It’s hard to believe that an entire year has passed since we were last in Arusha, Tanzania. Now we are two days from departing for our third trip to East Africa. Much has happened over the last year. It may seem difficult to press on when the statistics surrounding HIV/AIDS continue to grow at an alarming rate. Subsaharan Africa remains one of the hardest hit. 3 million people died of AIDS in Africa just last year and the epidemic continues to spread. It’s easy to become overwhelmed…until you’ve met orphaned six year olds in East Africa. It may be a drop in the proverbial bucket, but it’s still a drop.
Dr. Solomon Ole Logilinore, our Tanzanian medical sponsor has been working hard to set up the Upone Charitable Foundation. Upone will be the nonprofit organization that will spearhead our combined efforts in Tanzania. Dr. Solomon has been able to move the clinic to a new facility that will still serve the many poor of Arusha. The complexities of setting up a nonprofit organization on the other side of the world have become inherently obvious. Nevertheless, all of us are determined to make this work.
There has been a steady flow of supplies and medicines to Arusha throughout the year and the generosity of local physician offices continues. Our team of ten will be carrying over 700 pounds of additional supplies thanks to the generosity of Dr. Seth Vaccaro, Dr. Mark Powell, Dr. Joy Weisman, Dr. Muriel Wu, their office staff and many others. Jim Avedekian of Phoenix Pharmacy continues to be one of our greatest advocates and assets. His unflagging support for the project keeps us going even in the most difficult times.
It continues to amaze and please everyone to witness the compassion and enthusiasm of all the supporters in this undertaking. So many have given their talents to this project and it sometimes comes in unusual ways. In addition to the many pounds of medical supplies, we are also carrying 50 hand knit baby blankets lovingly created by Mary Mitchell, our page operator at Huntington Hospital. Really brings tears just to think about that kind of generosity. Nurses have been salvaging extra surgical instruments, scavaging bandages, sheets and other supplies from all the items we simply throw away at the hospital. Many have personally supplied the sheets Dr. Solomon has requested for his new clinic. Music will be a feature this year. The St. Dominic’s Church Choir has recorded a CD of African songs to be shared with their Tanzanian counterparts in a wonderful exchange of the arts. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles has generously donated their time and talents to a fund raiser in April of this year at The Castle Green in Pasadena. Disposable cameras have been donated by Steve Elson and The Art Group to support Jody Casserly’s ongoing African photo project. So much good can come from an otherwise tragic epidemic.
Team Tanzania this year is, as always, filled with remarkable people. New comers include Dr. Kevin Tyson, a much loved Pasadena internist who has trained at Huntington. His 6 foot five frame is impressive to say the least, but so is his heart and commitment to helping the underserved. Dr. Stratos Christianakis has bravely signed on as the Huntington Medical Resident. He’s already proven his mettle these last two weeks managing complex infectious disease consults. His open , affable and adaptable personality is a pleasure and we can’t wait until he sees his first elephant! Phyllis Hollingsworth stepped in as a new team member. An experienced cardiac nurse, Phyllis will be a stellar addition to the team and, like myself, shares a love for East Africa (“Born Free” has been influential in ways Joy Adamson and Elsa would only have dreamed of!)
Having shared so much of this experience with my long time friends, Mickey Singer and Sally Eastman, we are so pleased they will be joining us. Mickey is a master carpenter and photographer and has been assigned the role of documentarian/repairman/cabinet builder and general fix it guy (he’ll have to brush up on rhino associated land rover dents.) Sally will be sharing her artistic talents with flocks of young Tanzanian children as she heads up the art therapy sessions.
Veteran team players include our wonderful social workers, Jody Casserly and Ann Kleeger. Stigma and other psychosocial challenges surrounding HIV will be the focus of many of their studies this year. Tom Warren returns to Tanzania to share his vast experience in nursing (he can really hustle when 300 Maasai villagers are waiting in the clinic.) Diane Datko and Allison Morris will be holding down the home front. We couldn’t do this without them. Rhonda and Ryan Richins have continued to lend their extraordinary talents this year in spite of a move to Texas and I know will be back in Tanzania soon. Lyn Smillie, our invaluable administrator has worked throughout the year setting up trans Atlantic arrangements, shipping meds, organizing lectures and fund raisers and all the travel arrangements. Like “Radar” on the old “MASH” television show, she seems to know what we need and want before we know it. A true jewel committed to the care of so many. Finally, our thanks to Global Partners and all their staff. They introduced us to Africa and continue to be wonderful supporters.
On the Tanzanian side, we are so looking forward to meeting up with all of our friends. Our wonderful drivers and mentors, Pascal and Lesikar who are game for anything whether it’s finding lions or acting as translators in the clinic; all of our friends at Moivaro and of course, Dr. Solomon Ole Logilinore, our colleague, co-founder and sponsor. He shares the dream.
So, we’re off thanks to the hard work and generosity of so many. Takes a bit to get through the 30 hours of travel time-lots of scrabble games and DVDs. Hope the weather holds to make all of our connections. By next week, the San Gabriel Mountains will be replaced with Kilimanjaro. Jambo Africa!