Children First Foundation: Providing Life-Changing Surgery and Community-Based Care for Children in Need

Twins Nima and Dawa Pelden were born joined at the abdomen and sharing a liver. The twins lived the first 15 months of their lives facing one another. The young children, from Bhutan, were unable to sit down and could only stand up if they did so together at the same time. Thanks to the Children First Foundation (CFF), the girls and their mother were flown to Australia, where they received life-saving separation surgery, treatment, and ongoing care.

Both before and after their 16 days in the hospital, the twins stayed at Children First's Miracle sMiles Retreat, where they received nasogastric nutritional supplements, physiotherapy, wound care, and other forms of support, all monitored by CFF's nursing staff and volunteers. Today, the twins are back in Bhutan, healthy toddlers living happily with their family.

The twins are some of the hundreds of children that CFF, an Australian-based nonprofit organization, has enabled to receive care and treatment. All children that CFF assists require surgical procedures that are not available in their respective home countries. Since its founding 20 years ago, CFF has helped over 350 children from over 30 countries in Oceania, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East access life-changing surgeries. Sometimes surgery is required to save a child's life. Sometimes it means they will be able to attend school, live, walk and even run pain-free, or simply that they can become a more active and valued member of their community. 

The surgeries allay barriers to education and work and enable increased independence and social acceptance. When the children return to their homes and families, they return healthier, happier, and with renewed hope for their futures.


First photo: Jack and Boufa from Vanuatu. Jack arrived at Children First Foundation in June with a large and life-threatening encephalocele on his small face; Second photo: Jack post-surgery (photos by Teagan Glenane).

Children are cared for at CFF's Miracle sMiles Retreat before and after surgery. The Retreat, which runs like a family home, is supervised by a team of volunteers and skilled medical staff. Volunteer teachers provide homeschooling as well as educational and training activities to support children's learning during their time at the Retreat. Physiotherapists and other allied health specialists additionally donate their time to make sure that children's rehabilitation is carried out in a way to maximize post-surgery recovery. By providing community-based care, CFF helps children and families recover in a home away from home that feels comfortable, welcoming, and supportive of optimal recovery.

NGOsource's Role

CFF first went through the equivalency determination (ED) process with NGOsource in September 2018, when its certification was requested by an NGOsource grantmaker member. Treaisa Rowe, CFF’s development manager, explained, "The process was really simple to undertake as it only really required us to provide information that we had readily available, such as current donors, etc. Completing it was way less arduous than many grant applications can be!"

Soon after, CFF's ED was requested by another large international grantmaker. This was exciting for the organization to be contacted with a second inquiry so quickly after completing the initial ED.  Ms. Rowe noted that “as a small Australian NGO, it's hard for us to get our voice out there, so this opportunity to share our work and the ability to seek support more widely is very welcome."  

Grantmakers like this subsequent funder benefit from the due diligence already carried out by others when they are able to request and receive ED certificates immediately for only $250. NGOs additionally benefit from increased opportunities to receive funding from U.S.- based funders with access to the repository and understanding of the credibility that an ED from NGOsource provides.



Theresa from the Philippines. Theresa was badly burnt in an accident and underwent numerous surgeries with the support of Children First Foundation. Now back home with her family, Theresa is focusing on studying for her future (photo by Teagan Glenane).

ED in Action

The funding that CFF successfully received after going through the ED process is part of a substantial multiyear matching grant challenge. If CFF can meet the matching component and therefore receive the grant in full, the combined funds will enable them to expand and enrich the current program as well as secure long-term growth and financial sustainability.

By 2022, receiving the full grant and procuring the subsequent matching funds will enable CFF to

  • Increase the number of children it supports by 50 percent each year
  • Enrich its programming by increasing welfare provisions and creating more needs-based educational programs
  • Increase the program's social impact by building stronger connections and cooperating with in-country support systems and processes
  • Achieve financial sustainability by developing a passive income stream and exploring the potential for social enterprise opportunities
  • Ensure that new surgical and medical learnings and research can be shared and benefit the research community as a whole

CFF has big plans for the future. Its goal of further expanding its services means that more children like Nima and Dawa will receive life-changing surgery, treatment, and care that allows them to live to the fullest extent.


Top photo: Nima and Dawa from Bhutan. Nima and Dawa were born conjoined and underwent surgery to separate them in Dec 2018 (photo by Alex Coppel).

All images and video used with permission of the Children First Foundation © 2019.