Dinesh Kommareddy, RWB Secretary
In our hotel’s lobby there was this book that we would all flip through while we waited for our driver to pick us up every morning. It was a book that detailed people who have made notable contributions to Tanzania. One of the things that caught my eye, was a section on a man named Julius K. Nyerere. I recognized his name from the airport we landed in and after a quick web search, I learned that he was the 1st President of Tanzania.
Looking through some of his notable quotes, I took a picture of one that would coincidentally set the theme for today:
“If real development is to take place, the people will have to be involved.”
Today, Laurie and I will be spending the day with Maryvonne Pool and assisting her with maintaining the water wells she established in the rural villages outside Dar Es Salaam. Meanwhile, Dr. Gill and Brian are spending their last day in MUHAS performing an epidural steroid injection on a patient.
Before I begin talking about my day, let me recap RWB’s last day at MUHAS. From what Dr. Gill and Brian recounted to me, the patient that they were working with was suffering through a history of sharp pain along her body. I believe when Dr. Gill asked her to describe her pain using a pain scale, she picked one of the highest pain grades, if not the highest! From what Brian shared with me, the operating room left much to be desired. Before they could even begin the procedure, the entire room had to be scrubbed down to create a sterile environment that would barely pass United States’ health standards.
Ensuring a clean and safe environment for a medical procedure almost seems like a no-brainer to those of us who get treated in the United States, but after hearing about this experience, it’s something I definitely realize I have taken for granted. The expertise that RWB provides extends well beyond the realm of Radiology and Diagnostic Imaging; the team does not consider any endeavor a success unless we know the measures we put in place can be sustained after we leave. As a result, RWB works to address any logistics of healthcare that could interfere with providing the best quality patient-care regardless if it has to do with Radiology. In this case, Dr. Gill worked with the residents and demonstrated the importance of establishing and ensuring a clean and safe environment for patients.
After the procedure was finished, Dr. Gill said the patient got up, started walking, and began to start shedding tears of joy. Dr. Gill asked her what her pain level was, she said “Zero.”
Dr. Gill concluded the day by having each resident recite the modern Hippocratic Oath.
“…I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug..”
It’s a powerful covenant, that I believe these residents have been inspired to honor. Some of you may question the efficacy of RWB’s week-long mission and wonder if that’s really enough time to overhaul a health system. Well as I’ve come to learn these past five days, that has never been the mission. In fact, a year’s worth of service may yield little progress if the people involved don’t share in the same feelings of obligation towards other human beings. If RWB wanted to accomplish anything during this trip, it had to be this.
Brian, Laurie and Dr. Gill have proven to me that it is possible to inspire others to view medicine as a way to celebrate life rather than to victimize sickness and disability.
I say, mission accomplished.
And now let me talk about the day Laurie and I had in the villages. We were picked up from our hotel bright and early by Ms. Maryvonne Pool. As we were driving along the coast line, I whipped out my camera and started taking pictures of everything in sight. Before I knew it, I saw a large ferry directly in front of us where hundreds of people started to race out of.
This ferry was the only way to cross the river that separated Dar Es Salaam from some of the rural villages. As I unbuckled my seatbelt and prepared to board the ferry, our car jerked forward and started driving directly towards the ferry. Apparently cars were allowed on the deck, but we were in a militarized area where picture taking was strictly forbidden (I did manage to sneak a few, however).
When we reached the other side of the river, our car was surrounded by hundreds of people. At risk of being seen my military guards residing within the crowd, I couldn’t really a take picture that would serve the sight justice. The best way I can describe it would be comparable to Kim Kardashian flying into LAX. I’m telling you, I’ve never been surrounded by so many people! Looking out from the car window, I felt like I was in a fish bowl.
After we managed to advance past the mob of people also getting off the ferry, the roads started to become less populated. I started to see more green as the roads faded from pavement into dirt. Mud houses and roadside shops seemed to account for most of the pictures I took in the car.
After a couple hours of traveling, we finally arrived at our first destination. I got out of the car to see an audience of villagers staring back at me. I wasn’t able to communicate verbally with them as they all spoke Swahili. Swahili is the national language of Tanzania, of which the only word I knew was “Asante”, meaning Thank You. Fortunately, Maryvonne and her colleagues who also traveled with us, Ms. Zainab Rattansi-Lalji and Ms. Faiza Punja, were all fluent in Swahili and kept Laurie and I well-informed throughout the day.
