The Saul Project
- Children born with birth defects often live a very secluded existence unable to pursue a productive, fulfilled life.
- Together, we have the opportunity to change this.
The Saul Project is named after its first beneficiary, Saul. In Hebrew, Saul means "asked," and in 2005, this small boy asked Refuge International for help.
From Cerro Blanco, Guatemala, Saul was born with bilateral club feet. Saul’s family had to carry him most everywhere as walking was difficult and no shoes would properly fit his feet.
As part of Refuge’s mission, we saw the need to build a collaborative system that could address the needs of people like Saul, needs that otherwise go unmet in Guatemala.
The type of surgery and care required for these individuals is not available, at any price, in Guatemala. The expertise and necessary equipment simply do not exist there.
We reached out to Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas, Texas and built a network of services that included visas & passport application, transportation and housing that spanned the 10 months required for Saul's treatment plan. Saul underwent surgery in June 2005 and just four months after coming to the United States, he put on his first pair of shoes. Six months later, Saul returned to his family in Guatemala able to run and play with his siblings and friends. For the first time in his life Saul began regularly attending school in his village.
Since the inception of The Saul Project, Refuge International has coordinated care for others with complex orthopedic cases thanks to the generous support of our donors.
Average cost to help a Saul Project child: $5,000
This includes costs to obtain travel documents, airfare, medical appointments, housing, meals and transportation. Scottish Rite generously donates surgery and hospitalization for Saul Project patients.
Most of these children and their families have never been away from their villages much less have the money and resources available to make it happen. Refuge International provides our donors the opportunity to truly make a difference in the life of not just the child but their entire family as well.
If you would like to sponsor a child or donate airline tickets, please contact us.
Triumphs of The Saul Project
In 2006, Milton Caal was the second child to come to the United States as part of The Saul Project. Milton and his family live in Izabal, Guatemala. A very remote area, they had no roads, electricity or phones. The Caal family is Kek-Chi, one of the 21 different indigenous groups that comprise Guatemala’s population. Milton’s father, an agricultural worker, spoke very little Spanish and earned $3 a day. When Milton was 2-years-old, he fell off a tree stump and broke his femur. His family carried him to the nearest hospital in Puerto Barrios, a journey that takes six hours by foot. The hospital there set his femur, stitched him up and sent him home where he quickly developed an infection that spread to the bone. The decision was then made to send Milton to the National Hospital in Guatemala City.
(For a moment, imagine yourself having to navigate a very distant city, unlike any you’ve ever seen, that spoke a language you didn’t know and you have no money. That’s what this experience is like for most indigenous people seeking advanced medical care within their own country.)
Milton spent the majority of his toddler years alone in the National Hospital, cared for by people that didn’t speak Kek-Chi. His parents were only able to make sporadic visits as they needed to work to support the family and care for the other children at home. The back of Milton’s head is flat from lying on his back for such a long period of time during early childhood. After several failed attempts to correct his leg, Milton was released and sent home, his leg hanging limp and useless. There simply were no orthopedic surgeons capable of the type of surgery he needed.
Milton’s father refused to give up hope for his child and began praying for an answer. He soon heard of another little boy living in Sarstun who had been helped by Refuge International. The Caal family lived a 6-hour walk and 3-hour boat ride from Sarstún, but Mr. Caal made the arrangements to get Milton to the Refuge clinic there. After being evaluated by the doctors at our clinic, Refuge began making arrangements for Milton to be treated in the U.S. Milton was 6-years-old when he finally came to the United States. His case was unlike any other the surgeons at Scottish Rite Hospital had ever seen. It took nine months, several surgeries, lengthening processes and creative orthoprosthetic work, but when Milton returned home, he boarded his plane walking on his own two legs.
Refuge first encountered Karla Garcia in 2005 during a collaborative medical mission trip to Rio Dulce with Vine International. Karla, born with bilateral club feet, looked at the Refuge volunteer with her big brown eyes and said, “I just want my feet to be like my sister’s so that I can walk.” Karla’s identical twin sister did not suffer the same condition and stood several inches taller than Karla.
At the time, Refuge was still struggling to get approval for Saul’s trip to the United States, and we knew we couldn’t take on another case simultaneously. Our hearts were broken for this poor girl; however, we promised that if we were successful with Saul, we would come looking for her. And we did. It took some time to relocate Karla but once we found her we began the arduous task of obtaining passports and visas for Karla and her older sister, Dina. Bringing a child to the United States for medical care takes an immense amount of administrative hours and the involvement of numerous individuals.
- Michelle and Miguel Solis were instrumental in getting approval from Scottish Rite Hospital to provide the surgery and hospital care free of charge.
- Ana, a Refuge volunteer, made repeated trips to the Guatemala capital to secure visas and passports.
- Pat Napier and a group of friends were able to accompany Karla and her sister on the flight to Dallas.
- Multiple families opened their homes to Karla and Dina and provided housing during their long stay.
And finally, in October 2007, Karla underwent her first corrective surgery under the watchful eye of physicians at Scottish Rite Hospital. Patience and persistence truly pay off!