I was first introduced to Shuzz as a guest at their annual fundraiser and was so moved by the passion of the ladies running the charity and the cause itself that I HAD to get involved. I love children and giving back so Shuzz was the perfect organization for me to join! The more I learned about the charity, the more I became a passionate and devoted volunteer and was honored enough to be named Co-Chair for the 2014 annual Shuzz Art Fashion show. The care and detail of the leaders of the organization in planning this event was spectacular and inspiring. The only problem was that I heard the stories of the volunteers returning from their trips to deliver the shoes to the children and was quite jealous! The volunteers laughed and sometimes cried over their experiences on their trips and I wanted to help too. Soon after the 2014 fundraising event I got my opportunity! I went on my first Shuzz trip to Guyana and my was it eye-opening. I learned so very much about the country, it’s people and culture, the US Army’s Humanitarian Assistance Program (HAP), and myself! I also had the lovely opportunity to become close with my co-travelers and we have become such good friends (bonus!). Seeing the children flock to the shoe delivery, watching their faces light up as we fit them with a shiny new pair of shoes, and seeing the parents joy at their child’s new gift was such a fulfilling experience. There was no need for “thank you’s” or hugs but we got many!
My second trip to Guyana was the first Shuzz medical mission, where Dr. Jodi Schoenhaus and I conducted medical clinics with the aid of the US HAP team. The intention was to screen children for the first Shuzz lower extremity corrective surgery but when the people from the village heard we were coming they came with every problem imaginable. I have traveled the world and have been on medical missions to impoverished countries before but the depth of poverty and poor or no access to medical care in the areas of Guyana we visited were staggering! We diagnosed people with medical problems we have only read about when we were students and had minimal equipment and medications to diagnose and treat so it was a test of our abilities! The most heart-breaking lesson I learned on this trip was that children with lower extremity deformities (or any physical deformity really) are often stigmatized and chastised in the community so much so that parents keep their children at home to protect them and they are not allowed to go to school, play, etc. This same sentiment also kept many parents from bringing their child to our clinic to be screened for fear of embarrassment over the deformity. What a tragedy!
In addition to this cultural challenge, transportation in these remote areas is difficult to impossible and they may have to travel hours or days on foot to get to a clinic. Life is not easy for them and they need our help! Fortunately on our final day in Guyana, with the help of a local doctor we were able to locate a young boy in Lethem, Guyana that had a significant lower extremity deformity and his mother was also motivated to help improve things so he could walk normally. Fast forwart 5 months later, and Akem and his mother travelled to the US to have the inaugural Shuzz lower extremity corrective surgery at Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach, FL. It was a big day for Akem and a big day for Shuzz, Dr. Schoenhaus, and I. Sometimes surprising doors can open when we just look for them–the other great corollary project that came from that trip is I am helping make connections between our contacts in Guyana and their HAP team and a craniofacial surgeon in south Florida to start up a cleft lip/palate repair program, as there are many untreated children there with this deformity as well. Much work to be done for the little ones out there–I can’t wait for my next trip!
Dr. Megan Jack