Sunday, August 29, 2010

Africa Notes 7

Notes from Africa #7 – Modern Heroes
Series written by John Zlatnik
July/August 2010

Quote: “The most difficult thing is to come up with is a vision of what could be done, and then find the courage to begin. Once people see what you are doing others will want to help and will volunteer their time.“

1. Hero One: Mama India:
After nearly an hour on a treacherous rutted red dusty road we found our goal… the Rift Valley Children’s Village. (A miracle in itself given the number of forks in the road with no sign markers but fortunately folks along the way who knew where Mama India was). Like other dreams, this started small – An American business woman, named India Howell, came to Tanzania on vacation and the seed was sown – she returned to Tanzania with the dream of making a home for orphans and for children of the working poor who can not provide for their children. The “children’s village” was started far from the main road but near a large village of coffee pickers (who make an average of 36 cents a DAY for their labor). Mama India began to share her dream with others in America – describing the conditions under which children were living and their prospects without education. Donors paid for the construction of five freestanding homes for 11 children each and 2 volunteer staff. Mama also began to interest people (mostly young college age and older) to come, live and work with the children. Each volunteer must pay $130.00 a month for room and board– they tend to stay from 3 weeks to several months. The children seem to understand that they can come to any adult for loving care or help, but the children also are expected to live up to reasonable behavior expectations. About 100 local people are employed as staff to run the many details of the home. Students attend a near by state-run school. Over time Mama India’s dream has expanded to support more students, provide medical care, and a social worker that works with community people. The Rift valley center also provides micro loans to parents and others in the community to assist them in economic development. Currently 69 kids live here and 25 KLF (kids living with family) more have living relatives but are here during free time in the daytime. In addition to the living units, a kitchen/cafeteria, a library, housing for the volunteers, and a nurses office have been added. Power is provided by solar collectors, and when we visited there was great excitement because each unit had just received a wood burning external water heater to provide hot water for a few hours in the evening. The kids look healthy and well cared for both physically and emotionally.

2. Hero Two: Dr. Frank Artess:

Frank was a successful anesthesiologist with a good practice in Modesto CA. He and his wife Susan travelled to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Near the top he developed severe altitude sickness, and as a doctor he realized the symptoms were serious, possibly deadly. His porters carried him over the mountaintop and down a safe route to a hospital where we recovered (fortunately without heart damage from the ordeal). When he was cleared to leave, the Tanzanian doctor told him pointedly that doctors were needed much more in Tanzania than in California. Tanzania has 1 physician for every 25,000 persons – one of the lowest ratios in the world.
Back in California, he and his wife Susan made the decision to sell his medical practice, sell their California homes, and move to Tanzania. They purchased land in a region that overlapped several tribal groups, a location with relatively easy access for many – and they established a medical practice directed toward serving the tribal people of the area, but open to everyone regardless of their ability to pay. Frank and Susan shared their vision with others in America; they have received grants from foundations, and established a web site to spread their message. With the money they have received they have been able to currently operate a small well-furnished clinic, equipped to hold patients for no more than 12 hours. Ten days a month they travel a route through the countryside with their mobile clinic and treat most distant patients. They see an average of 600 patients a month.
A physician who wished to volunteer for a year donated money to build a house for other visiting doctors and surgeons to stay since he wanted to come and the only other volunteer bungalow was already filled. They currently have more medical personnel who have volunteered their services than facilities to house them. The construction of a fully equipped laboratory and a small hospital is well underway. Their practice is growing as many traditional people are beginning to discover and trust Dr. Frank. One of their recent success stories is that the remote very primitive bush people are beginning to seek help as a relationship is being established. One of their recent problems involved nighttime elephants that visited the garden (an important source of food for the hospital staff) and plucked out those plants that pleased them most! (I will never complain about snails in my garden again!)
While we were there an affluent Indian African family brought in an elder man who had fallen and broken his nose. Those patients are charged full rates to help pay for those who cannot pay. Sometimes they return from mobile clinics with chickens and/or goats given as payment. Susan doesn’t like to eat goats she has babied on a trip so they go to staff that have no such qualms.

