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OpEd: Generous Americans
Thursday, November 25, 2004
and empowering the sick and poor abroad
BY C. SCOTT HARRISON
and ROBERT H. SCHULLER
America has had an uneasy time in the halls
of public opinion overseas. Based on media reports,
it would seem that America's work in the world
goes unappreciated and that the ''ugly American''
syndrome is ubiquitous. We take exception to
the reporting of this perception. For us, the
news is not that lopsided on the negative side.
What needs to be better reported, both here
at home and abroad, is the work of American
citizens who heal and empower the lives of the
sick and the poor in the developing countries.
are thousands of stories of citizens working
through nonprofit organizations and groups that
bring relief and hope to hurting people every
day. Their work should not be underestimated.
It is a quiet yet powerful kind of work, for
as the life of a single human being is transformed
for the better, the ripple effect of that person
touched by the hand of healing and kindness
ultimately influences the perceptions of thousands
in a lifetime.
With more than 125 million poverty-stricken
children worldwide who suffer from debilitating
physical conditions with little or no hope for
a cure, an orthopedic surgeon (one of the writers
of this commentary) and his wife, a registered
nurse, decided in 1996 to build and operate
teaching hospitals in the poorest countries
to heal the lives of disabled children. This
undertaking was named CURE International.
At hospitals opened in Kenya, Uganda, Malawi,
Afghanistan, the Dominican Republic and Honduras,
surgeries are performed on such disabilities
as club foot, hydrocephalus (water on the brain),
spina bifida, cleft lips and palates and post-polio
complications. Every day sees work in spinal
reconstruction, hip repairs, joint replacement
and reconstruction, plastic and reconstructive
hand surgery, tubercular spinal repair and neurosurgery.
In these parts of the world, there is little
access to specialized medical care for the poor.
Orthopedic surgeons are few or nonexistent.
Gifted American and British doctors give of
their time, sometimes for years, to render their
much-needed skills to helping these children.
They are paid pennies on the dollar compared
to their remuneration at home. They also train
indigenous doctors in modern medicine and surgery,
encouraging them to remain in their own countries,
so as to avoid a ''brain drain'' as too often
The motivation to build hospitals, bringing
the best of First World medicine and doctors
to specific locales, is based on the determination
of need and viability; and is driven by the
Christian call for unconditional love and compassion
of our fellow humans.
There was nowhere to go for Michael Otara,
a little boy who lived in the southern region
of Sudan, where there has been a civil war and
continuous armed fighting for years. At the
tender age of one year, Michael suffered severe
burns when he rolled from his bed into an open
fireplace used for cooking. Brought by his brother
to a refugee camp in Northern Kenya, after the
brother had witnessed the butchering of members
of their family, the two boys learned about
CURE's AIC Bethany Crippled Children's Centre
in Kijabe, Kenya and traveled two days by bus
to reach it. There Michael underwent surgery
and is currently healing. When he is completely
healed, he will return to the refugee camp where
he plans to go to school for the first time.
No reward is greater than the smile Michael
beams back to his doctors. Michael's brother
conveys an appreciation and gratitude with a
depth of feeling that transcends the expression
of mere words. He knows that his brother has
not only been healed of his physical ailments,
but that he has also been treated by people
-- by Americans -- who have truly cared about
him, and loved him, as a fellow human being
Multiply this case by hundreds and thousands
each year, multiplied in turn by the ripple
effect of those in their communities to whom
they bring back their stories, and there is
little doubt that Americans have rendered the
kind of goodwill for themselves and their country
that must and does make a deeply lasting impression
on the human heart.
C. Scott Harrison, MD, is
cofounder and CEO of Harrisburg-based CURE International.
Dr. Robert H. Schuller is founder of The Crystal Cathedral
based in Garden Grove, Calif.