Our recently updated mission statement reads: to forever improve the lives of children and communities impacted by cleft by providing free comprehensive treatment, while building local capacity for long-term care. Achieving that mission involves any of three primary objectives: conducting surgical missions to provide free surgeries, providing advanced training programs for local medical teams, and establishing Treatment Centers to equip communities to sustainably support patients long-term.
COVID-19 has meant major changes for AfS, including the postponement of missions until we can safely gather volunteers, children, and families. That has driven us to focus our energy on how to best achieve our mission given current circumstances, by providing training virtually (aka online) to our medical partners and continuing to lay the foundation for future Treatment Center development.
As a first step in this Virtual Education Initiative we recruited leads in all the relevant fields (surgery, anesthesiology, nursing, speech pathology, dental hygiene, and more) and reached out to our partners around the world to determine which locations would benefit most from advanced training programs, mentorship, and consultation on difficult cleft cases via online platforms. We continue to hear back from our partners with enthusiasm and interest, and we’re excited to announce that we will initially be piloting this project with teams in Bangladesh and Myanmar. Egypt and Honduras are also potential pilot locations.
We are conducting extensive needs assessments to determine the topics to be covered and formats to use. Our offerings will be a tailored combination of resources (including informational videos and instructional slide decks) and live video calls with our highly trained medical volunteers, who will conduct trainings, answer questions, and consult on difficult cases.
As we build a comprehensive library of instructional resources and roll out the training program, we see great potential to continue this program after international travel resumes. This would not only help to build a strong foundation of knowledge before an AfS mission, but it would also help establish deeper trust and connection between teams.
There’s an old Chinese proverb that says “when the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills”. We’re building a pretty impressive “windmill” through AfS – creating something new, adapting to the needs and constraints of the times and our partners, and harnessing this energy and innovation to become something more and better than we have ever been before. To use another wind-related metaphor, we could easily have gotten lost and blown off course, but instead, we adjusted the sails so that we can still reach those who need us most!