Transforming Liberia: Augustine Chiewolo Takes on Clubfoot
Augustine Chiewolo refuses to sit on the sidelines. With his soft, steady voice and calm demeanor, at first glance you would not see the fire lit inside his heart. But years ago, something sparked within him in when he saw yet another child with untreated clubfoot in his home country of Liberia. Instead of feeling pity and helplessness, he decided to take action. “I wanted to do something no one had done,” he said.
Each year, 210 children in Liberia are born with clubfoot. With a population of 4.6 million and 63% of that population living in poverty, Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Here, limited mobility means utter devastation – most children with disabilities never step foot outside their home, let alone into a school or workplace. Not willing to accept this reality for the children he saw, Augustine set out to change his little corner of the world and bring treatment to his beloved country.
This would not prove to be simple. With only one orthopedic surgeon in the entire country of Liberia, and a retired one at that, treatment had to come via a different method. On a trip to the U.S in 2012 to visit family members and friends, Augustine researched clubfoot treatment and found hope in the Ponseti Method, consisting primarily of casts and braces as the gold standard around the world. Better yet, this solution was relatively inexpensive. He knew this was the answer.
Augustine scrounged up money to get himself on a 2-day trip from Pennsylvania to Iowa to be trained in the Ponseti Method and returned to Liberia with new knowledge and help in his mission by way of MiracleFeet’s financial support. He then began an effort that is now nothing short of a crusade – to get every kid in Liberia with clubfoot into treatment.
Under Augustine’s leadership, MiracleFeet began a partnership with Faith Clinical Orthopedic Rehabilitation Center (FACORC) in 2012. Shortly thereafter, the clinic created the Liberia Clubfoot Program (LCP), which now serves as a national network for clinics throughout Liberia to work together to get more children into treatment. Along with casting and bracing services, LCP also provides training to new Ponseti Method practitioners, provides treatment supplies to clinics, and conducts family education and community outreach.
Liberia’s secret weapon is their team of Foot Soldiers – groups of volunteers who regularly visits schools, marketplaces and other public gathering spots to deliver the message that clubfoot is treatable. Because of their efforts, many of the children enrolling in treatment were older, neglected cases. As the clinics work tirelessly to finally help these kids, they are starting to catch the patients earlier and earlier.
In just four short years, the Liberia Clubfoot Program has enrolled almost 1,100 children into treatment and has trained over 40 healthcare providers in the Ponseti method throughout the country. Incredibly, the number of patients enrolled in treatment every year outpaces the number of new cases by about 100, showing the power of outreach and the incredible potential to reach even more families. MiracleFeet now supports seven clinics throughout the country. Additionally, children treated for clubfoot that are school-age can take advantage of a tuition benefit from MiracleFeet, a program currently serving more than eighty kids.
Augustine is an example of a true hero – taking action to fix a problem and inspiring the people around him to join in. When the Ebola outbreak hit West Africa in 2014, he immediately shifted program resources to provide hand washing bucket, soap, gloves, masks, and other supplies to the providers and PTs to ensure clubfoot treatment could continue. When a Ponseti provider at Ganta Hospital in Nimba County contracted the Ebola virus and was quarantined in Monrovia, Miraclefeet provided financial assistance until he was discharged.
Today, Augustine treats children, administers the program, performs outreach, and encourages the families who come to the clinics that their child is going to be okay. The LCP team now consisting of five full-time employees and numerous volunteers to continue their work to spread awareness as the number of kids in treatment continues to increase at an impressive pace. The Liberia Clubfoot Program’s new goal is to reach all counties in the country with the Ponseti Method by 2020.
Augustine and his team live by the motto of “Each one bring one.” The saying encourages each family enrolled in treatment to pay it forward and help another clubfoot family. The program’s growth is proof that this philosophy works. The MiracleFeet team is so grateful to be a part of this life-transforming work in Liberia.