Flying Samaritans at UCLA
Flying Samaritans is an international organization comprised of many different chapters, all sharing the common goal of improving access to healthcare for communities in Baja California, Mexico. Students, physicians and other health care providers travel monthly to medical clinics throughout Baja California to provide free healthcare to people who would otherwise receive none.
Our Flying Sams chapter at UCLA serves the rural community of Rancho Escondido. Our program takes a unique approach to healthcare by promoting public health awareness and preventive medicine. We work to enable the people of this community to take their health into their own hands and make healthy lifestyle choices for themselves and their families by giving them the tools, knowledge, and skills to do so. By making regular monthly trips to Rancho Escondido, we hope to vastly increase the community’s access to medical care and establish a solid relationship with the residents, encouraging them to make regular monthly checkups a part of a healthy lifestyle.
The history of the Flying Samaritans began on November 16, 1961 when a heavy sandstorm forced noted pilot Aileen Saunders and her small crew to land in the village of El Rosario, Mexico. The town’s Mayor allowed Aileen and her passengers to stay with him as the weather cleared. While enjoying the Mayor’s hospitality, the group asked the interpreter, Anita Espinosa, about the community of El Rosario. Espinosa revealed how a drought had devastated the local area and told them of the difficult life the people had. She added that she would be grateful for any clothing contributions, especially for the children.
Once safely back in San Diego, having spent the night in the El Rosario area, Aileen, along with two passengers, Leah and Polly, began collecting donations for a return relief flight to Baja. On the Saturday before Christmas of that year, an armada of single-engine planes headed towards Baja, each loaded with toys, food, and clothing. Among the volunteers was a doctor. Once in El Rosario, he was mobbed by people needing care. Thus, the Flying Samaritans was born.
That first doctor was quickly joined by nurses, dentists, optometrists, and other health care providers whose services were desperately needed. The government-owned Hospital Civil de El Rosario served as the first clinic site. Although it had been virtually abandoned, the Flying Samaritans and the people of El Rosario worked together to create a working facility where health professionals could see and treat patients.
Over the years the Flying Samaritans grew to become an international organization comprising of more than 1500 members in ten chapters (two in Arizona, seven in California and one in Mexico) serving 19 clinics in various communities of Baja California, Mexico.