Interplast, the Medical Global Visionary
Providing reconstructive surgery for children with clefts, disabling burns and hand injuries as well as medical education partnerships with local doctors in 16 countries, Interplast is a vital global non-profit working for the betterment of underserved children and underfinanced medical professionals. In operation since 1969, this California-based agency has helped thousands of afflicted children with little to no access to care so that they may maintain normal functioning lives as would be impossible without surgery. Liliana Vazquez, 25, Communications and Technology Coordinator, tells us that in training host-country medical colleagues, Interplast leaves behind a legacy where thousands more children will be able to receive the same advantages as those undergoing surgery by American doctors. Read on and discover more about Interplast’s history, future plans, and how you can help these world visionaries achieve their long term goals in this week’s Non-Profit Spotlight.
Interplast was also one of the first international nonprofits to have a blog; please visit www.interplast.blogs.com.
Communications and Technology Coordinator
Mexico City, Mexico
Santa Clara University
Major: Marketing, Minors: Political Science, International Business
Communications and Technology Coordinator
McCown & Evans LLP
Relief International-Schools Online
Tell us how Interplast affects the Latino community
Interplast’s beginnings were in Mexico, where children with disabling burns and clefts were given a new chance at life through the surgery the organization’s volunteers provided. Since that time, Interplast has evolved into an international development organization that educates and empowers local medical professionals in 16 countries around the world – so that the local medical communities can provide the surgeries children living in poverty need year-round, now and in the future. Interplast currently works in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Peru.
Tell us some basic facts about Interplast
Interplast is the first humanitarian organization to provide free reconstructive surgery for children with clefts, disabling burns and hand injuries. Interplast has provided 68,000 life-changing surgeries for those who have no other access to care. Working in under-served regions of 16 countries throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America, Interplast teaches, empowers and partners with volunteers and overseas medical professionals so every child living in poverty has free access to the safest and highest-quality care now and in the future. Interplast is committed to transforming as many lives as possible, allocating 90 percent of its budget to medical programs.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
My role consists of mostly helping develop new strategies for the use of technology in or efforts to make the public aware of our work, why we exist and how they can help. I divide my time working on our e-newsletter, blog, website, photo exhibit organization and any other communication type task that may arise. My goal is to amplify the voices of our organization and those we serve, and daily my task is to promote our services and our patients needs.
Most notable milestones
Just in the last decade, the organization has provided more than 15,000 surgeries to those who had no other access to the care. Now those Latin American citizens can live without fear of being denied an education or a job because of their clefts; others can live healthy, productive lives because their ability to walk, raise their arms or move their head has been restored after their disabling burns. Interplast has also given educational workshops to nearly 1,500 local medical professionals in Latin America so that they can perform surgeries safely, effectively and efficiency on their own.
In addition, Interplast supports four permanent, year-round Surgical Outreach Centers in Ecuador, Nicaragua and Peru. This model of empowerment, sustainability and self-sufficiency creates long-term, year-round surgical care where it never existed before.
What’s the niche?
The need for the life-changing reconstructive surgery Interplast provides is real. Disabling injuries and congenital deformities are prevalent around the world. Each year, one in every 200 girls in developing countries receives a disabling burn. Interplast is one of the few nonprofit organizations to provide reconstructive burn surgery for those living in poverty.
Everyday tasks such as cooking over open fires, using kerosene lamps for light, or working with farm tools and equipment can cause terrible burns and other debilitating injuries. Many accident victims endure a lifetime of suffering simply because they have no access to the reconstructive surgical care that would help them regain functional mobility: the ability to walk, to use their hands or to move their heads.
Cleft lip and cleft palate are among the most common congenital deformities worldwide, affecting an estimated one in 700 newborns. These children are often ostracized and denied an education because of their appearance and speech impediments. Their access to surgery is limited because they cannot afford the medical help they require. Huge swaths of the world’s poor live on less than $1/day and have no means to pay for health care, especially surgery.
Compounding this financial limitation is the relative paucity of trained surgeons who practice in the developing world. In contrast, in the United States, most families have access to the immediate medical attention and surgical intervention that can make a critical difference in their children’s lives.
Interplast performs, teaches, builds capacity and supports surgical care overseas so every child living in poverty has free access to the care they need now and in the years to come.
What’s the biggest challenge?
My challenge is to help raise awareness, so that others understand that the need for reconstructive surgery in the developing world is tremendous and are moved to help.
Most people may not even realize the need exists. Few people in the United States ever see a cleft lip – because all U.S. children, regardless of income, can receive surgery within the first few months of life. Because all accident victims, regardless of income, can receive emergency care for major burns, no one sees the debilitating scars that leave burn victims in developing countries unable to walk or use their hands to feed themselves – their foot merged with their calf, their fingers bound together as their burns heal and the skin contracts.
