In Cote d’Ivoire, on September 28, a child entered the world with a cleft palate so severe that he cannot nurse. He cannot eat. If he is to live, he must have surgery. The newborn is named Leandre. He cannot be helped in his home country. But he can be helped in the United States — if he can get here in time.
Half a world away, Todd Grinnell thinks about Leandre every day.
Grinnell is just one person. He can’t save the world all by himself. But he is making an impact, one child at a time, by volunteering with the Next Right Thing (NRT). NRT is a nonprofit organization under the umbrella of the Strongheart Group, founded by Cori Stern. Through his work with NRT, Grinnell helps bring hope for a normal life to impoverished children who have disfiguring or life-threatening conditions. One of those children is Leandre.
The amount of pain and misery in the world can be overwhelming and heartbreaking. It’s easy to become immobilized by the enormity of the problem. We can turn our backs, risk nothing, and gain nothing. Or, like Grinnell, we can do something. But what? Where? How?
I took a long, deep breath and wondered, as usual, where to start. You start where you are, is the secret of life. You do the next right thing you can see. Then the next. — Anne Lamott
How It Works
A caseworker or other volunteer with the Next Right Thing identifies a child who desperately needs treatment. It might be a child with a disfiguring tumor, a baby born with a defective heart, a child who suffered a terrible accident, a child disfigured by war crimes, or a child with with a life-threatening cleft. The caseworker refers the child to NRT.
The Next Right Thing makes arrangements for free medical care — surgery and follow-up treatments — to repair the child’s fragile body. If possible, the child receives medical care locally. But if the child’s condition is too serious for local treatment, a U.S. medical team gets involved.
When overseas travel is required, NRT identifies a volunteer foster family to care for the child in the U.S. The group arranges for the child’s passport and visa, handles whatever other paperwork is required, and provides money for any fees.
As soon as possible, NRT notifies Grinnell or another volunteer about a child who needs to come to the U.S. for treatment. The volunteer must raise his or her own money for travel expenses. Grinnell does this largely through donations on his blog site, which he calls “Be the Change.” It’s an obvious nod of respect to Mahatma Gandhi’s exhortation, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
The volunteer then travels to meet the child and his or her parents or caretakers in the child’s home country — which can be anywhere around the world. For Grinnell, this generally means a trip to Africa. After a few days of getting to know each other and building trust, Grinnell escorts the child — sometimes two — on the long journey to the U.S.
In this country, a foster family greets each child and provides a stable, loving home for the duration of the treatment. Medical personnel perform life-saving or life-enhancing surgery without charge. If treatment is extensive and recovery will be long, the volunteer returns home. For Grinnell, home is Los Angeles, where he works as an actor.
When the child is well enough to make the return journey, the volunteer arrives again for a joyful reunion. He escorts the healthy child back to his or her home country and to a loving family — sometimes adoptive or foster parents, sometimes birth parents or other relatives.
The volunteer makes sure the child is in good hands, then says goodbye, returning home to life as usual. Until the next call …
Keeping Donors Posted
On his last journey with the Next Right Thing, Grinnell blogged extensively, giving a day-by-day account of his travels. He posted photos and videos, introducing his small traveling companion, Lamine, to the donors whose generosity had made his trip possible.
We see Lamine — who was born with his intestine protruding from his belly — before medical treatment, and on his way to the U.S. For those who cannot make the journey to help a child themselves, this is a gratifying way to verify that their individual contributions are making a difference. Lamine has hope for a normal life because of the generosity of strangers.
But perhaps the most gripping post is the first one on Grinnell’s blog: a plea to help NRT save tiny Leandre. Without surgery, Leandre will surely die. Grinnell is currently raising funds for his trip to escort Leandre from Cote d’Ivoire to the U.S. for highly skilled medical care.
Should he raise sufficient funds for the journey, he will blog about that trip, too. If the fundraising comes in too little or too late to save Leandre, Grinnell will use the money for his next mission of mercy.
Grinnell is not the only volunteer, and Leandre is far from the only child in serious need. The Next Right Thing website introduces visitors to children who have been helped by the organization’s volunteers and donors, as well as some of the youngsters who are awaiting treatment.
Even a heart of stone will crack at the stories told on these pages.
These photos show children in desperate need — as well as children bursting with the joy of their new-found health and hope.
What Can You Do?
NRT’s parent organization, Strongheart Group, is fiscally conservative and absolutely meticulous in guaranteeing that all donations are maximized through responsible management. They’re a group I know and thoroughly trust.
If you are moved by Leandre’s story — or by any of the children’s stories — do the next right thing. Visit Grinnell’s blog or the Next Right Thing website, and donate whatever you can. Whether you give $5 or $5000, your tax-deductible contribution will make a difference in a child’s life. Perhaps, together, we can save Leandre.