The day almost 15 years ago that E. William Jackson met a member child with a cleft lip still stands out in the physician's mind.
Serving as president of the Philippines Manila Mission, he found a way through the Church's welfare program to help the child.
Soon he saw another child, this one with a club foot, passing the sacrament. Surgery and Church welfare funds also changed that child's life.
But then word came of more children, not members of the Church, who needed help. In time, Brother Jackson and his wife, Audrey, started Mabuhay-Deseret — today the largest surgical charity in the Philippines and a branch of Deseret International Foundation.
Thanks to the volunteer efforts of the Jacksons, local doctors and partner hospitals — aided by Latter-day Saints in the medical field — more than 25,000 people in the Philippines have received life-altering medical procedures that have corrected cleft lips/palates, cataracts and club feet. Others have received corneal transplants and artificial limbs.
And that's just the beginning. Deseret International Foundation has also assisted health professionals in other emerging nations develop ongoing programs to deal with surgically correctable problems. The nations in which the foundation has helped include India, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Tonga, Western Samoa, El Salvador, Uganda, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
Brother Jackson said the work of Deseret International evolved as "as local doctors caught on and were thrilled to be a part of it."
Although the program has been altered to fit varying needs in different countries, Deseret International Foundation's system works much the same throughout the world. Local volunteer physicians become partners with the organization, donating their services. They are assisted by North American doctors — almost all Church members — who travel at their own expense to the third world countries and provide training in the latest techniques and equipment. Partner hospitals provide facilities free or at a substantial discount with the help of donated medical goods and equipment from U.S. hospitals and suppliers. Monetary contributions from Church members around the world help Deseret International meet its annual budget requirements.
On average, more than 7,000 medical procedures are performed each year, at a cost to the organization of between $15 and $40 each, said Brother Jackson. "That's the miracle. For $20 we can give someone his or her eyesight."
But perhaps, he added, the real impact of the organization can been seen only in the lives of the children they help; children who at age 6 are still walking on club feet and have never been able to run, or who at age 12 still have a cleft palates and have never been able to eat a traditional meal. "We are performing cases that people need and can't get done any other way," he said.
Referrals come to the organization from all over. Local doctors and staffs hold screenings. Missionaries send referrals. Others come from word of mouth.
Many of the people Deseret International help have been saving years for a procedure. Most pay what they can (usually about $15) to help someone else in need.
The Jacksons have binders full of pictures of their success. Before-and-after photographs illustrate a formerly cross-eyed child who now sees, a little boy who now walks on a prosthetic leg, a little girl that once had a disfigured face who is now beautiful.
Take for example, Joselito Tuliao, a 5-year-old from Santiago City, Philippines, who had two club feet. His father, Aurelio Tuliao, didn't know how to help his son and feared for his future. Then he heard of Mabuhay-Deseret.
"All of us here would like to express our deepest gratitude and thanks for your help to us," he wrote in a letter. "We hope that you could help more people like us."
That's exactly what the Jacksons intend to do. They donate their time and expenses, working hard to ensure the program's success. They are setting up eye banks in countries that previously couldn't afford the donated organs. They are running hospice centers in Manila, Davao and Cebu, Philippines. They are organizing clinics to help educate local doctors. They are managing a warehouse filled with donated medical supplies and equipment.
Sister Jackson likes to think that their work is similar to the name they do it under. In the Book of Mormon, Deseret is defined as a honey bee.
"We couldn't do it by ourselves," she said. "Deseret International is like a hive of bees working together, and they create something sweet."
For more information on Deseret International Foundation www.deseret-international.org
E-mail: [email protected]