1,000 Reasons to Smile

All eyes were on Haiti during the beginning of 2010 when a violent earthquake shook the nation and tested the resolve of the Haitian people. With over 400,000 people killed or injured and over 2 million left homeless, the country is still very much in the early stages of recovery. And yet, amid the turmoil that occurred, the spirit of the Haitian people is stronger and more determined than ever before.

One organization that is deeply involved and committed to the Haitian people is The Knights of Columbus. Teaming up with two other major organizations, Project Medishare and the American Wheelchair Mission (also AWM, or the Global Wheelchair Mission), the three are coming together to bring assistance in ways that the Haitian people could have never imagined and putting a smile on the face of everyone they encounter.

The Knights of Columbus has partnered with the American Wheelchair Mission, which is lead by President and Founder Chris Lewis, Jerry Lewis’ son, and has provided more than 1,000 wheelchairs to affected Haitians, both adults and children. The American Wheelchair Mission donates brand new, free wheelchairs to improve the quality of life for the individual and their entire family. Through the delivery of each wheelchair, the AWM estimates that an average of ten lives are affected and improved by giving the patient mobility, allowing children to go to school, giving adults the opportunity to go to work and mobilizing the elderly out of bed, sometimes for the first time in years – helping them to no longer be completely dependent on other people.
With over a 1,000 wheelchairs having been delivered so far, The Knights of Columbus and the American Wheelchair Mission are planning several more deliveries to Haiti over the next few months, planning to deliver over 2,200 wheelchairs.

Patrick Korten, Spokesman and Vice President of Communications for The Knights of Columbus, who took part in the first delivery of wheelchairs to Haiti back in April of this year, recently announced another mission that is underway. With the help of Project Medishare, a non-profit started by two physicians from the University of Miami Medical School whose mission is to improve the health condition of the Haitian people, a new program entitled “Hope for Haiti’s Children” developed. The aim of this program is to help the estimated 1,000 children in Haiti who have lost arms and/or legs in the recent earthquake and are in desperate need of prosthetics. “It is a difficult situation in Haiti. There are so many children in need of prosthetics. There is a strong stigma attached to amputees in the Haitian society,” states Korten. “The need is not just for the actual prosthetics, but also to teach these children how to use their new prosthetics effectively and to help strengthen them psychologically. We were very impressed with the entire Project Medishare organization and it quickly became apparent to us that these wonderful people had a significant medical operation already developed in Haiti. With their specialty in prosthetics and rehabilitation work among those with a variety of health conditions, we knew that these would be great people to work with. ” A major part of the “Hope for Haiti’s Children” program is that Project Medishare, which operates a University of Miami/Medishare Hospital in Port au Prince, will be providing two years of treatment and physical therapy for each child who receives a prosthetic.

“Growing up in Haiti is tough enough, but growing up there without and arm or leg is even more difficult,” explains Korten. “This program is getting underway as we speak, and will be fully functional within a few weeks. A lot of the prosthetic devices will be manufactured in Haiti, which will provide jobs for the many who are unemployed.  We estimate that this is a 1 million dollar commitment and although The Knights of Columbus have already funded the program, donations are still needed and deeply appreciated.”

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson recently stated in a press release, “Almost eight months after the devastating earthquake, we must not forget the children of Haiti, who still need our help, and who continue to be so greatly affected by this disaster.” He continued, “We believe that this program for the injured children of Haiti will not only alleviate their mobility issues in the near term, but also will provide real concrete hope for their future.”

Also assisting the Knights of Columbus on the ground in Haiti is the Catholic Relief Services organization. “We are so thankful for the help of this organization. They are extremely important players in Haiti and because they have been running their operations there for so many years, they truly understand the system and situation and are able to get things accomplished and work through the extraordinary challenges that arise,” adds Korten.
The Knights of Columbus is a Catholic Service Organization that was founded in the New Haven, Connecticut basement of St. Mary’s Church in 1882. Korten describes the mission of the organization as, “Uniting Catholic men more closely to the church and engaging them in acts of charity in the community and throughout the world. We have been remarkably successful – Our men have successfully engaged in 69 million volunteer hours of charity work in the past year alone and the organization donated more than 150 million dollars to charity last year and over $1.367 billion during the past decade.”

“I invite all men who are interested in The Knights of Columbus to get involved with their local council. We currently have just under 14,000 councils and 1.8 million members around the world,” Korten adds. “It is wonderful to work with other men who share the faith and love of Christ, believe in “Loving thy neighbor as thyself” and that have the determination to help those who are in need.”

The four core principles of the Knights of Columbus are Charity, Unity, Fraternity and Patriotism. Adhering to their first core principle of Charity, the Knights of Columbus continuously engage in charitable activities and have formed partnerships with organization such as the Special Olympics, Global Wheelchair Mission, Habitat for Humanity, Food for Families and Coats for Kids. If you or someone you know would like to learn more about becoming a knight, more information can be found at their website: www.KOFC.org.

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