The History Behind Changing Lives
Ines Allen and her husband, Tracey, established IMAHelps in 2000 after Ines had spent nearly 20 years volunteering as a dental assistant and Spanish language interpreter for the Flying Samaritans, a similar non-profit, on dental missions throughout Baja California, Mexico.
While IMAHelps initially began as a family effort, drawing volunteers and financial support from both Ines and Tracey as well as their extended family, Ines has been the driving force behind the organization, which provides medical, dental, surgical and prosthetic care to people who suffer from the same kind of poverty Ines and her family endured when they lived in South America many years ago.
Ines was born and raised in Quito, Ecuador. But her family was poor and could not afford to take Ines’s older brother, Raul Gonzalez, to see a specialist when he developed heart problems as a young teenager. Raul died from heart problems at the age of 16 and his death traumatized Ines and her family so much that they immigrated to the United States when she was nine years old with the hope of escaping Ecuador’s poverty as well as the pain of Raul’s untimely death.
Ines and her siblings all pursued their US citizenship, university degrees, and developed careers in their adult lives that brought them into American middle class life. But Ines could never let go of the memories of growing up in poverty or the fact that poverty itself had prevented her family from providing Raul with medical care that could have saved his life.
Haunted by the pain and memories of growing up in Ecuadorian poverty, Ines came up with the idea of recruiting doctors, surgeons, dentists and other medical specialists to conduct medical missions to some of the most impoverished locations in Ecuador and, ultimately, around the world. She initially recruited volunteers through her contacts with the Flying Samaritans and her network grew by word of mouth. Ines and Tracey began to promote IMAHelps’ medical mission work in the press and in the medical community.
Headquartered in Rancho Mirage, California, the organization was originally called International Medical Alliance or IMA. The name was changed to IMAHelps in 2011 after Ines and Tracey discovered that two other humanitarian organizations were using variations of the same name. IMAHelps was incorporated in 2002, becoming a 501 (c) 3 mutual public benefit non-profit and a Board of Directors was established. Between 2000 and 2009, Ines and her IMAHelps volunteers organized annual medical missions targeting Ecuadorian cities, which included three missions to her hometown of Quito, followed by Salinas and Manta, in the Coastal areas, El Puyo, in the Amazon jungle, and the Andean mountain cities of Latacunga, Ambato, and Ibarra.
Ines and her IMAHelps team subsequently organized medical missions to some of the most impoverished cities in Central and South America and even Asia. These efforts included major medical missions to Nicaragua, including Somoto in 2010, Estelí in 2011, Jinotega in 2012, and Matagalpa in 2016. IMAHelps also organized major medical missions to Yushu, China in 2011, the Nangqian County of Qinhai Province on the Tibetan plateau in 2012, and Huinan in 2013, as well as Vivek Vihar Colony-Mainpuri, India, also in 2013. In addition to those areas, IMAHelps organized missions to Huacho, Perú in 2013, and to Zacatecoluca, El Salvador in 2014 and 2015. Working in collaboration with the Nicaraguan community in Los Angeles through various non-profit organizations, such as the “Nicaraguan Relief Society,” which provided fundraising support, IMAHelps also organized small surgical missions to Nicaragua, focusing on Juigalpa in 2013 and Jinotepe in 2014.
In addition to these international missions, IMAHelps also makes a local impact each year with IMAHelps volunteers working alongside Clínicas de Salud del Pueblo, Inc., Coachella Valley Medical Volunteers, Coachella Valley Unified School District, Los Médicos Voladores, and the Tzu Chi Foundation in their annual medical and dental missions to Thermal, in California’s Coachella Valley.
“From the moment we are born we need help to take the first step, until we walk, it becomes insignificant. For some the possibility of standing is a new beginning. . . When generosity transcends borders, we managed to change lives, and today we walk differently.”
— Paloma Segovia, Paraguay