By Jewel Connelly, Communications Specialist
“I never used to use my voice because I just didn’t think anybody would listen. Now I tell people, use your voice.” To see Lead Advocate Jean Mwale in action now for the limb loss and limb difference community, you would never know she too once struggled to speak up. Advocating on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC during Limb Loss and Limb Difference Awareness Month, Jean was recognized for her impact with a Values in Action award during the 2023 National Conference. Finding her voice after losing both legs and fingers to Sepsis, Jean is using her story to propel her as she works for change both in the United States and her homeland of Zambia.
Earlier this year, Jean traveled back to Zambia to learn more about the challenges of limb loss and the state of prosthetics in her country. The journey was documented by her nonprofit Miracles of Hope. Her first stop was to the University Teaching Hospital department of orthopedics to meet with Dr. James Mulenga. As they toured the orthopedic workshop, Jean learned that while they have the machinery, they don’t have the supplies and materials needed to make complete prosthetic devices.
Jean also visited the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services where she met the permanent secretary Miss Angela Chomba Kawandani. While there, she was invited for a guest interview with the ministry on local television. In Zambia, prosthetics are the most expensive assistive devices and through her nonprofit, Jean is focused on building relationships to help Zambian amputees get access to mobility and independence.
Speaking at this year’s National Conference presented the perfect opportunity for Jean to continue sharing her story and do some networking. She connected with Range of Motion Project (ROMP), an organization whose mission is to ensure high-quality prosthetic care for underserved people and was given a significant donation of feet. “They had excess prosthetic feet in their warehouse, and they donated about 200 pounds of feet to us!” Jean shared. “I am currently reaching out to organizations that have extra components and hope to bridge that gap for people in Zambia on a more consistent basis.”
Helping to facilitate a long-term solution is the goal and it starts one step at a time. Jean also had the opportunity to meet Dr. Jason Hoellwarth, orthopedic surgeon and Director of Research at the Limb Lengthening and Complex Reconstruction Service at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS). After a call with the HSS international team, she is working on contacting the Zambian embassy to hopefully pave the way for future collaboration.
Going through the same challenges as amputees she met in Zambia, but with every single resource available to her has empowered Jean to use her talents to be a bridge. Leveraging the gift of negotiating with her magnetic personality has resulted in her developing relationships with organizations that are helping to meet those tangible needs.
True to her mission, Jean’s many efforts have spread awareness and resources to communities locally and abroad since she made the decision to step out of her comfort zone. Being honored with an award was just an acknowledgment that others recognize the value of her contributions. “It made me proud that I’m making a difference,” she said. “Receiving the award humbled me and I’m grateful that I can make an impact and people are seeing that my voice really does matter.” Apart from advocacy, she also added being a facilitator for the new Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) support group to her volunteer responsibilities. “I want to see how many people’s lives I can change in my lifetime and even after I’m not here I want to encourage people to say, ‘let me use my voice’.”