April 26, 2010
Leah Seupersad, 404-413-1354
Watching a child run and play after hours of surgery and weeks of recovery, Ben Landis got a glimpse of the impact life-saving heart surgeries can have on the lives of children in Iraq.
The 20-year-old junior majoring in economics and Middle Eastern Studies spent nine weeks in Iraq as an intern with Preemptive Love Coalition, a non-profit organization that aims to increase peace in Iraq, and eradicate a log of more than 4,000 children in need of life saving heart surgeries.
"The medical infrastructure in Iraq is virtually nonexistent," said Landis, who will head back to Sulaymaniyah, Iraq in May to lead 10 interns. "A lot of the kids are from very poor families, and even if they did have access to medical care they wouldn't be able to afford the surgeries."
Preemptive Love Coalition has a partnership with a hospital in Istanbul, Turkey that provides surgeries for conditions, such as congenital heart disease. The organization's goal is to save 90 children this year.
Interns like Landis help counsel families before and after surgery, assist with fundraising and raise awareness through media, social websites and on college campuses. For instance, Landis discussed the "Buy Shoes. Save Lives" program, where homemade shoes called "klash" are sold to raise money for the procedures.
"One of the biggest things I learned was how to live and work in a different culture," said Landis, who's majoring in economics and Middle Eastern Studies. "Unlike in the U.S., college students are not flooded with what non-profits may be doing over in Africa or in South America. It's a complete mind change to learn how to do this in a culturally appropriate way, but still get the goals accomplished of making them aware of these children."
Landis shared a story about a mother he met in Iraq who cared so much about her son's education that she carried him in her arms to school each day.
"It was just amazing to see his physical changes after the surgery. Before the surgery his fingers and his toes were completely discolored because he wasn't getting enough blood to his extremities," Landis said. "The parents were telling the translator that now he's able to run around, laugh and be a kid and it's just amazing. That story is repeated over and over for pretty much every family when their child gets to have the surgery."
Landis was raised in Lilburn, Ga., but he's seen how poverty affects families in Atlanta and abroad. He has journeyed on mission trips to Malaysia and volunteers at the World Relief Refugee Resettlement Agency office in Clarkston, Ga., an organization that helps refugee families adapt to life in the United States. All of the interns also teach English in Iraq and donate the money back to PLC.
"Economics has always been fascinating to me and I'm very interested in allowing people to break cycles of poverty and injustice that many of them have been born into. I believe that it's just unfair," Landis said. "Internships abroad shape you in ways that you'll probably never know. You find out who you really are and your real passions."