Seven years ago, Burbank resident Shannon Fernando traveled to the Philippines, working in a slum for six weeks with women trafficked as sex slaves.
It wasn't the first international foray for the then-UCLA biology undergraduate. The child of a United Nations official, Fernando was born in Sri Lanka and spent the first 10 years of her life in far-flung regions of the world, including the Cook Islands, before settling in Burbank.
But that visit to the Philippines was one that really stuck, inspiring her to take additional service trips to places like Nairobi, Kenya in 2007 and rural Haiti in 2011. It also planted a dream in Fernando to fuse her skills as a healthcare professional — she is now a registered nurse with Kaiser Permanente — and her desire to serve the marginalized by establishing an international mobile health clinic.
“For seven years, I had this in the back of my mind, and I continued to hold it close to my heart, and I was waiting for the green light, for everything to fall into place for me to be able to launch it,” said Fernando, who graduated from Burbank High School in 2002.
That time is now. Fernando this year launched Alabaster Mobile Clinic, its name inspired by a Bible story in which a prostitute uses an alabaster jar to pour scented oil over Jesus' feet. Its public debut will be June 30 with a fundraiser at Vision Christian Fellowship church in Pasadena, where Fernando attends.
Proceeds from the event will fund the nonprofit's first trip — the Maasailand jungle in Kenya. Fernando and her team of six, which includes two additional nurses, a doctor, a teacher and two-person media crew, leave on July 29.
“We are estimating we are going to be caring for close to 1,000 people,” Fernando said. “We will be giving antibiotics; we will be doing wound care; we will be administering typhoid vaccines to about 200 people.”
Alabaster will function on a decentralized model in which the providers will go into villages and homes to render service, said Rini George, an Alabaster board member and an international development expert.
“Some of these people have not even seen a doctor, have never even come across a health professional,” George said. “That is among the reasons why I was so interested in being a part of the organization.”
The clinic will serve the world's most marginalized citizens, Fernando said.
“We want to go to those people and say, ‘we are here for you,'” Fernando said. “It is a very specific demographic in that way. It is not the people who have all the access and the resources, but those who don't, those who society has kind of given up on.”
Long-range goals include establishing permanent clinics in some of the world's most remote regions while also training leaders within those communities, Fernando said.
“The key thing with medical missions like this that Alabaster is involved in is education,” Fernando said. “So when the meds run out, the education we leave with them is what sustains.”