On the day that 23 journalists from Anglophone African countries visited the Wolfson Medical Centre in Israel to meet the faces behind the life-transforming Save a Child’s Heart programme, Marissa Rosenfeld is not trying to impress. She has no make-up on, just a simple straight dress and white sneakers. Her hair is tied in a loose ponytail. Simple. There are more important things in life than polishing up to turn the heads of young men – or women, she seems to be saying.
The graduate from the United States is very friendly too. Maybe a bit too friendly, but as I would learn later, her young face must always beam with smiles and cheer if she will succeed at her unquenchable desire to raise funds for Save a Child’s Heart.
The young Jewish grad, who is in her early 20s, says her volunteering spirit, like most Jews, is inspired by the Jewish tenet of Tikkun Olam – interpreted loosely as a concept characterised by performing acts of kindness or volunteerism. This concept permeates deep in Jewish culture. It is a concept that fuels MASHAV, the State of Israel’s agency for international development cooperation. It is the tenet that makes the Israeli Ambassador to Ghana, Mrs. Shani Cooper, passionate about volunteerism and jump up with glee anytime she hears a young person mention the word. And it is the concept that motivates Marissa.
Marissa believes Save a Child’s Heart does more than mend hearts. “It builds bridges and spreads love all over the world.” And she is right. Save a Child’s Heart has performed life-saving cardiac surgery for children (and even some adults) from developing countries. The programme has also trained medical personnel from Ghana and other parts of the world. At least the lives of 5,000 children mostly from developing countries, have been saved by the non-profit organisation.
At least 120 medical personnel have been trained at a cost of $25,000 each. It costs some $15,000 to perform the life-saving surgery on the children and although MASHAV funds have been helpful, more financial support is critical for the work of Save A Child’s Heart.
Enter Marissa Rosenfeld and her U.S. Young Leadership, a non-governmental organisation.
“99.9 per cent of the time the fundraising dollars are going towards the project of Save a Child Heart project and all their affiliate projects. So it goes to Israel [from the United States] and they decide how to utilise the funding. There are cases in which individuals want to support a specific child and they like to get information on [a particular] child so we accommodate those kinds of requests,” Marissa, who is Director of the organisation explains.
U.S. Young Leadership recently raised 25,000 dollars towards the expansion of the Wolfson Medical Centre.
“I don’t think it is difficult. Children are easy to love and many people feel very excited to be part of the work of the organisation. Yes, fundraising can be difficult but for the most part we have people reaching out to us and are excited by the idea that they can raise enough to save a life,” she recounts.
The Lead Surgeon for Save a Child’s Heart, Dr. Lior Sasson, says heart-related diseases in children are more common than most people think. He said at least one out of every 100 children is born with congenital heart disease. Most of these diseases are correctable but many of them will die before they reach age 20 due to lack of facilities and doctors capable of performing the life-saving heart surgeries.
Photo: Executive Director of Save A Child’s Heart, Simon Fisher
Executive Director of Save A Child’s Heart, Simon Fisher, also revealed that surgical operations at the Wolfson Medical Centre have been extremely successful. Dr Fisher revealed that over 97% of surgical operations have been successful.
Home for all
The Legacy Heritage Children’s Home of Save A Child’s Heart in Tel Aviv is home to children from across the world. Despite the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, a significant number of children at the house are from the Palestinian Authority. Others come from Jordan and Iraq.
Many of the children at the Home also come from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and the Americas.
Marissa’s story, like that of the Save a Child’s Heart programme, is a lesson in kindness and selfless sacrifice that makes the world a better place. These stories must be told more often. Every day maybe.
This story by George Nyavor was written after he and 22 other journalists from Anglophone African countries went on a study tour of Israel on the invitation of the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry.