Raising awareness, funds for Doctors Without Borders

Malibu Global Awareness Board members gathered together last week to prepare for the Sept. 15 fundraising event benefiting Doctors Without Borders. Pictured bottom row, from left: Carol Feikls, Annie Thiel and Cynthia Delpit. Top row, from left: Robin Kilroy, Lisa Khoury, Terrie Greenup and Judge Dana Senit Henry. Photo by Melonie Magruder / TMT

Malibu Global Awareness’ annual fundraiser includes auction items such as a seven-carat diamond necklace and surfboards painted by local artists Lita Albuquerque, Guy Dill and Charles Arnoldi. A raffle for cupcakes, one with a diamond and topaz ring inside, will also take place.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu Global Awareness, a local support group for the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, will host its annual fundraising dinner Sept. 15, giving Malibu residents the opportunity to add to the pool of the organization’s more than three million private donors worldwide.

Annie Thiel, chairwoman for the event, is a family and children’s therapist who has been practicing in Malibu for more than 38 years. She founded Malibu Global Awareness to honor her late husband, Richard Thiel, who was involved with Doctors Without Borders for more than 20 years.

One benefit to MGA’s new, nonprofit status is that almost all the event’s materials, entertainment and catering are being donated. “So we can give about 95 percent of everything we raise directly to Doctors Without Borders,” Thiel said.

Doctors Without Borders, the English language version of Medecins Sans Frontières, was first founded in 1971 by a small group of French doctors to deliver nongovernmental-sponsored emergency medical aid to peoples decimated by armed conflict, epidemics, and other natural and manmade disasters. The group received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.

Since then, this nonprofit association’s reach has expanded into more than 70 countries, with 3,800 field missions assigned each year. Specifically designed to respond to local emergencies, Doctors Without Borders usually finds itself a first responder in serving the poorest of communities with expertise in everything from field surgery in war-torn African townships to epidemiology studies in Southeast Asian villages without electricity.

The organization relies strictly on private donations for the millions of dollars in medicine and services it disseminates each year, including the volunteer services of thousands of doctors and nurses, who generally sign on for a six- month commitment. They may end up in the jungles of Southern Cambodia or high on a Tibetan peak.

Dr. Matthew Spitzer has been working with DWB since 1999 and will be speaking at the fundraiser evening’s ceremonies.

“I always knew I wanted to work with Doctors Without Borders,” said Spitzer, a family practitioner. “My first two missions were in Southwest China and Sierra Leone in some very rural and difficult circumstances.”

It literally took a week for Spitzer to arrive at his first mission, by plane, bus and car up torturous mountainsides. “This area was so remote, we weren’t even shadowed by the Chinese secret police,” he said. “It was a village near Tibet and, curiously, we were working with a fairly old population. China used to have an extraordinary public health-care model. But when they turned to a market economy, huge portions of the population were left without any health care.”

Because doctors have such lengthy commitments to their missions, it is difficult to maintain a practice while stateside or have a family. Spitzer is not married. “Luckily, I have a good relationship with my clinic here in San Francisco and have work when I come back from the field,” he said.

By virtue of their emergency responsiveness, Doctors Without Borders often finds itself working in countries riven with political strife and with populations decimated by genocide, refugee subsistence and governments who seem to have forgotten them. “It’s oppression by neglect,” Spitzer said.

Spitzer stressed how important financial independence is to an organization like DWB. “When distribution of goods is based on political principals, it makes our job a lot more difficult.”

The Sept. 15 fundraising event will take place at a private home on the beach, with entertainment by Stephen Collins’ 7th Heaven Band and Grammy-nominated musician Wade Hubbard, among others. Dinner will be catered by the West Hollywood eatery Cha Cha Cha.

“We’re close to being sold through our tickets, but there are still some available,” Thiele said. “We hope it will be a magical evening.”

Lisa Khouri sits on the Malibu Global Awareness board and is in charge of items to be offered at both silent and live auctions, including a seven-carat diamond necklace, an African safari, a cruise to Panama and a two-hour flight over Los Angeles in a Sheriff’s helicopter.

“We also are raffling cupcakes, one with a diamond and topaz ring inside,” Khouri said.

Auction items will also include works by local artists such as sculptor Laddie John Dill and Ann Thorny Croft. Surfboards painted by locals Lita Albuquerque, Miriam Wosk, Guy Dill and Charles Arnoldi are among the 250 silent auction items on the block. And guests will be able to bid on donation packages of clean water and medical supplies to a mission in Darfur.

Tickets for the event start at $350 and can be purchased by calling 310.457.3120 or online at www.malibuglobal.com