by Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund president and CEO, and Brig. Gen. Ron Sconyers (USAF, Ret.), president and CEO of Physicians for Peace
“If you want to go fast, travel alone. If you want to go far, travel together.” —African proverb
In the Artibonite Valley of Haiti, on the grounds of Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles, you’ll find an unassuming clinic dedicated to prosthetic and rehabilitation services for amputees. Patients make the 60-mile trip from Port-au-Prince to the Hanger Clinic balanced aboard vans, mopeds and tap taps, those colorful buses and pick-ups that ferry travelers along Haiti’s famously uneven roads. Many of these patients lost a limb in the earthquake of January 2010; others have been waiting for a prosthesis for years. Even before the earthquake, Haiti, the western hemisphere’s poorest country, was not equipped to provide adequate healthcare services to its disabled population. When the earthquake struck, need for these services increased dramatically.
Hanger Clinic is just one site that is benefitting from a new partnership between ChildFund International and Physicians for Peace. The clinic is actually a product of the Haitian Amputee Coalition, a confederation of organizations including Physicians for Peace, Albert Schweitzer Hospital, the Hanger Ivan R. Sabel Foundation, the Catholic Medical Mission Board, the Harold and Kayrita Anderson Foundation and the Shepherd Center, among other groups. Because of these strong partnerships, the clinic today is a place where patients receive proper medical and rehabilitative care, along with art therapy, meals, lodging, a sense of community and a reason for hope. The clinic also is a training ground for Haitian technicians, who learn valuable professional skills alongside both U.S. prosthetists from Hanger Orthopedic Group and volunteer physical therapists from Physicians for Peace.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed in Haiti, but efforts at the clinic are making a difference. Since the earthquake, Physicians for Peace volunteers have worked with more than 785 patients. Put another way, because of the clinic, more than 785 Haitian amputees can now return to the daily work of their lives, and the Haitian technicians working on-site have the opportunity to earn a living, without leaving behind their country and their families.
These are important milestones; yet these “good news” stories can sometimes be lost. That’s a shame. Because while complicated issues of health, politics, infrastructure and accountability remain in Haiti, our experiences have only reinforced the belief that strategic nongovernmental organization (NGO) partnerships can play a leadership role in paving the road for sustainable, replicable solutions, in Haiti and beyond.
As Physicians for Peace and ChildFund International mark World Health Day on April 7, we are focused on crafting exactly those kinds of partnerships and solutions. Our efforts already are bringing about results. Four months ago, ChildFund International presented a $500,000 grant to Physicians for Peace to support and expand standing efforts at the Hanger Clinic, including volunteer physical therapy missions, and facilitate new initiatives, such as a summer camp for disabled children and tuition support toward a national prosthetics and orthotics training and certification program for Haitian technicians. By combining our resources, we are able to take on additional projects, reduce inefficiencies and help to eliminate redundancies in services and programs. In doing so, we can respond more effectively to our in-country partners’ needs, and we can more efficiently steward our donors’ investments.
Coming together to work in Haiti has been a natural fit for Physicians for Peace and ChildFund International. Our initial approaches may be different, but they are also complementary: ChildFund International works toward a future where all children have the potential to become leaders who bring positive change for those around them. Physicians for Peace envisions a future in which men, women and children around the world have full and equal access to quality healthcare services. In the end, we are both working toward a healthier world, a place where people are afforded the opportunity to live with dignity, respect and good health. When we come together for that purpose, everyone benefits.
As we celebrate World Health Day – from our offices in Norfolk and Richmond, Va., and through field offices and volunteer teams in Asia, Africa, Central America, South America and the Caribbean – we’ll keep close to our hearts a Haitian expression often repeated to Physicians for Peace volunteers at the Hanger Clinic: “piti, piti, zwazo fe nich.” Little by little, the bird builds its nest. Through collaboration and partnerships that prioritize need over ego, we can work together to build a world that is better, safer and healthier.