In 1997, Elissa Montanti was asked to write a song to raise money for children injured in war torn Bosnia. That led to a meeting with Bosnia's Ambassador to the UN Muhamed Sacirbey who showed her a letter that read:
"My name is Kenan Malkic, I am 14 years old and have stepped on a landmine. I have no arms and a leg. I am asking all god and merciful people to help me."
To Montanti, Kenan's letter was an answer to her own letter to God that she wrote as a way to find her way out of the depression and anxiety that had enveloped her life. Her immediate response was "I want to help".
For the past 15 years, Montanti, author (with Jennifer Haupt) of the new book, I'll Stand By You: One Woman's Mission to Heal the Children of the World, has helped more than 150 children injured in war and by disaster, accident and illness. Her organization Global Medical Relief Fund for Children originally was run out of a walk in closet, and is now housed in the newly built Dare To Dream house on Ms. Montanti's native Staten Island.
I'll Stand By You is a simply moving tale that recounts Montanti's childhood adversity and tragedy, and how she escaped from her own darkness by helping other children like Kenan, who now leads a productive personal and professional life. Each child she helps obtain the prosthetics, reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation they could not receive in their own country becomes part of Montanti's global family as they stay in her home during their repeated visits for medical care.
Her book is a stirring reminder of the difference one very determined woman can make, against great odds and bureaucratic red tape, in the lives of children devastated by war and destruction. And it also serves as a powerful antiwar statement when the book details the thousands of children maimed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia, a sobering reality that has received far too little media attention. And when she travels to Haiti, to help children who lost limbs as a result of the earthquake, the utter personal devastation such natural disasters can cause is also brought into focus more sharply than any news coverage.
And by tirelessly traveling the globe to give children the opportunity to live a full and hopeful life, Elissa Montanti of Staten Island also ably serves as a diplomat and a timely example of what Americans can do to help the children of the world.