December 28, 2006
Yehoram Uziel: A Lifeline to Mexico
So when he was sent by his high-tech company to America in 1989, it was only natural that he would begin to search for more volunteer opportunities. An experienced pilot, Uziel, 56, began working for various medical aid organizations, flying needy sick people, as well as medical equipment and doctors around the country.
Some 10 years ago, he began devoting his efforts exclusively to The Flying Samaritans, a volunteer medical aid organization that assists clinics in Mexico. In addition to flying personnel and equipment there, he stayed over on weekends to help out. "Once I get there," he says, "I do everything that doesn't require a medical license and requires a good pair of hands -- fixing handles, overhauling generators, repairing equipment, installing dental chair, roofing, putting in air conditioning, fixing the water supplies and pumps."
"Sometimes," he said, "I'll go play with the kids."
Last year, when The Flying Samaritans became beset by internal politics, Uziel, who now owns his own business and who is also trained as a mediator, stepped in to resolve the conflict -- and found himself nominated president. Now he's focused on integrating new technology for the "Sams" so they can schedule their 2,500 volunteers at the 20 clinics in Mexico, improving services provided to the Mexicans by conducting a marketing survey and boosting the spirits of the volunteers.
"We want to make sure the service we give is worthwhile to the people that get the service, and, more importantly, when you ask so many volunteers to donate their time and money, you better make sure that they feel valuable. Otherwise they get worn out," he said. "It's really important that volunteers can come back and not say they just threw money at some altruistic cause."
Uziel, who is married to Rhoda Weisman Uziel and has two children from a previous marriage, was raised a secular Jew in Ramat Gan, Israel. His outlook on life was shaped by his great uncle -- the chief rabbi of Israel.
"When my father was ordered to go to World War II, he went to his uncle to get a blessing. The uncle said: 'I know you're not going to keep kosher, and I know you're going to drive on Shabbat, I know you're not going to follow the etiquette, but there's one thing I want you to remember: You're always a Jew.'"
Volunteering one weekend a month in Mexico gives his life perspective.
"I go to Mexico and come back -- and no matter how much it costs me it's better than sitting on a shrink's couch and whining about how terrible things are," he said. "We're lucky. We have a good life. We have so many options -- cultural, financial. And when you see what they live through, you get perspective, you appreciate what you have."