his home in the United States after the trip, he left his job and created an organization called Southwest Medical Teams.
The goal of this organization was “to link people in need with teams of volunteers who had the skills (both medical and non-medical) to meet those needs.”
Because the organization ended up branching out of the medical field, its name was changed to International Relief Teams in 1996. Currently, IRT concentrates its work in four main areas: “medical education and training, surgical and clinical outreach, building healthy communities and disaster relief.”
IRT’s largest program is in disaster relief. Since its creation, the organization has conducted disaster relief programs in 47 countries and has supplied over $200 million in medical supplies.
In addition to immediate aid, International Relief Teams remains on the ground post-disaster “providing materials and equipment to help victims re-establish their livelihoods or return to work, obtaining construction materials for repairing or rebuilding their homes or sending skilled construction teams to help those too poor to hire local construction assistance.” This combination of short-term and long-term assistance has proven effective for the organization over the past few years.
In the medical field, IRT sends teams of skilled doctors to better educate medical staff in developing countries, improving the quality of medical care. The trainees then become the trainers, sharing their new knowledge with their colleagues so that the information can permeate throughout the community and have a larger impact.
The organization also deploys surgical specialists to perform life-changing surgeries in countries where they may not always be available, continuing its work in the health sector as it did when it was first founded.
IRT, in addition to the above initiatives which targets specific problems, runs programs aimed more generally at improving “the health and well-being of vulnerable communities.” The activities under this program are varied and involve improving sanitation, fighting HIV/AIDS, supporting orphaned children and protecting communities from crop failure.
IRT’s volunteer pool and methods are diverse. The organization brings together expert volunteers to run its programs and has made a difference in communities around the world across many different sectors of society.
— Emily Jablonski