Aid groups partner to bring medical relief to most vulnerable

Abigail (name has been changed), 15, is unable to attend school due to a cancerous growth on her eye. A native of Haiti's remote Gonave Island, she has no access to mainland healthcare. Abigail is but one in a million disabled Haitians, many with injuries caused by the country's 2010 earthquake.

"Never having access to appropriate medical care, [Abigail's] tumour was very large - she was actually crying when I met with her," says World Vision Canada's Karen Sodoma, project officer for World Vision's disability health group.

A new pilot program entitled "Inclusion for All" - partnering World Vision Canada with Grace Children's Hospital in nearby Port Au Prince - will soon make it possible for hospital staff persons to be transported to the island to treat Abigail's tumour.

"As long as we've been doing programming, we've been working with disabilities," says Sodoma, who started the pilot program in India and Ethiopia three years ago, and introduced it to the Dominican and Haiti in 2011. With 98 per cent of disabled children in developing countries unable to attend school, "our program goal is to provide access for people with disabilities to medical care, and children to education."

World Vision Canada believes in collaborating with local relief organizations, a philosophy shared by cbm Canada. "We're able to work in disaster zones because we have trusted partners already on the ground," says executive director Ed Epp.

For example, in the Horn of Africa where the region is gripped by famine, "cbm is partnering with mainstream relief organizations like the Kenyan Red Cross to ensure people with disabilities, especially children, have access to food, clean water, disability services and technical support."

Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) Canada is another organization working to help isolated people—disabled or not—get the aid they need, particularly when it comes to transporting equipment like wheelchairs or mobility aids.

"We partner with those who do hands-on delivery," says MAF's director of development Craig Lewis. "For us, the disability doesn't change how we do the aid. We're trying to get help to those who are isolated and needing it most."

In addition to flying in materials and workers to disaster zones, MAF also transports church groups to northern Canadian communities where isolated First Nation tribes battle Third World conditions.

"I am aware of a church group who recently went up and built wheelchair ramps for three different houses in a northern Ontario community," says Lewis. The individuals receiving the help had been housebound for six months, unable to leave.

"The disabled are the most ostracized and without hope," says Lewis. "We would like to continue to partner with groups who are passionate about alleviating suffering for the disabled, to get them into the field so they can make a difference."

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