Israeli NGO performs cardiac surgeries in Ethiopia

(Courtesy)
(Courtesy)

It was an honor to join the ‘Save a Child’s Heart’ (SACH) medical team in Ethiopia.

During this past week, a team of Israeli doctors, nurses, medical technicians and supporting volunteers, performed 31 live-saving cardiac procedures.

One of the highlights of my visit was watching the Israeli team work side by side with the newly trained Ethiopian surgeon, Dr. Yayu Mekonnen. Besides the thrill of witnessing an open-heart surgery, it was the fact that they spoke Hebrew that blew my mind (Yayu is fluent in Hebrew after 5 years of training in Israel). At that moment, it dawned on me that we use the term ‘Tikkun Olam’ (repair the world) way too often. Saving lives of children by an Israeli medical team side by side with a local Ethiopian medical team who were trained in Israel, and supported by Jewish funders across the globe, is probably the best example of a step towards Tikkun Olam.

Founded by late Dr. Ami Cohen, an American Israeli cardiac surgeon, 25 years ago, SACH offers free cardiac procedures for children in developing countries. SACH started as a small organization that would fly children from developing countries to Israel where they would receive free medical treatment at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon. Over the years, SACH became a leading organization saving lives of over 5000 children in over 40 countries (including countries that don’t have diplomatic relations with Israel).

SACH has always worked in full partnership with local medical teams but it’s only recently that SACH started to train local doctors to perform life-saving procedures in their native countries. The first two cardiac surgeons are from Tanzania and Ethiopia. Both received professional training in Israel and now lead local clinics in their own countries. This unique model of foreigners connecting with locals to create real change is probably the most sustainable model. We should all be proud that Israel is one of the leading countries in this important space of global development.

The most important lesson that I take from SACH is that although the overall challenges seem far too vast and complicated, it’s our responsibility to do what we can to help. One step at a time.

Over 120 million people live in Ethiopia. In the past 25 years, SACH saved the lives of over 700 Ethiopian children. Still, over 7000 children in Ethiopia are waiting for cardiac care. Approx. 500 children die each year due to lack of medical treatment. Newly trained, Dr. Yayu Mekonnen, together with the Ethiopian cardiac clinic team, will save lives of over 250 children each year!

If the spirit of Africa gets under your skin, Ethiopia goes straight to your heart. The beauty, the culture, the massiveness, the complexity, and above all, the kindness of the people. It’s our responsibility to help as much as possible. As Jews. As Israelis. As Human Beings.

About the Author
Elkana has been active in the field of experiential education and social entrepreneurship for over 10 years, focusing on community building, social awareness, humanities and Jewish identity. Leading educational programs and tours from over 20 countries, Elkana encourages independent thinking. He is well experienced in leading thought provoking discussions on many topics. After spending a year volunteering with children at risk in the development town of Ofakim and serving for three years in an elite reconnaissance unit in the IDF including serious combat in Lebanon, Elkana's passion for education comes from a deep understanding of the need for positive change. A change that can only come when individuals challenge today's reality and come together in order to offer an alternative on both a personal and global level.
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