|Harrington Healthcare CEO and President Ed Moore and Indian Ranch owner Christopher Robert are helping a Springfield doctor build a hospital in Tanzania. T&G Staff/Christine Peterson|
A businessman and a hospital executive in southern Worcester County are helping a Springfield doctor's dream of building a hospital in her native Tanzania.
Christopher Robert, president of Webster Ventures' Indian Ranch campground and concert venue, contributed about $106,000 to bring clean and safe water and electricity to the village of Gera in the town of Bukoba of the Kagera region of Tanzania. The hospital aims to serve Kagera's more than 2 million inhabitants.
Dr. Mary Banda is building the hospital after having already built an elementary school and clinic in the impoverished African nation.
Dr. Banda, who practices internal medicine, is president and founder of Jambo Tanzania Inc., a nonprofit humanitarian organization of volunteers founded in Springfield in 1998.
The organization rebuilt the elementary school in the African village, whose high rate of AIDS has left many children orphans.
The water project will be finished in the coming weeks, and it will be the first time the area will have running water, Dr. Banda said Friday.
After Jambo Tanzania built the school, the Tanzanian government built a secondary school in the area. As a consequence of no clean water, Dr. Banda said, schoolchildren and area inhabitants are subject to waterborne diseases such as gastroenteritis, dysentery and cholera.
Edward H. Moore, president and CEO of Harrington Healthcare Systems, said the system is donating 30 hospital beds it was going to get rid of, and medical supplies. It will be a huge benefit to them, he said.
Mr. Moore said Dr. Banda told him about her goal of building a hospital, "which is right up my alley," during a meeting about her organization's mission work. Dr. Banda works at Mercy Medical Center.
Dr. Banda and a group of volunteers hold two-week medical clinics in Tanzania every other year. The clinics see up to 2,000 patients. Dr. Banda said she can't say enough about the volunteers, who pay their own way and treat patients for free.
Among this year's eight volunteers who are departing Wednesday is Mr. Moore's 21-year-old daughter, Alexandra Babineau, a pre-med student at the State University of New York in Albany.
Mr. Moore recently attended a meeting at which Dr. Banda discussed the volunteer clinic and what she called her "piecemeal" effort in building the hospital, whose exterior has been framed and is in need of a roof.
Impressed with Dr. Banda, and familiar with Mr. Robert and his philanthropic leanings, Mr. Moore said he reached out to Mr. Robert to tell him about the project.
Mr. Moore said Mr. Robert expressed interest and asked to meet Dr. Banda. When Mr. Moore asked when the meeting should take place, Mr. Robert said, "Tomorrow."
Mr. Robert drove to Springfield the next day.
Dr. Banda said: "When I talked to Chris about it, I thought water would be a huge gift to not only the students, but the village." She said it will be "a life-changing experience."
In addition to drilling the well and building a water-storage facility to pipes into the two local schools and hospital, the water has to be pumped to the different locations.
The government will put high-voltage power into utility poles, but Mr. Robert had to pay for equipment to bring the power level down to a usable 120 volts. Dr. Banda said that cost about $9,000.
Mr. Moore of Harrington suggested that the equivalent amount of water and electricity work in the United States would be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Mr. Robert said, "Think about it. These people that live there have no clean water and no safe drinking water. It's just hard to believe."
Suggesting his giving wasn’t yet done, Mr. Robert said one of his next projects will be to make pond water in the village usable by installing a filtration system, "but I don’t have that organized yet,” Mr. Robert said. “I’ll have that done before the end of summer."
Mr. Robert said that his level of involvement in the project holds his interest. He asserted he has written checks to causes but wasn’t told what’s become of the project.
Dr. Banda said Mr. Robert "has been a godsend and I tell him all the time he has no idea what he’s done."
"It’s been so exciting,” she continued. “The village is ready to give us a big celebration when we get there. I wish Chris would have gone, but he wants to go when the hospital is opening, so the pressure is on."
Once the hospital is built, likely in a year, depending on donations, Harrington’s gift of beds and medical supplies from Harrington will come in handy.
In addition, Mr. Moore said, Harrington sent to Tanzania 107 extra T-shirts from a recent 5-kilometer walk the hospital held. It was after Dr. Banda mentioned the inhabitants’ clothing needs. They walk around in torn shirts without underwear, she said.
Mr. Robert, who also has a relationship with Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam, said he solicited the Connecticut facility to also send supplies to Tanzania.
Anyone who wants to donate may visit www.jambotanzania.us.
Dr. Banda said donations of candy, drinks and supplies have been appreciated. Some people walk 60 miles or more to the clinic, and often they can't be served right away because there are usually only one or two doctors. "They wait for days,” she said, “and we can’t feed them and they're already malnourished. It’s sad. We give them candy or a Gatorade drink or Ensure. We can never feed everybody."
Once the hospital is completed, she said, Jambo Tanzania would like to give continual, subsidized care. But it will have to find funding. She suggested she would visit the hospital two or three times a year to make sure things are running smoothly.
In the meantime, the clinic has brought tremendous change and improvement, she said. “The kids are healthier and the people get the care,” she said.
The organization tries to give three months of supplies and instructs people to buy medication.
The doctor said she came to the United States from Tanzania at age 18. Because she did well in school, she said, her mother withdrew retirement money and purchased the future doctor a one-way ticket. She arrived with only a $100 traveler's check.
Upon her studies, she said, she went back to her country to see what its hospital and medical facilities looked like, and she found the conditions "just unbelievable."
She said she settled on the village because she wanted to go where “a little bit of my money could make a difference.”
She began taking supplies that were considered no good for U.S. hospitals, but were virtually new and usable to the village.