Here’s what we heard from practitioners who have years of experience planning, leading, and maintaining prosthetic clinics. Read more in “Humanitarian O&P Aid: Leaving a Gentler Footprint” in the May issue at opedge.com.
Before setting off, find out what other projects and local resources there are, and if you can work with them. Find out what the follow-up will be. And remember that you need to teach as well as provide patient care. Working with local O&P facilities gives you this opportunity. — Robert Frank
I don’t think anyone has gone to another country to help and had the wrong intentions—they may just not have the right knowledge. They need to understand how difficult it is, and how to make it sustainable. Things are complicated, and you have to think through every detail—and not just sort of hope that this thing will work out. Because, unfortunately, a lot of good intentions, if not thought through, don’t work out. I know I’m on a 30-year plan. This is the rest of my life and I’m good with it. I sleep well when I think about that. — Jeff Erenstone
When I lecture on humanitarian aid, I always say, “You’re never too old or too young to help out!” Helping somebody is as simple as giving them a pair of socks or handing them a bottle of water. — Dino Scanio
Our NGO [non-governmental organization] is splitting the cost of distance learning in O&P with our practitioners. In addition, we are splitting the cost of a building we purchased for the project with them. Gradually the practitioners are taking over the acquisition of components through purchase from China. All parties are invested in the success, reputation, and efficient management of the project. We work with a combination of NGO and private enterprise involvement, bringing the best of both of these worlds to the project. — Robert Frank
We’re so blessed and spoiled in this country. A lot of good people in O&P are going to retire and wonder, “Okay, how can I give back?” And you certainly want to check little things like finding out the civil flavor of the country before you volunteer. There are parts of Mexico that I would not recommend you go. People are killed there every day. 90 percent of the time, it’s a war between the drug cartel and the police force, and some innocent bystander gets caught in the middle. You’ve got to understand the big picture: They’re trying to survive the best way they know how. — John “Mo” Kenney
Be humble: Realize you do not know or understand the local scene. Keep your eyes open; sometimes NGOs or government projects are not what they seem. If you are contributing your time, material, and expense, it is legitimate to expect transparency from the organization. It is a good idea to observe whether the project is more focused on the donor or volunteer having a positive experience or on the user of the service. — Robert Frank
Eager to support a humanitarian O&P cause? There are 59 to choose from on the Digital Resource Foundation for the Orthotics and Prosthetics Community.