It Takes a Village: Battling Clubfoot and Ebola in Liberia

January 19, 2016

A Call for Help

Listening to the news these days is rather depressing, so we were thrilled to hear this week that West Africa is suspected to be Ebola-free! While MiracleFeet is entirely focused on clubfoot with no connection to Ebola, it was impossible for us not to step in when we heard about how the crisis was affecting our partner, FACORC. With this decision, Ebola became part of our world very quickly.

Before Ebola hit the headlines, Jen Everhart, MiracleFeet’s Africa Program Manager, was waving a red flag. “We need to send protective gear to the health workers at the clubfoot clinics in Liberia. We need to help those working in the large public hospitals who are getting exposed,” Everhart explained to Chesca Colloredo-Mansfeld, MiracleFeet’s Executive Director who had barely heard of the building epidemic. The initial reaction was one of resistance, “Our donors are
giving us funds for clubfoot. We don’t know anything about infectious disease.”

Helping Our Partners

Chesca wasn’t even sure what protective gear would be useful or where to buy it, and soon she felt naïve and shallow. Jen Everhart had been absolutely right. Very quickly it became clear that MiracleFeet couldn’t afford not to help. Our partners were on the front lines, drafted into helping with Ebola prevention education, at risk due to their roles as health workers in a country where, even before the ravages of Ebola, there was an acute shortage of trained medical professionals. Days and weeks passed and very few people outside of the country seemed to be reacting.

About a month later the staff at MiracleFeet were scrambling. Masks and gloves were ordered on Amazon and shipped to the Liberia refugee community in Philadelphia. This organization knew the tricks of quickly getting shipments into Liberia. We also launched a plea for help to our donors and were overwhelmed by the immediate positive response, which allowed us to send extra money to help our clinics.

A Dedicated Staff

Throughout the crisis, our Liberian partners never gave up. They kept treating children for their clubfoot–saying it gave them hope to be making a difference in a world of despair and sadness. New measures were put in place to protect the children. Each child was given an appointment time to minimize exposure to other children and an overall health assessment actions were done. On top of their duties in the clinics, the team took to the communities to help with Ebola education while always keeping an eye out for another child in need of clubfoot treatment.

One of the Ponseti practitioners we support contracted Ebola. Thankfully, he was one of the lucky ones and recovered. Our medical director and lead Ponseti provider, Augustine Chiewolo, lost several close family members. At one point he had come to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to raise money for his work in Liberia. While in the States, he was also trying to ensure his nieces (who had been placed in quarantine since their parents had both died of Ebola) were getting
food. The stories we were hearing were heartbreaking. The everyday challenges were enormous.

Yet again, Liberia has rebounded. The clubfoot program is intact and stronger than ever. The incredible resilience of a people who have suffered much shines through.

Partnerships – Our Strength

The lesson was very powerful for the MiracleFeet staff. Yes, we are a small non-profit. Yes, we are focused on one issue–the treatment of clubfoot, but our model is based on local partnerships. Partnerships that develop into deep relationships with people who live and work in the countries we aim to help.

What makes small, grassroots organizations like MiracleFeet so effective, is that our partnerships make it possible to know when and how to help. This is our strength. It is this unique model that allows us to be so effective at reaching children born with clubfoot in the most sustainable and efficient manner. It puts us in an amazing position to make a difference in a myriad of ways that some other organizations simply can’t do. We are nimble, we are on the ground, and we are in touch with our partners on a weekly or daily basis, so we actually know what is happening well before it hits the newspapers and TV shows in the US.

From all of us at MiracleFeet, thank you for your support. Thanks to you, we are able to stay focused on and dedicated to changing lives every day.