In a humble house on New York’s Staten Island, the Global Medical Relief Fund provides hope, care and even artificial limbs for children whose lives have been ravaged by war, natural disasters and inhuman attacks by humans.
Elissa Montanti started the nonprofit 20 years ago and says the organization has helped more than 200 children from 44 countries to reclaim their lives.
“My friend calls it the ‘Happy House’ — she says, ‘I come there just to get happy,'” said Montanti, who believes the joy and spirit exhibited by the children is inspiring.
“They’re not dwelling on their injuries and I think a lot of the healing that goes on in this house is because you see all these kids here and they’re all playing,” she said. “They’re seeing, ‘I’m not alone,’ and they’re resilient.”
On a recent visit to Montanti’s “Dream House,” four children from Rwanda were waiting on prosthetic legs.
Often, children in war-ravaged countries don’t have access to proper medical care and injuries can become seriously infected, often resulting in limbs being amputated.
The four kids at Montanti’s house will be better able to get around and keep up with other children once they’re fitted with artificial legs.
“In Rwanda, it is not easy to do everything because they use wooden crutches, which are very, very heavy,” Montanti said. “For example, going into school, the school is very far from where they live. It was not easy with one leg and wooden crutches.”
There also was a boy from Tanzania in need of surgery after his arm was cut off by a machete in an attack that also claimed his other hand.
He was attacked because he is albino, Montanti said, and there “is this very sick belief initiated by many people… and witch doctors that pay people to out in the night in the villages to machete limbs,” Montanti said. It is believed the albino body parts will bring success to those who possess them.
Montanti said her group has helped five children from such attacks.
The Shriners Hospitals for Children in Philadelphia provides free medical treatment and prosthetics for all the children at Montanti’s house.
“Children are children,” she said. “We share this world together. It doesn’t matter what you look like, what language you speak… There’s no reason on this Earth why we shouldn’t reach out to these children to help them.”