The Walking Free program was conceived in 2000, when Physicians for Peace was asked to assist with prosthetic training in eastern Turkey. The project was successful, and Walking Free continued to grow and develop to provide high-quality education and training in Turkey, Guatemala, the Philippines, Haiti, Jordan, and the Dominican Republic. In addition to in-country education programs, the Walking Free project collaborated with the University of Don Bosco (UDB) to provide training to a group of technicians from the Dominican Republic. In 2015, a decision by Physicians for Peace to refocus its efforts toward primary care and surgical medicine created a partnership gap for the Walking Free project until the program was transferred to Mission Gait.
From the beginning, Walking Free’s philosophy has followed that of Physicians for Peace: “Teach one. Heal many.” Through community partnerships, education, and empowerment, Walking Free increased the capacity of providers who already live and work in underserved areas, giving them a strong foundation for patient care. As the program grew, some clinics became self-reliant. That is our ultimate goal- to empower practitioners to operate independently. Mission Gait will continue this model of innovative care and empowerment.
From 2000 until 2014, the Walking Free program:
- Conducted more than 40 in-country research, education, and training missions.
- Provided five foreign prosthetists with three-month specialized academic and clinical training programs with Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics Inc. and their school of prosthetics and orthotics in Newington, Connecticut.
- Provided clinical and academic training for over 1,500 doctors, nurses, therapists, and practitioners in the project countries.
- Enhanced or provided the ability for treatment of an estimated 10,000 or more patients with prosthetic and orthotic needs.
- Became an inaugural member of the Haitian Amputee Coalition and provided care to those injured in the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
- Provided over $3 million of in-kind contributions for prosthetics and orthotics, rehabilitation, surgical supplies, and equipment.
- Established a Distance Learning Program to train P&O Technicians in the Dominican Republic to receive Category II ISPO certification. Seven technicians graduated from the program in 2014.
- Provided full time Physical Therapy Services on a rotating basis for the Hospital Albert Schweitzer Hospital P&O Clinic.
While the number of missions completed and devices created can be quantified, it takes the stories to relay the impact – we have seen a child ride a bike again after losing a leg, celebrated a father holding his newborn for the first time after losing both arms in a work-related incident, and watched a school age child walk up the steps to return to the classroom.
Since its inception, Walking Free has completed over 100 in-country and local missions in 15 countries, as indicated on the map. Missions included conference presentations, clinic visits, patient treatment, and practitioner trainings.
- Panama (2009)
- United Kingdom (2009)
- Germany (2010)
- Costa Rica (2011)
- India (2013)
- Ecuador (2014)
- France (2015)
- Dominican Republic
Walking Free has determined to make the Americas its focus for future missions.