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Medical Teams president says he'll retire while people are still happy

by: Jaime Valdez Medical Teams International President and CEO Bas Vanderzalm will step down as the head of the humanitarian group later this year.

The president and chief executive officer of Tigard's Medical Teams International announced that he would step down from the humanitarian aide organization later this year.

Bas Vanderzalm, who has run the Christian charity for more than 14 years, will step down as CEO at the end of June but said he will stay on as president of the board until June 2013.

'I wanted to leave while I was still in good health, when the organization was in good condition and at a time when people were still happy with me,' the Tigard resident said. 'I'll be 65. I'm not sure how anyone decides what the right point is, but 65 seemed like the right age to me.'

Vanderzalm took over the charity in 1997 and LED the organization to become a global leader in humanitarian aid, providing medical care to people around the world, including Haiti, Libya and Japan.

'We could send a check or supplies and those are needed but there are times when people are unable to help themselves,' Vanderzalm said. 'In Haiti, there were many who were hurt or lost family members and many of the hospital staff had been hurt or killed as well and there was a significant need for outside medical support.'

But Vanderzalm said that the group's connection with people goes beyond medical care.

'When someone travels from Oregon to Haiti or Somalia, the people they help will sometimes ask, 'Why did you come so far to help me?' The personal contact we make has such an impact. Lives are transformed so much more deeply when volunteers are directly involved and caring for people. And when those volunteers come back, they are never the same. They share what's happened with their family and their work and it begins to transform the whole community, little by little.'

Vanderzalm has worked for organizations that help the poor for nearly 40 years, and said that leaving this post will be bittersweet.

In Vanderzalm's office are photos of people the organization has helped over the years, faces that have kept him at Medical Teams for more than a decade.

'(I have) the opportunity to make a difference for those who are suffering in other places. What I do every day here has meaning and significance for the people we help.

'There may be some days when life isn't easy or there are challenges, but compared to the struggles of the people we serve mine is so much better. Anything I can do to make their lives better is great. I am fulfilled by what we are able to do in so many different places to make their lives better.'

Vanderzalm has traveled with Medical Teams to dozens of places around the world, and said he will take many memories with him when he retires.

'We moved to our current location in Tigard in 2004. That was not an easy time for us to raise money because of the economy and we moved in just days before the South Asian tsunami hit on Dec. 26, 2004, and suddenly our building was filled with supplies and volunteers and we realized at that moment why it was so important for us to be in this new location, because we could never have respond as we did if we hadn't moved.'

Medical Teams have elected Jeff Pinneo as the charity's next leader. Pinneo was president at Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines until last year.

'Jeff will have full authority of the financial and day-to-day responsibilities and I'll be focusing more on external relationships,' Vanderzalm said, 'but I'll have no direct authority for the activity of the organization.'

Pinneo, a Medical Teams volunteer since 2006, has served on its board since 2008.

Pinneo's wife, registered nurse Janey Pinneo, has volunteered with the organization since 2005 and has worked in Uganda, Haiti, El Salvador and in New Orleans helping people impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

'The staff and volunteers of Medical Teams International have earned their reputation as one of the world's leading global health and disaster response organizations,' Pinneo said. 'It will be my privilege to lead and serve them as they further extend their reach and impact, to the benefit of the world's most marginalized people.'




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