Doing God’s workMonday, November 18, 2013
By NADINE WILSON All Woman writer
IT has been over 30 years since Quida Duncan migrated to the US, but time and distance have done nothing to quell the love she has for Jamaica, and after a health scare in 2008, she decided to make her own contribution to the nation's health sector through the launch of the Duncan Tree Foundation which she started.
"I remember when I left Jamaica in the 70s, I didn't realise that I wasn't coming back and I was heartbroken, and this is my way of giving back to the country that I love very much," said Duncan of her New York-based foundation which since 2012 has carried out spinal cord surgeries for at least 24 Jamaicans affected by scoliosis.
"Once we found out that there was a need in Jamaica for implant and surgical skills that were not necessarily available in Jamaica, we put a team together and we were able to get some pretty big sponsors on board to donate the implants and to donate the spinal cord monitoring," Duncan said.
Duncan and her team of volunteers, which comprises a few prominent spinal cord surgeons, have visited Jamaica four times since launching the foundation. Their latest trip ended last week and saw the group spending a few days carrying out surgeries at both the Cornwall Regional Hospital and the Kingston Public Hospital.
"When we first started, we were focused on prostate cancer education and free screenings, but in December 2010 we heard about Nickesha Haughton, a young girl from Montego Bay. She was poor, she didn't have much money to buy the implants, and she reached out to Dr Kirk Campbell and he reached out to another friend of his, who reached out to another friend of his, who reached out to me. Once we started to focus on scoliosis, all of the resources became available. So it's one of those things where when you are obedient and you follow God's direction, He starts to put things in divine order," she said.
Duncan, who is a mother of four, said while she is not paid for the work she does, she has a feeling of well-being when she and her group are able to change the lives of those who are in some way limited by their medical conditions. She herself was diagnosed with enlarged lymph nodes in 2008, and while her biopsy results showed they were benign, the health scare caused her to seriously consider those who have to live with devastating diagnoses.
"For one month I thought I had cancer and I remember the first thing that I thought to myself is, what is going to happen to my kids? Being someone who has health care and access to health care is one thing, but when you know that other people don't have access to health care, when you hear that in Jamaica health care is free but there are two patients sleeping in a bed, and when you hear, as in the case of my grandfather who fell and broke his hip, that my auntie couldn't get the hip replacement purchased in time in order for him to get the surgery before he passed away. Those are the types of things that really move you to do something, and I was moved to do something," she told All Woman.
News of the work that Duncan and her team have been doing in Jamaica has spread far and wide, and persons in other countries have since been making appeals for the group to visit them as well. Duncan is looking forward to a mission trip to the Philippines next March to conduct surgeries for between four to five young people who are in need of the type of medical interventions they offer.
"When we first were established my heart was for Jamaica, but I also knew that there was a need in the greater Caribbean and there was also a need in South East Asia," she said.
Duncan juggles her foundation with her full-time job as a marketing project manager. It is from this job, along with fundraisers, that she is able to secure the money needed to sustain the foundation. Thankfully for her, she has a dedicated team of volunteers who will at times fund their own flights and even their hotel accommodations. In addition to carrying out surgical procedures, the group also conducts lectures for Jamaican health workers.
The foundation founder finds that she spends a lot of time travelling and carrying out administrative duties for the organisation, but she feels God has blessed her with the ability to multi-task.
"A passion is not like work. It doesn't matter if you are not getting paid, you are going to do it anyway and it does take a lot of time," she said. "On my way to work, I'm texting people, I'm calling people in Jamaica, I'm calling people here in the US, I have conference calls several times a week and a lot of times on the weekends, so I am working seven days a week for the most part. I go to church on Sunday, so that's my time for myself."
Duncan, who served as the co-chair for the Jamaican Diaspora North East, said she does get some financial support from the Jamaican Diaspora, but she finds that her source of sponsorship is diverse. The fund-raising initiatives carried out throughout the year have been a major source of funding. Fortunately for the team, they are getting even more sponsors with the increasing awareness of what they do.
"I think that as with any organisation, when you are new, most organisations struggle with finances, especially non-profit. If people don't know you, they don't know who you are, they don't know what your mission is. If you are not a big name with a lot of money behind you, it takes that much longer before you can raise funds, so I think that now we are starting to get the right type of people who have an awareness of what it takes to put something like this together, so I think the support is increasing."
Duncan is confident that if she continues to do what she has been called to do, everything will work out.
"It was divinely inspired. I feel that God uses certain people based on what He wants to get accomplished," she said. "I feel like I'm doing God's work."
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