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Serving in clinics abroad stirred commitment to fair trade

Treating poor people in clinics in Nepal, Micronesia, South America, Belize, Pakistan and Afghanistan helped instill family practice physician Lauri Costello’s commitment to fair trade to help people feed their families and gain self esteem. Twenty years ago, she was among the volunteers who helped First Presbyterian Church do their first Jubilee sale with crafts from Ten Thousand Villages, started in 1946 by a volunteer for the Mennonite Central Committee after visiting Puerto Rico.

Lauri credits the Frankhauser family—John, Mary, Kresha and Katie—with starting and assuring continuation of the event that has grown to 24 vendors, raising more than $50,000 in a weekend.
Lauri has added to the vendors. Three years ago after learning how tea bag art helped South African women make a living, she arranged a booth for it. Coasters, suncatchers, ornaments, earrings, necklaces, crosses and notecards are made with original, indigenous art designs on recycled tea bags.

Laurie Costello
Lauri Costello shows T-Bag designs

For the third year, Lauri will volunteer at the T-Bag Designs booth at Jubilee, a fair-trade alternative Christmas gift event from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 14 and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 15, at First Presbyterian Church, 318 S. Cedar.

“Jubilee is a way for me to care for and connect with people around the globe, to assure people receive a living wage so they can feed, shelter and educate their children, and so they can live with dignity,” she said.

Lauri learned about tea-bag art from Jodee Hetzer of New Jersey at a General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA in 2006 at Birmingham, Ala.  Jodee, who distributes the art in the United States, will be in Spokane for Jubilee 2008. The tea-bag art began when Jodee’s British friend, Jill Heyes, moved to South Africa in 1998.  Seeing the poverty of women who wanted to feed their children in a settlement near Cape Town, she began teaching them crafts.  Paper maché and potato printing were unsuccessful.  While sharing tea and telling a friend of the dilemma, she asked:  “What can we do?”

“Tea-bag art,” the friend replied, looking at her tea bag.

They formed a nonprofit organization that collects used tea bags, dries them in the sun, empties them and uses them as the “canvas” for ethnic designs. The company, which employs 15 permanent staff, additional part-time staff and 10 people with disabilities, collects used tea bags from around the world and sells its products globally. It helps support 125 people.

Lauri, who practiced family medicine from 1985 to 2003, no longer takes for granted all she has.
“In South Africa, a woman who had lived on the streets under a cardboard box now earns enough to have a small house for her children,” Lauri said.  “Now her favorite thing is hearing the rain on the roof.  Tea-bag art restored her dignity.”

Instead of giving a hand-out, the project gives a hand-up that appreciates what the women create and provides an adequate return to meet their basic needs. Lauri left church in her childhood but returned while attending the University of California Santa Barbara.  She completed studies in medicine at the University of California Davis and came to Spokane for her residency with Family Medicine Spokane in 1985.  After her residency, she set aside her goal of being an overseas doctor and joined Family Health Center. In medical school, she had spent three months at a clinic on the outskirts of Katmandu, Nepal, serving people who live in neighborhoods with open sewers.
“I was finishing medical school on my way to a career.  It was three months of my life.  The people I treated were poor and this was their life.  There was sewage running down the streets, and their children were dying of diarrhea and malnutrition,” said Lauri.

She kept alive her commitment to serve through several short-term experiences overseas.  Since she left Family Medicine Spokane in 2003, she has sought a long-term overseas opportunity.
In December 2005, she went to Pakistan, where she observed and was unable to improve poor care of newborns.  Whether they were premies, post-dates or had infections, they were given the same treatment, that included antibiotics and steroids. 

“I thought I could do something, looking at each baby and writing appropriate orders for their specific problems,” she said.

The nurses, however, didn’t follow Lauri’s orders.  After two weeks, Lauri was disturbed, realizing she was coming in each day wondering which babies had died that night. She has also done medical service in Micronesia, Belize, Equador and Afghanistan, often caring for mothers and babies. 

After completing her residency in 1988, she and her husband, Dean DuPree, spent eight months backpacking around South America and visiting mission hospitals.

In 2002, she spent three months in Dangriga, Belize, with Target Earth, helping in a one-room clinic with no equipment.  In the next few years, she went back to Belize several times for two-week visits through an Episcopal Church in Western Washington.

In April 2005, she went to Kabul, Afghanistan, where medical residents wanted to learn about high-tech infertility treatments, rather than addressing the high infant and maternal mortality from a lack of prenatal care, unattended deliveries on dirt floors, and use of unsterilized knives to cut the umbilical cord, resulting in high rates of neonatal tetanus.

She is also concerned about the direction for U.S. medicine.
“We serve so many uninsured people.  Insured people pay huge premiums, but doctors still do not receive what insurance companies should pay them,” she said.

Having no children, she has been free to do medical work abroad.

“Now I’m waiting on God for the next opportunity,” said Lauri, who now is a freelance surgical assistant.  “My passion is not to convert the world but to be Jesus’ hands and heart to people in need around the world,” Lauri said. 

“Through medical care and Jubilee, I come alongside people to help them help themselves, like teaching people to fish rather than giving them fish.  I want to help restore their dignity and give them ability to use knowledge and equipment we offer,” she explained.
For her, that’s what Jesus is about.

Her commitment to economic and social justice has led to concern about U.S. churches’ emphasis on increasing members and budgets, over caring for the poor here and around the world.  That’s why she continues her involvement with Jubilee.

“We need to treat people as Jesus did.  Jesus was kind, compassionate and loving,” she said.

For information, call 747-1058 or visit website.