I first became aware of Elise when I saw her cute picture on our long list of children waiting to be helped by our Individual Surgical Care program, the program supported by our Kaleidoscope of monthly donors. She was a little over three-years old and living in Cameroon with her family. Born with a malformation of the spine that could not be treated in her country, her family sought help to no avail. Then, Elise's father met a former patient in a Facebook group and was introduced to Mending Kids. Once he reached out to us, the process of getting her help began in earnest. X-Rays & medical exam reports were transmitted to our partners at Shriners Medical Center Pasadena, and Elise was approved for donated surgery. A host family was quickly recruited this time last year. Then, all we needed was the medical visa for her to travel to Los Angeles with a chaperone. A MK volunteer from France, Daphne, stepped up. Elise’s family applied to the U.S. Consulate in Yaoundé for an appointment and presented adorable Elise for the interview. Visa denied;
Grounds: Elise did not have enough financial ties to warrant her return to Cameroon. Curiously, what 5-year-old has financial ties? Elise was specifically traveling without a family member to avoid the temptation for the parent to stay in the U.S. A new reference letter asserting that no taxpayer dollars would be used for her care and guaranteeing her return to Cameroon upon completion of her care was written along with a new medical appointment letter from Shriners. The family applied a second time. Anxiously hoping for a different outcome, Elise waited, continuing to be bullied in school because of her hunched back. Elise and her family returned to the embassy for a second scheduled attempt with all the documentation. Denied! Denied? Why, you ask? Well apparently, the same consular attaché suspected that Mending Kids was trafficking children and that the family had sold her into adoption in the U.S., to our host family, no less. What he thought of Shriners Medical Center (an organization providing care for children since the 20s, with nearly two dozen hospitals nationwide, and internationally), I’m not sure. We are platinum on Charity Navigator, Gold star on GuideStar, 17 years in existence, 4800+ children mended, and we could now add ‘trafficking’ to our list of accomplishments! Incensed was a gross understatement. I quickly googled our district representatives and called on congressman Brad Sherman’s office. First, I had to navigate the screenings by interns to get to someone who was patient enough to hear us out. Three calls later our case was heard and followed up with emails. The congressman’s office agreed to send the embassy in Cameroon confirmation of our legitimacy and to lobby for fair consideration on our behalf. While they were at work on that, empowered by our small victory, I reached out to other local congressional offices whose assistants promised to keep an eye out for us, but out of district courtesy were unwilling to step on congressional toes. Last but not least, I reached out to a Cameroonian-American NGO leader, with his own ties to congress, to call them to attention and throw the kitchen sink at them… Ultimately, Brad Sherman and his office came through for us and the third time was the charm. Our favorite consular attaché approved the visa and we were a go!
Thank you, Congressman Sherman. A board member donated miles to secure last minute airline tickets. Daphne flew to Cameroon to meet Elise and her family for 24 hours and then to escort the 5-year-old to Los Angeles. Of course, they missed their connecting flight in Istanbul and could not get a transit visa for Elise because of her African passport. The two spent the night in the airport (another 12-hour delay) but ultimately made it! After many months of Facetime calls to get used to her host family, Elise finally met Bob and Kate in person and the transfer was a breeze. The road to mending will continue on the 13th of December when little miss firecracker meets her doctor for an evaluation to set a surgical date and the healing, g-d willing, will continue. Sometimes we send a few doctors to mend many and sometimes it takes many to mend one. This is how far we will go to mend a child, but none of it would be possible without you, thank you.
Come along with us on our journey to mend more kids in 2023.
Wishing you great health and wonderful memories in the new year to come.