Lewisboro native expands reach of medical nonprofit

Maggie Carpenter, a former Cross River resident, is taking strides to change how women’s health is treated in developing countries.

Carpenter, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit GoDocGo, sends physicians to train local doctors to deal with women’s health issues, particularly how to detect and treat the early stages of cervical cancer, within the developing world.

First steps

Carpenter said she became interested in improving women’s health in developing countries after she took a trip to an Ethiopian hospital in 2011 for work. She was surprised to learn during a tour of the pathology department that the hospital didn’t do Pap smears and that the hospital didn’t “do anything for cervical cancer.”

Upon returning from her trip, Carpenter said, she began to research inexpensive testing and treatment methods for cervical cancer. She found that acetic acid or vinegar can be used to detect early cervical cancer. She also said that cryotherapy and LEEP treatments were both easily completed and cost-effective treatments to prevent cervical cancer.

“Cervical cancer kills more women (in Africa) than childbirth and AIDS, and it is something we can totally prevent,” she said.

Founding a nonprofit

Carpenter said it took her three and a half years to get GoDocGo off the ground before she was able to return to Ethiopia. During that time, Carpenter created a board, organized the nonprofit and raised money for the necessary equipment and travel costs. The hardest part of getting the operation off the ground was raising funds. Carpenter said the nonprofit was funded primarily through word-of-mouth donations.

“Since we’re all-volunteer, all the money goes toward travel and equipment and educational materials,” she said. “We’re a very lean operation.”

In October 2014, Carpenter went to the University of Gondar Hospital in Ethiopia with her assistant director, Ingrid Frengle-Burke, to teach 18 medical care providers how to screen and treat the early stages of cervical cancer. They brought more than $10,000 worth of equipment and training materials to the hospital.

When she returned a year later, Carpenter said, she was pleased to note that the hospital was still utilizing the treatment methods in which GoDocGo had trained the medical personnel.

“We went back over a year later and they screened over a thousand women,” she said. “They had treated about 400 women [for early stages of cervical cancer].”

As of October, 36 of Ethiopia’s 180 hospitals were providing screening and treatment for cervical cancer.

Carpenter’s organization currently operates in Ethiopia, but it will be expanding its efforts to Senegal in February through its partnership with a Connecticut-based organization, American Friends of Le Korsa. GoDocGo will provide medical equipment and training to hospitals in Senegal. Carpenter said there is also the potential for the organization to operate in Cameroon.

“It’s one of those things that is just going to keep going to keep getting bigger and bigger,” she said.

Defining the nonprofit

GoDocGo is different from other medical nonprofit organizations, like Doctors Without Borders, that send doctors into developing countries, because it sends volunteers abroad for a few weeks instead of a few months.

Carpenter said, “There’s so many things that volunteer doctors would love to do. … My goal was to connect doctors with a short-term project.”

She added that GoDocGo focuses on continuity and seeing that projects are properly carried out. She ensures this by having volunteers return every six months to follow up on the project and take more supplies for the first few years until they are no longer needed in that area.

“We bring equipment, we train people, we follow through and make sure that it is sustainable, but that it is being done primarily by the people that live there,”

Carpenter said. “A lot of people do great work going on these missions when they go, but I think [sometimes] a hundred doctors show up in a village once a year and then they leave [and] nobody’s there. We really want to be able to give them the tools they need to achieve that.”

Carpenter said it was interesting to see the differences between grassroots efforts and those of larger organizations, noting that she could act a bit more quickly because she didn’t have to wait for every detail to fall into place, as some of the larger organizations must.

“I believe that if you get a lot of grass roots together then you can build a field,” she said.

She also noted that larger organizations often pay volunteers to provide their time, which provides less funding to the program itself.

“The way the Western world has gone into places is saying, We’re going to pay you to come, give you lunch, give you accommodations,” she said.

Future changes

“I would love to continue doing this work in all areas in the world that need it. I would love to outgrow myself and need a program director,” Carpenter said. “I would love to become a resource for other medical projects around the world.”

While Carpenter said she loves being able to manage the organization at its current size, she would like to see GoDocGo grow enough that she would need more people to maintain the nonprofit. However, having the organization outgrow her doesn’t mean she wouldn’t still be involved with the organization, despite her busy schedule.

In addition to running GoDocGo, Carpenter runs her own end-of-life practice, teaches at a nearby hospital and is raising two teenagers.

“I’m busy, but I can’t complain, because I feel so lucky to be doing all of these things that I love,” she said.

She added that creating GoDocGo from the ground up and witnessing its progress has been a rewarding experience.

“Being able to get there for the first time and realizing, Wow, this is actually happening [was great]. Even better was going back there a year later and being able to say it worked and it’s still working”, she said.

For more information about GoDocGo, visit .

 

GoDocGo’s assistant director, Ingrid Frengle Burke (left), stands with its founder and executive director, Maggie Carpenter, outside the Ministry of Health in Ethiopia. — Courtesy of Maggie Carpenter

 

Maggie Carpenter, founder and executive director of GoDocGo, trains medical personnel at the University Hospital in Gondar, Ethiopia. — Courtesy of Maggie Carpenter

About author
TinaMarie Craven is the Arts & Leisure editor. She previously worked as the editor of the Monroe Courier and the Lewisboro Ledger. She graduated from Ithaca College with a BA in Journalism and Politics in 2015.

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