Rise & Walk: New Hips, New Knees, New Hope

  • I graduated from Harvard College and Stanford Law School, and I declined several lucrative corporate law offers in order to dedicate myself full-time to saving and transforming lives in Africa. Now I lead The GEANCO Foundation, which organizes medical missions and maternal and infant health programs in Africa. GEANCO is also partnering with Stanford Hospital to build a world-class medical facility in Nigeria.

    On October 24, our team of twenty skilled and selfless medical professionals will travel to Nigeria to give new hips and knees to poor patients and train local surgeons on the latest orthopedic techniques.

    Mother and Child from Geanco FoundationThese missions are crazy difficult to pull off. Qualified medical professionals from all over the United States must be recruited and coordinated. Thousands of pounds of medical equipment and supplies must be secured and shipped to Nigeria. Expensive international flights, as well as local housing, security, food and transportation must all be covered. A local host hospital must be upgraded enough to properly handle a huge influx of patients and the complexities of total joint replacement surgery. These missions present the greatest of logistical and fundraising challenges.

    But there is an incomparable joy woven in with those challenges. We get to stand tall for those who can’t! The patients we see have been dealing with horrific leg and hip injuries. They endure on a daily basis the type of pain that would be unimaginable to most Americans. They come to our host hospital bent and limping, held up by flimsy wooden crutches, the strong, warm hands of loving family members, and the frail but persistent hope that we will be able to help them.

    I look into their eyes, and we silently share the humble understanding that we are their only hope.

    We are the only hope for that grandmother yearning to rise from her wheelchair and dance with her grandbaby. We are the only hope for that proud father whose mangled knee prevents him from working and providing for his family. We are the only hope for that brilliant young girl who dreams of becoming a professor, but whose agonizing hip pain prevents her from concentrating fully in class.

    We can never help enough. We will try. Our team will work hard from well before sunrise to well after sunset, but we cannot possible treat everyone. But we will still go. We will still try. We will still stand tall of those who cannot because we are their only hope.

    And if we are their only hope, then you are ours.

    We travel to Nigeria with strong partners, including United Airlines, Stanford Hospital, Dreamworks Animation, OrthoCarolina, Warren Moon and Sports1Marketing, and Zimmer Holdings (the world’s leading orthopedic equipment company), among many others. But that is not enough. We need YOU to stand with us. We need your own strong, warm hands to hold us up so that we will have the strength to hold our patients up.

    We need you – and I don’t mean some broad, generic “you”, the person to your left or your right or down the street, or some rich heiress in New York or Chicago. We cannot live under the illusion what this particular fight is going to be won by Bill Gates or Bill Clinton or Bono. Those afflicted in Nigeria remain untouched by their wealth and power and prestige.

    No, if those crippled in Nigeria are to rise and walk, we – together – must be the ones to help them to their feet. If we do not enter this arena, no one will, and Disability and Hopelessness will stand alone in Disgusting Victory.

    But in end, if you join with us and remain with us, we will together achieve a great victory in Nigeria. And at that most glorious and humbling of moments, we will come to understand that the victory does not belong to us at all. It belongs to that grandmother dancing with her grandbaby only because we justified the hope she had in us. It belongs to that father working hard once again to support his family because we chose to stand with him. It belongs to that young future professor, whose dreams for her future are bright once again because we did what was difficult, what was uncomfortable, what was necessary, what was wonderful.

    I choose to stand tall for those who can’t.  Will you stand with me?

    Visit www.geanco.org to learn more. For a short video from our 2011 medical mission, click here.

    Afam Onyema

    Afam Onyema was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1979. He graduated cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in psychology and played on the 1997 Ivy League Championship-winning football team. After graduation, Afam worked for two years in the Chicago office of Hill & Knowlton, Inc., an elite global public relations firm, and then spent one year working in the marketing department of Mayer Brown LLP, a top-ten international law firm and the largest law office in Chicago. Afam entered Stanford Law School in September 2004. During his time at Stanford, he served as Vice President of the Black Law Students' Association, a two-time public interest fellow, and a mentor in the school's Public Interest Mentor Program. In January 2006, Afam traveled to Ghana as part of the law school's International Community Law Clinic. During his summers in law school, Afam worked for the Los Angeles offices of Paul Hastings LLP and Kirkland & Ellis LLP, where he was a 2006 Minority Fellowship recipient. While in law school, Afam also directed the efforts of The GEANCO Foundation, his family's nonprofit organization. GEANCO’s mission is to save and transform lives in Nigeria. After graduating from Stanford Law School in May 2007, Afam declined his law firm offers in order to work full-time as GEANCO's Chief Operating Officer. Afam was named to the New Leader Council’s (NLC) “40 Under 40” national list of Emerging Leaders in 2009. NLC seeks out and trains the top tier of emerging young leaders and "political entrepreneurs." The '09 list included a US congressman, the state treasurer of Illinois, and a US assistant defense secretary. In 2012, Afam was named to NBC News’ theGrio.com’s list of “100 People Making History Today”, and Mother Nature News selected him as a member of the Innovation Generation: 30 fresh thinkers helping humanity adapt to what’s next. Afam has been profiled and/or interviewed by National Public Radio (WBEZ 91.5 Chicago), US News & World Report, Forbes.com, Newsweek, American Lawyer (AmLaw.com), NBC News, Daily Journal, AOL/Patch.com, Blackgivesback.com, Young Lawyer Magazine, JET Magazine, Harvard Magazine, Stanford Magazine and Stanford Lawyer. Afam has presented GEANCO’s work at Harvard Law School, Stanford University’s Center for African Studies, Stanford Law School, UCLA Graduate School of Business, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

    For more information, please visit geanco.org.

    View all posts by Afam Onyema.

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