A child will not die from not having reconstructive surgery, but he or she most likely will live in isolation, be denied an education and the opportunity for a normal, productive life. He or she will be permanently disabled in a place where poverty is rampant and laws to protect the disabled are not in place. Only 3 percent of disabled children in the developing world ever go to school.
To get others to understand that what Interplast does may not make the difference between life and death – and that we are not involved in well-publicized world health issues or immediate emergency relief aid – but, what we provide to children all over the world is free access to the surgical care they desperately need so that their lives can be transformed. We consider it to be a fundamental human right.
It is my job to help find the stories and photos that will move the public to action, to want to help. This is a challenge when we have little funds for gathering information or marketing, as 90 percent of our budget goes to medical programs.
What’s in store for the future?
As of now, I want to grow in my position by fulfilling my goals and tasks as best I can and expand outside of them when possible. I also hope to continue my higher education in the future.
Whats the best way to keep a competitive edge in your field?
Technology provides a lot of opportunities for non-profits to grow, expand and better market themselves. I believe being aware of those and not being afraid to try them will lead an organization into the future.
Do you have a guiding principle in life?
I am guided by the belief that we can all make a difference in each others lives. I believe in the good in people and gather inspiration from that.
What is your yardstick of success?
To never lose my idealism, and passion; to maintain close friendships, enjoy my family and discover the world along the way.
Any goal yet to be achieved?
I’d love to spend a year of my life or more volunteering wherever is needed and I want to travel the Silk Road.
Best practical advice you can offer our readers
Do not give into apathy or be demoralized by the seemingly overwhelming problems of the world. Do your part with passion and determination.
What are some of the supportive words that you have received from a family member or friend on your work?
My college roommate sent me a note in an envelope with the following quote she got from a book: “To make a difference in the world, you must first dare to be different. When the truth needs to be said, when the work needs to be done…you can make a difference.” I keep the quote by my desk for inspiration.
Who are your mentors?
People I meet when I travel and their outlook on life and the world. Every person I’ve ever met has made me view the world a little differently.
What motivated you to get started?
When I was eight I remember watching a commercial for a health organization working in Africa. I remember thinking I wanted to go distribute toothbrushes one day. I never thought about it again until college, where I found an interest in social justice and economic development. After spending a summer in Bangladesh interning with the Grameen Bank I was well on my way to work in the non-profit field.
What do you like best about what you do?
I love coming in to work to dedicate my time towards something I believe in. It doesn’t feel like I’m working but rather investing myself in making a change in the world. With that in mind no task feels too hard.
What do you like least about what you do?
It’s hard to dislike anything when you are lucky enough to full fill your passion with your job.
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an attorney for the poor.
What was your first job?
Summer Camp Leader at my local community center.
What is your biggest pastime outside of work? Favorite hobby?
Eating out with friends, film festivals, Bollywood movies, Bikram yoga and reading at coffee shops.
Name a person you are most interested in meeting?
I’d love to meet Nelson Mandela. In my opinion, he’s one of the most inspirational people of our time.
Name a Leader in business you are most interested in meeting?
I’d be interested in meeting Larry Page and Sergey Brin. I’d want to know what their goals are for their new organization and what they think their role is in the world both and business and philanthropy.
Please share three interesting facts about yourself
- I like taking pictures of doors wherever I travel (not sure why).
- I love Bollywood movies.
- I have a small Maltese named Toby.
What are three characteristics that describe you
What are three of your greatest passions and how do they drive you?
- Social Justice: Motivates me to not give into apathy and strive to be the voice for those who aren’t heard, and to not standing silent in the face of injustice.
- Learning about the World: Keeps me wanting to explore, learn from different cultures, have an open mind and heart when engaging people I encounter throughout my life, particularly while traveling.
- Children: They are the future and will be left with the problems we leave behind for them. They are universal in their behaviors, dreams and innocence. They give me hope.
What is your favorite book? Favorite movie?
“Story of B” by Daniel Quinn
“Banker of the Poor” Mohammad Yunus
“Baraka,” a documentary by Ron Fricke
Besides the work you do with Interplast; what is your favorite cause?
I admire most organizations out there. We all tend to fit different needs. However, I’d have to say the Grameen Bank for its impact in the economic development field, my personal life and most importantly the life of its borrowers.
If you had one wish for the world, what would it be?
Mutual understanding, no greed and compassion.
Who would you like to be contacted by?
I welcome anyone interested in the development field, or anyone with questions or comments regarding Interplast’s work.
Interview by Alexander Grant
Introduction by Sara Ortega
Edited by Valerie Enriquez