By Sadef Ali Kully
While Ouida Duncan grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, she watched her parents who worked in the local hospital: They gave their time and energy to help heal others. Unknowingly, the act of healing became ingrained in her and she carried it over to New York in the 1970s.
Today Duncan, the founder of the Duncan Tree Foundation, travels across the world with her medical team providing free corrective spinal surgeries for scoliosis patients in underprivileged communities.
“We knew people were dying prematurely and I saw need,” said Duncan. “I went through many struggles, but I was able to get here. This is a form of healing for me.”
Duncan’s early experience in New York shaped her, but she has always been the healing person she was to become later on in her life.
A single mother of four daughters, she did not have the same place to sleep every night while juggling two jobs to make ends meets. In those moments of despair, Duncan still remembered those who had even less than she did, handing out maybe a quarter here or a half-eaten sandwich. It was always better than not giving.
After graduating from Pace University with a business degree, Duncan began a career in the financial services communications arena with major financial companies like Citibank and Lehman Brothers, which eventually evolved into a career in advertising until it was time to transform again.
In 2008, Duncan founded the Duncan Tree Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating people about disease prevention and helping to make a difference in the lives of the underserved populations in the developing world.
Duncan’s quest started when she began a partnership with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Jamaica Consulate for prostate cancer awareness in Caribbean and African American men.
The prostate cancer awareness event held at Memorial brought together a network of experts in surgery to launch her next great mission: scoliosis, an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine which can sometimes be alleviated with the help of surgery.
If anyone asks Duncan about why she chose scoliosis, she always responds that scoliosis chose her.
It started with a young girl in Jamaica who needed corrective spinal surgery but could not afford it and later on a persistent Filipino mother who would bring Duncan and her medical team to the other side of the world.
Duncan and her team of medical volunteers have traveled to over 13 countries around the world performing free spinal corrective surgeries and bringing awareness to her cause through donations that cover hotel, travel, and meals for the professionals.
For Ouida, Duncan Tree Foundation is about healing physically, mentally, emotionally, financially and spiritually — moments she is all too familiar with in her life.