MACON – As part of its 100th birthday celebration this year, the Macon Rotary Club has identified Mercer On Mission's Vietnam Prosthetics Program as its key service project for 2014.
"Rotary's motto is 'Service Above Self.' Celebrating our 100th birthday is a remarkable occasion, and our club's membership and board have agreed that the best birthday gift we could give ourselves would be a gift to benefit someone else," said Club President Don Cornett. "Mercer's Prosthetics Program is mind-blowing. Its impact to date is tremendous, and we are eager to magnify its influence with our additional support. The opportunity for our historic club to partner with an equally storied and prestigious institution, like Mercer University, made this the easiest decision of our Rotary Club year."
Since the inception of Mercer On Mission – the University's nationally recognized initiative combining study abroad and service learning – in 2007, more than 661 students and 163 faculty members have served in 29 different countries. In 2009, a program was started in Vietnam to deploy low-cost prosthetic legs that were invented by biomedical engineering professor Dr. Ha Van Vo and developed with the help of his students. Dr. Vo was born in Vietnam and emigrated to the U.S. as a teenager. Growing up, he observed countless Vietnamese losing limbs to unexploded ordnance remaining from the Vietnam War, and those observations motivated his research.
Dr. Vo has traveled with a team to Vietnam annually since 2009. They have fitted nearly 1,000 amputees with prosthetics over a five-year span. In December, Dr. Vo, University Minister and Dean of Chapel Dr. Craig McMahan, who coordinates Mercer On Mission, President William D. Underwood, Macon businessman Chris R. Sheridan, whose family foundation provided financial support for the trip, and several students traveled to Vietnam. While there, they observed the progress of the program, which has the support of the Vietnamese government as well as several international and domestic humanitarian organizations.
The short-term goal of the project is to ramp up production to 2,000 prosthetics a year, which would only cover the number of Vietnamese losing legs to land mines annually. The long-term goal is that each of the estimated 100,000 amputees in the country will be fitted with the highly durable prosthetic. The University has engaged in discussions with the United Nations and other international agencies about expanding this program into other counties, such as Haiti.
"The generosity of the Macon Rotary Club is remarkable. It is remarkable in its kindness and even more remarkable in the impact that it will make on so many lives. They will be able to walk again, work again and be independent again. But, even more, they will regain a basic human dignity that is often lost with the loss of a limb," said Dr. McMahan.
"Several years ago a man who had lost both of his legs came to our clinic asking for help. As the team worked to fit him with two new prosthetic legs, he told about how people disrespected him and treated him like a dog, since he was forced to crawl on his hands and knees everywhere he went. As he stood up and took the first step that he had taken in many years, he said, 'People have treated me like a dog, but you have made me a man again.' The gift of the Macon Rotary Club will make an incredible difference for many, many people."
This year, the Macon Rotary Club has specifically committed to fund 500 prosthetics. That commitment has been matched by an anonymous, generous local business leader and community philanthropist. In partnership with this individual, the club is effectively sponsoring 1,000 prosthetics in 2014.
About the Macon Rotary Club
The Macon Rotary Club was chartered on March 1, 1914. It is listed among the first 100 clubs of Rotary International, which now has over 32,000 clubs worldwide. Since its founding, the club's membership of top business and professional leaders has followed Rotary's motto of "Service Above Self" by providing scholarships for local students, sending students to study around the world, bringing students from other countries to Georgia, providing vocational internships for high school and college students and engaging in many other humanitarian projects at home and abroad. In 1985, Rotary International was the first organization to set the goal of immunizing all the world's children against polio. Since then, Rotary has worked with other national and international organizations to eradicate polio from the world. The number of polio cases has been reduced by more than 99 percent.