My name is Steven Ramirez. I am a McDonald's franchisee in the central valley of California and serve as a global trustee of RMHC. To extend its reach and further its impact, RMHC has a Global Grant program that invests funds in other non-profit organizations working to improve the health and wellbeing of children around the world.
One of the organizations with a long-standing relationship with RMHC is ReSurge International, providing free reconstructive surgeries for the world’s poor, restoring the dreams of those with deformities and injuries.
This past fall, ReSurge invited me to accompany them on a mission to Ecuador to observe firsthand how RMHC funds are improving the lives of disfigured indigent children in the Andes.
The mission was transformative for dozens of children, and also for me.
I arrived in Guayaquil, a city of more than 2.5 million situated on the Pacific coast of Ecuador. I got to my room at 1 AM., and 3 hours later I was boarding a 30-year-old bus for an 11-hour trip to the city of Loja in the Andes. The bus was packed with young surgeons, anesthesiologists and surgical nurses, all of whom were volunteering their time as they had promised their mentor,
Dr. Jorge Palacios, when he accepted their applications for med school. Despite the very early hour and the sleepy looks on everyone’s faces, the atmosphere on the bus was electric with anticipation.
We arrived in Loja in the afternoon and immediately went on rounds to meet the patients we were to treat the following morning. Many of the kids were afraid, but the doctors immediately went about changing the mood, picking up the kids, giving balloons to them, dancing and singing to them.
Early the next morning, they issued me my own pair of scrubs and soon enough I was in them, standing shoulder to shoulder with the chief surgeon, Dr. Jorge Palacios. I wouldn't leave his side for four days. Child after child, procedure after procedure, I quite literally witnessed miracles.
Three billion people use open flames to light and heat their homes and to cook their food. Every year seven million children are severely burned by accidentally falling into vats of boiling water or oil or even open flames. We were here to treat such children. Their parents and siblings explained to me that although some were 10 or 12 years old they had never attended school because no one wanted to look at them, sit next to them or play with "Frankenstein." It quickly dawned on me that the psychological trauma these children had suffered was far worse than the melted flesh caused by severe burns.
As the hours ticked by and one patient after another was wheeled out of surgery and back to the recovery room, we could hear the mothers crying. But it was a heavenly sound. They were cries of joy. Frankenstein was dead, and in his place a handsome son or beautiful daughter was there.
By the third day I was feeling great about all the good we were accomplishing. The appreciative hugs from moms, the kisses from little sisters, the blessings from grandmothers - it was emotionally overwhelming. I mentioned to one of the surgeons how good I felt, and asked if she felt the same after years of donating her services to the poor. She said yes, it would always feel great, but it hurt that she couldn’t do more – that there were still hundreds being turned away because there were not enough volunteers, not enough resources, and not enough time.
Then she smiled and said that this particular mission would not have been possible without the support of RMHC. Our funding had paid for this mission. Tears rolled down her cheeks and she said: "we know you're not a doctor, but we call you doctor out of respect. You make dreams possible".
I can’t tell you how privileged I feel to be a member of the RMHC Global Board. And I'm privileged to have accompanied Dr. Palacios and his team on their RMHC-funded humanitarian mission to the Andes. It was truly a life-changing experience.