Posted March 22, 2012, 11:34 a.m.
HAITI - A YACHTING ARMADA BEARING LIMBS By Anthony Just With ships, yachts, and vessels of all varieties plying the world's oceans since time immemorial, there has been a continuous spread of trade and commerce, knowledge and learning, culture and understanding, across our globe. Unfortunately, this often went hand-in-hand with destruction, oppression, and exploitation, bringing to self-sufficient, evolving nations and communities an abrupt halt to natural development, with the spread of misguided ideologies, disease, and ultimate devastation. Armadas of ships sailed forth from great nations with the noblest of intentions, but history shows us the results of these voyages which remain painfully apparent in many impoverished regions of the world. A hot topic of recent years has centered around the "saving of the planet" theme, driven forward and motivated by caring, well-intentioned and enthusiastic individuals and groups from all walks of life. Extending this positive message that we should respect and nurture our terra-firma, the air that we breathe, and the delicate balance of the world's oceans in a caring way, we should also recognize that there are millions of fellow beings out there in the world, belonging to impoverished and deprived nations, who should also be a part of this process - and would be, if only they could aspire to and achieve a good balance of health, education and living standards. We should be helping all of the abandoned and neglected people in this world so that they in turn can help us save our awesome planet. EXPLORATION FARTHER AFIELD The diverse cruising grounds and exotic sailing destinations of the world offer a wealth of adventure and exploration possibilities for yacht-owners and their crews. With keen interest in recent years in explorer-type yachts, and with extended range capabilities on some of the larger traditional-style yachts, many new out-of-the-way locations have become accessible to the intrepid owner. Many of these destinations, islands, and regions, have in the past been off-limits for safe cruising, and often for understandable reasons: civil war, unrest, disease, or ideological hostility. The underprivileged and impoverished inhabitants of many of these nations and regions continue to suffer unfairly and unjustly as a result of isolation and neglect, their poverty often brought upon them by war and commercial exploitation manipulated from afar Apparent to many of the adventurous yacht-owners and yachtsmen plying the world's oceans, the need for material and other assistance in these more obscure destinations, is immense. Support from international aid agencies, private individuals, or other government organizations does not always get through to those on the ground. Throw in a few natural disasters like hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes, and the downward cycle only becomes worse. One very great need recognized by the owner, family, and crew, of a motor-yacht cruising the Western Caribbean some time ago, was the continuing plight of amputees in the poorer nations and communities. The loss of a limb due to a land-mine explosion, through illness, disease, or accident, leaves many in impoverished communities either entirely without mobility, or making do with poorly constructed and uncomfortable prosthetic limbs. Modern prosthetic sockets and limbs are costly, and correct fitting and re-fitting is time consuming and expensive. Many amputees who could potentially re-join and assist their communities in a positive and productive way, are simply denied this possibility due to the fact that proper assistance and funding are completely out of their reach. A dedicated yachtsman, yacht designer, and prosthetist, Ossur Kristinsson is the inventor of a revolutionary method of prosthetic socket construction and application; a system whereby a comfortable and durable socket can be made and fitted for an amputee in less than an hour, at a materials cost far below the very substantial amounts normally charged in our modern hospitals and clinics for a prosthetic limb that takes weeks or months to fit. In 2005, Ossur decided that his invention and system should be made available to low income and impoverished communities, to assist those hundreds of thousands of amputees who would not normally receive proper, or any, prosthetics assistance within their societies. Generally, amputees in these countries or communities either go without a replacement limb altogether, or are fitted with an uncomfortable, archaic, out-dated, and poorly constructed prosthetic limb. OK Prosthetics, a not-for-profit prosthetics assistance company, was founded by Ossur to address this immense need. THE SEA-LEGS INITIATIVE Following expeditions by land to underprivileged communities in Mozambique and Pakistan, where land-mine victims and earthquake survivors were fitted with prosthetic limbs, using the OK method, Ossur and the OK Prosthetics team undertook in 2008 to visit the Dominican Republic and Cuba with a yacht-assisted prosthetics project. This initiative was received with much enthusiasm by the amputees attended by the team, the various groups of rehabilitation staff-members at the clinics, and the government authorities alike. It was clearly recognized during this first yacht-assisted mission, that the sea-borne approach to this sort of assistance-strategy was extremely practicable, and steps were taken to investigate this concept on a much larger scale. With so many yachts sailing the world's oceans and seas, there exists a ready-made network of logistics and man-power support, enabling teams to visit by sea the out-of-the-way communities, fitting the neglected amputees, and also re-visiting them again in a similar way in an ongoing support programme. Discussions about this concept with various yacht-owners, leading yacht management companies, yacht captains, and crew-members, drew an astounding volume of encouragement and support. It was very apparent to all who heard of the concept that yachts travelling to, or passing by, coastal ports or communities where there exists a prosthetics need, could potentially stop briefly to deliver a shipment of prosthetics material-kits. In this way, they could actively assist in the application of this effective and fast OK Prosthetics method. Some owners also suggested that, in addition to funding the purchase of the actual prosthetics material-kits - at manufacturer's cost price - through their donations, and conveying them to the required destinations, they would also invite the OK prosthetists and technicians to travel aboard the yacht with them to these locations, and that the owner and crew would volunteer to assist the team in the fitting mission where practicable. Considering that the OK system-method allows one prosthetist to fit up to five or six amputees in one day, the impact of a fitting assignment during a two day stop-over can have a substantial and powerful effect, beginning the process of enabling and inspiring the disabled members of that community. An effort to assist in this way can also have an immense motivational result on members of the local society, potentially enabling much more than just the mobility of the amputees. Local nurses and clinic staff would be trained in the OK method, and the amputees would be inspired to assist in rehabilitation and support of their fellow amputees in other communities. Yachts regularly visiting, or passing, these coastal communities the world over, with this type of direct amputee assistance, can make a significant difference in helping to empower those often neglected societies. HAITIAN DISASTER During the ongoing planning to effectively apply this sea-borne assistance concept, and inspire an "Armada approach" to this problem, the island-nation of Haiti was rocked by a devastating earthquake. Destruction and suffering were wide-spread, and during the first weeks following the quake, there were reports of up to seventy limbs being amputated on the streets each day. While the already impoverished Haitian society raises itself from the ruins, these thousands of new amputees begin the slow process of physical and psychological mending and rehabilitation. Once the initial wounds have healed, and muscular tissues have stabilized - a process taking up to six months - these thousands of amputees will need to be fitted with comfortable and durable prosthetic limbs, thus allowing them to resume their productive and mobile role within their communities. Planning for this vast-scale assistance is currently underway, and at the appropriate time this island-nation will be receiving OK Prosthetics support - in both sea-borne and other ways - in the form of donated prosthetics materials-kits, and voluntary technical man-power. Yachts visiting - or passing - Haiti or the Dominican Republic from the Mediterranean and Americas, will be carrying donated batches of prosthetics materials-kits, yachting industry companies will be donating airfares and accommodation and transportation vouchers, to assist with the logistics needs of the on-the-ground volunteer prosthetists and technicians. In stark contrast to the misguided purpose of the vessels that sailed the Haitian waters of Hispaniola four centuries ago, this time around the "Armada approach" will be applied with caritas, and in a helpful and generative manner - getting those who need this help back on their feet. Anthony Just is a former charter-yacht Captain, working with the OK Prosthetics Team to provide much needed prosthetics assistance to amputees in underprivileged countries and regions. OK Prosthetics welcomes assistance of any kind in the ongoing programme to support the amputees in Haiti, and in many other countries where this need exists. OK Prosthetics is a Not-for-Profit company. Contact Anthony: [email protected]