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5 min read

Transforming lives: Children First Foundation

Profile of Bronte Chaperon
Written by Bronte ChaperonPosted on 9/6/2022

“Over five billion people worldwide don’t have access to safe and affordable surgical care,” says Children First Foundation CEO Jessica Redwood.

“That’s about two out of three of us.”

Most are children in developing countries, Jessica notes, who live with treatable pain and disability that hinder their quality of life and, at times, can cause them to be ostracised and excluded from their communities.

It’s for these reasons that not-for-profit organisation Children First Foundation was established: to provide life-changing medical treatment and make a positive difference in the lives of disadvantaged children.

Children First Foundation doctor and child

Associate Professor Donnan has performed over 50 pro bono surgeries and has undertaken some of CFF’s most challenging cases.

Children First Foundation uses a Future Fund at Australian Communities Foundation to build sustainability and continue this important work.

“If not us, who?” Jessica muses. “Most aid programs don’t cover these vulnerable children, and they often can’t be supported with the surgical care they need in their own country.”

For Jessica, the opportunity to spearhead the children’s health charity was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

“I’ve worked with many large organisations that do absolutely incredible work, but I’m incredibly conscious that if it weren’t for Children First Foundation, these children wouldn’t be able to access critical surgical care.

“Surgery really is the pointy end. It’s that sliding doors moment in a child’s life that can make a difference between potentially living a very short life with avoidable pain and ongoing disability or living pain-free and being able to plan your future, go to school, get employment, contribute to your family and community… all those things that every child should have the right to do.”

In conjunction with generous surgeons, health professionals and hospitals, Children First Foundation facilitates the pro bono treatment of a range of congenital and acquired conditions, covering orthopaedic, craniofacial, burns, plastics, renal and urology cases.

To be accepted into any Children’s First program, the child’s condition must be operable and unable to be treated in their home country. To date, the Foundation has operated on almost 500 young people.

The care is provided through one of four streams:

  • The Miracle sMiles program, which brings children requiring high-level care from developing countries to Australia;
  • The in-country program, which sees surgeons support moderate surgical needs in developing countries;
  • The back-home support program, which assists patients with follow-up medical care, welfare or education support when they return to their country post-recovery;
  • The capacity-building program.

The capacity-building program aims to address the barriers to accessing medical care at a grassroots level by facilitating high-level treatment internationally. The program, Jessica explains, will work with strategic partners on low-cost, high-impact initiatives.

“We’ll be launching the capacity-building program so that more children will be able to have access to quality surgical care in their own countries.

“This is the sustainability project, so we can address children’s need for medical and surgical care in the long term.”

Since its inception in 1999, Children First Foundation has predominantly worked worldwide, but has ongoing partners in five Asia Pacific focus areas: Vietnam, the Philippines, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.

We’ll be launching the capacity-building program so that more children will be able to have access to quality surgical care in their own countries

“The first child that I met when I started in this role was a young man called Xavier,” Jessica remembers. “A truly amazing young man who had an injury to his leg as a child. This had basically crushed his leg – to describe it in non-medical terms.

“Since then, he’d been walking with crutches, dragging that leg around with him. He had also started to develop cancerous lesions on his leg that, if left untreated, would have been life-threatening.”

Due to Covid-19 restrictions on international travel, 15-year-old Xavier faced an indefinite wait for his life-altering surgery.

“As soon as those borders opened at the end of last year, he came here from Madagascar. He has since come and had that section of his leg amputated. He was so excited to have the surgery and what it will mean for his life. He has been fitted with his very own prosthetic, which he is learning to walk with now.

“He’s undergoing beautiful care from our pro bono physios because he has not had to use the muscles in his leg in that way before. He walked for the very first time a month ago, and he’ll be leaving us in about a month’s time when his rehab is complete.

Children First Foundation Xavier

Xavier had his damaged leg amputated and has been fitted with a prosthesis, significantly increasing his quality of life.

“His number one goal is to play soccer and he has approached his physio and rehab with absolute determination and dedication. So I have no doubt that he will definitely get there.”

Unfortunately, delayed medical procedures due to border closures aren’t the only roadblock Children First has faced, with fundraising stifled by Covid-19 lockdowns.

“Covid created tangible barriers for Children First. International borders were closed; hospital services were limited. And for us, it really restricted our income during that period.

“In the new financial year, we’ll be looking to philanthropic partners who are passionate about addressing the barriers to surgical access and children. As well as making a significant impact,” Jessica says.

With no government support and two years’ worth of foiled fundraising plans, Children First Foundation is relying upon the generous support of philanthropists to facilitate pre and post-surgical medical care, and even special donors looking to make long-term change.

We’re incredibly grateful to all our donor partners for working and collaborating with us to address critical surgical needs

Donated funds go toward child airfares, visas, clothing, food, medical aids and equipment, occupational and physiotherapy items, bed sheets, disposable dressings, colostomy items and imaging such as x-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds, MRI and blood tests.

“Children First has relied on philanthropy throughout its existence,” Jessica explains.

“We’re incredibly grateful to all our donor partners for working and collaborating with us to address critical surgical needs and change children’s lives.”