We left from Dallas on June 2nd, then to Chicago, to London, to Nairobi, Kenya, and finally arriving in Mwanza, Tanzania in Eastern Africa on Monday, June 5th. Mwanza is located on the shores of beautiful Lake Victoria and is Tanzania’s second largest city. The worst part of the mission trip was definitely the 30+ hours of travel time including 20 hours sitting on an airplane. Fortunately, everything went very smooth thanks to the travel expertise of e3 Partners and the help of the e3 mission group we were traveling with. After meeting our translator, Charles Kingu, who worked with e3 Partners, we said goodbye to our e3 travel friends who were heading to other areas of Tanzania for mission work.
That first afternoon, we met with government officials from the local Health and Welfare Department. We needed to confirm their approval for us to provide services to Mwanza area amputees and also obtain permission to use one of their “offices” as a clinic for patient evaluations. Because of the preliminary work done by e3 Partner representatives before our arrival, this meeting was primarily a formality. In fact, during our five days in Tanzania, we met with officials from three local government departments, two albino groups, and Mwanza’s two hospitals and received nothing but cooperation. The officials were always appreciative of the services and donated supplies we were providing to amputees and albino groups. They were very thankful for all the people here in the US who were supporting our efforts to help the people of Tanzania. During a meeting with personnel from the only local prosthetic “department”, at Mwanza’s private hospital, we learned that they are not currently making new artificial limbs because the hospital cannot afford fabrication materials and components. The hospital graciously agreed to allow us to use their lab facilities to fit patients and we agreed to bring them needed fabrication and repair supplies when we return in August. The most difficult aspect of these meetings was the language barrier, but our translator did a wonderful job and we even learned a few Swahili words during our stay.
Our first full day (Tuesday) would prove to be the most heart-wrenching (though each day had its share of difficult moments). We drove approximately 2-1/2 hours from Mwanza to the city of Shinyanga to evaluate a 14 year-old albino girl named Kabula who had lost her right arm to an attack by criminals who sell albino bones and body parts to witchdoctors. We arranged to see her at the school she attended near the Buhangija “camp” for albino children. When we first met her, she was very scared. She has a hard time trusting people because of what she has been through. But, she eventually warmed to Sherrie during the evaluation/casting process and I am pleased to say that we will be providing a prosthetic arm for her when we return in August.
After finishing our evaluation and casting with Kabula, we were invited to visit the nearby Buhangija camp. The camp, which is basically an orphanage, is home to more than 100 children who are either albino, deaf or blind. Most of the children have been left at Buhangija and have little or no contact with their families. Many times albino children are abandoned because their families believe it is a “curse” to have an albino family member. The deaf and blind children have been left at Buhangija because of their disabilities. The children range in age from 3 to about 17 years old and will remain at the camp until they are adults.
The situation at Buhangija was heartbreaking. During our tour of the facility, we learned that the children sleep 2 or 3 to each bed because of the limited number of mattresses. Many of the albino children are suffering from skin cancer resulting in painful sores. Also, many of the children do not have adequate shoes and clothing. Maybe most disturbing of all is that during our time at the facility, we did not see a single toy available for the kids to play with. The children were very friendly and affectionate, but obviously in need of love and attention. Since our visit there, we are determined to help the children at Buhangija by providing clothes, shoes, toys and other needed items.
On Wednesday and again on Friday, we spent the day evaluating and casting amputees at the Health and Welfare office in Mwanza. It was amazing to see the poor condition of some of the artificial limbs and crutches currently being used by the people we evaluated. Most of the people we evaluated were casted and will be receiving new artificial limbs when we return in August 2012 (a total of 18 people were casted in Mwanza).
On Thursday, we drove about 20 miles to the Bukumbi Care Center. This is a government facility which houses disabled and formerly homeless people. Several of the people we evaluated actually used crawling as their primary means of moving around the center grounds. We evaluated and/or casted 10 patients here and will be making new artificial limbs or other devices to improve their mobility and independence.
Overall, our first trip to Tanzania has been incredible. This mission trip was a great success as we are going to be able to help over 30 people become more independent by providing new or repairing artificial limbs or other devices. Also, we will be to providing much needed help (and hope) to the children at the Buhangija camp in Shinyanga. While we realize that Step by Step Missions cannot address all of the suffering we witnessed, with your help and prayers we can make a difference in the lives of many of the people we meet on this trip and, hopefully, many more in the years to come. As the saying goes, “a journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step.”