We were first greeted by the village leader (sitting next to me in the pink shirt) who seemed to be a long-time friend of Maryvonne. Turns out we arrived during a village-wide meeting in which the villagers and its appointed representatives sat to discuss pertinent issues. As we approached the representatives, they immediately offered up their chairs. It was quite humbling.
Maryvonne then proceeded to address the villagers in Swahili in an effort to reintroduce African Reflection Foundation’s (ARF) mission and to reaffirm its commitment to improving the quality of life for these people. While I couldn’t directly interpret what Maryvonne was saying, I took notice of the expression on many of the villagers faces. They were all smiling, nodding their heads and clapping.
Following Maryvonne’s speech, we headed outside to check on the water well. I think the pictures below describe the setting better than I could ever put into words:
The next stop we made was at a school called Malela Secondary School. All the students wore uniforms and seemed to vary in age from 10 to 15. They were all incredibly polite. The reason Maryvonne chose to construct a water well at a school was that it was in a central location which made it easy for children to access water daily and to bring back to their homes. Otherwise, children and their parents would have to walk several miles just to find polluted drinking water. In addition, the location provides parents with more incentive to send their children to school. As Maryvonne had told me at dinner two nights ago, water sets the foundation for all aspects of life.
As we were leaving the school, many of these students ran over to me and shook my hand. One student in particular (wearing the red backpack) spoke very good English and talked to us about how much he appreciated ARF’s efforts towards providing him, his fellow classmates and their families a way to have daily access to clean drinking water. He is the prefect among his classmates and he talked to us about his aspirations to become an engineer. The technology inside the well relies on solar power that makes water from the ground safe to drink. The young man told us that by using the water well, he has been inspired to devise ways of using technology to address issues within his village. A future Time Person of the Year. You read it here first.
The last area we visited was an elementary school. When we arrived, we saw two women taking water from the well and filling it into several canteens. Apparently, this water well had been frequently exploited by certain villagers who intended to sell the water on the street. Needless to say, it wasn’t the first thing any of us wanted to see upon arriving.
Before we knew it, the school children stormed out of their classrooms and assembled into two lines.
Maryvonne’s plan for this school was to give each child a personal canteen that they could use to store water and drink from. As I handed each child a canteen, they each gave me a small bow and said “Asante” meaning thank you. Just writing about this makes me want to board a plane and do it all over again tomorrow.
After each child received their canteen, they ran back into their classrooms. Out of curiosity, I decided to walk into one of the classrooms and see what they were learning. Take a look at these two pictures:
Can you imagine sending your child to learn in a classroom like this for several hours a day? No individual desks, no air conditioning, and no standard for cleanliness.
I have a pretty sad story to tell all of you so prepare yourselves.
Look at the girl sitting in the front of the class. Like the rest of the girls in her class, she wears a head scarf. However, we noticed that she wore it in a way that covered nearly half of her face. Her voice was so faint as she weakly explained to Zainab and Maryvonne that her eye was recently pulled out due to illness. There are no hospitals in this area, and as a result, this poor girl endured a pain unimaginable and yet here she is in school, sitting in the front row, trying her best to see the chalkboard. As she recounted her story, small tears tracked along her face.
Readers take a moment. Think of the last time you have ever been ungrateful. Forgive yourself and please let this little girl’s resiliency give you a lifetime of thankfulness.
Maryvonne personally ensured me that tomorrow, she will have this girl driven with her family to a city hospital to be properly treated by physicians. Additionally, Maryvonne took issue with how the school representatives have condoned the practice of teaching school children under these circumstances. In the case of the little girl, she is not only in a position where she feels ostracized from her classmates, but the unsanitary conditions in the classroom make her very prone to additional infections.
“I’m just one person. How can I fix all this by myself?” Maryvonne said to me as we were leaving. She carried feeling of frustration and helplessness of not being able to do more that I felt as well. I told her she’s not by herself. Friends, please consider helping ARF in any way you can. My experience with ARF today is only a small glimpse of the great service it provides to underrepresented areas. Click here to donate.
The car ride back to Dar Es Salaam was heavy. No additional impressions today.