3. Hero Three: Sister Alexandra: (no site specifically for Sister Alexander)
Sister Alexandra has as her special mission the care of HIV and AIDS families. If a parent is sick it impacts the rest of the family. If a major breadwinner in sick not only are they not contributing to the benefit of the family, but the family members must spend extra time and resources for the care of the person. If one or both parents is sick or has died of AIDS then life must go on, despite the burden on those who remain well. In a growing number of cases young children, some as young as 6 years of age, are acting as head of household for all younger children. HIV can be controlled with increasing effectiveness if the patient takes the required daily drugs – but drinking alcohol negates the effectiveness of the drugs. This is the conundrum that Sister Alexandra faces daily. One of her solutions is to provide HIV/AIDS affected families with small livestock like chickens, goats, and pigs to help them build some financial independence, through a partnership with Heifer Int. These animals require less care than large animals, contribute greatly to the family nutrition and can produce good financial profit for the family. Sister Alexandra is a one-woman organizer of who needs help, what training and follow up is needed, and finding sources of financial help. To assist child lead households – she attempts to gain support from neighbors, and support for their animal projects. Sister Alexander dresses in a crisp white habit, but when she visits a farm project, she wraps a colorful African cloth around her waist and over her shoulder to protect her clothing from dust and mud. She seems imperturbable! Her order, the Sisters of the Virgin of Kilimanjaro, is a medical order that seeks to address the AIDS crisis as it affects all family members.

Nkosi Johnson – a 12-year-old patient with AIDS said it best…
“Do all you can
With what you have
In the time you have
In the place you are.”


Topic One: Albino Africans are born with very little pigment in their skin. In parts of East Africa Albinos – especially young Albinos are sometimes kidnapped, killed, and their body parts sold. The body parts are purchased (for big bucks!) and the buyer will take the part to a witch doctor to create a “medicine” that is supposed to make that person very wealthy. Seventy albinos have been killed in the last 3-5 years in Tanzania alone. The albinos also have severe problems with light intensity, with both near and far vision, and with sunburn sensitivity. Today Judy and I delivered two large boxes with several hundred pairs of reading glasses to be distributed to the Albino community. They come from a project in the US called “Glasses for Africa”. We met with part of the Albino community in a special high school – all spoke some English and we had a wonderful warm meeting and exchange of glasses and information. Heifer Project supports such donations but feels that the long-range solution is to build more financial security and community project independence. One challenge to the Albino community is how to provide effective sunblock to all – when Tanzanian government policy does not support importation of such products. Each Albino requires ½ liter of sunblock every 3 months – and next year they will have 200 Albino students in the school.

Topic Two: We were waiting for dinner at the Ungorongoro crater lodge and one of our Heifer friends came to us and said, “ I just met some people that I think you and Judy need to meet – So we met Jo and Marian. They also come to Tanzania on holiday a few years back and caught the dream of developing a self-sustaining program to provide education to Maasai girls. The dream began to take shape as they built a guesthouse in the desert of Northern Tanzania near to the Longido Mountain Range, in the heart of traditional Maasai country. Early afternoon today we boarded the “Rainbow Bus” that travels to Nairobi Kenya, passed through the road construction dust and washboard dirt road to find an incredible guesthouse built along the ideas of a traditional Masaai hut. Round brick wall, with a few separate guest rooms around the periphery. The central space is a common area marked off by Maasai congas. Their basic concept is to provide full sponsorship for Maasai girls to go as far in education as they are able. They also have started projects to promote micro banking and a community library. To support these endeavor they take profits from the guesthouse and engage in self-empowerment business models with Maasai women. A recent project involved providing poor women with a pregnant goat – and then like the Heifer project, the first baby must be given to another woman, etc. Each woman must pay a small yearly membership to participate - The fees are turned around to support student fees. They also accept donations from North Americans and Europeans. It was great fun walking through the busy Wednesday market with them as they greeted friends and introduced us to many very traditional Maasai men and women – all dressed in their bright Maasai traditional dress and jewelry.
Another project involves microbanking – giving small loans to very poor village women as “seed money” to start a business or other steps toward economic security. They have 50 weeks to pay back the loan in small weekly payments – The payback rate is almost 100%, and the principal can be used again and again to start new microbanking projects. We witnessed a meeting today that involved about 80 women, as considered adding a saving component to their program - The saving plan was agreed upon in a very democratic open forum discussion.