In our first blog post, we described our mission of “philanthropos” (love of humankind) and how this has drawn us into an incredible web of inspiring people and organizations working around the world to restore wholeness to our world. One such partner is Lwala Community Alliance in Kenya, a rural health clinic started by two Kenyan brothers who came to the US for college (Dartmouth) and medical school (Vanderbilt).
While they were at Dartmouth, both their parents died of AIDS. In their grief, an idea surfaced to honor their parents lives and do something for their community. The story of how their dream became a reality is what Craig Parker shares in this post and is a great inspiration as we start a new year. It’s a story of how friendship, faith, and “philanthropos” can make incredible things happen in our world!
In Western Kenya, about five miles from a paved road, there is a rural village called Lwala. It is named for the red soil found throughout the region, which turns the area to mud during the rainy season.
In January 2005, I sat across from my two friends from Lwala in a café in Hanover, New Hampshire. A large blueprint covered the table between us, as they presented their appeal to me for financial help. I listened politely, but couldn’t imagine being able to do anything to help.
My friends, Milton and Fred Ochieng’ asked me to assist them with a clinic they proposed to build in their village.
Fred and Milton at age 4 and 5
Milton, Craig and Fred at Dartmouth
As a Christian campus minister with the Navigators at Dartmouth College, I was a friend of Fred who had been a member of our student fellowship for four years. We had traveled together on several spring break service trips, he had been to my home countless times, and he began to call me, “Paps”. We grieved with him when he lost his mother and his father to AIDS during his junior and senior years, and helped to cover his airfares to return to their funerals.
Although I didn’t know Milton as well, he and Fred played soccer with my son, Garrett.
Milton and Fred have improbable stories of how they came to Dartmouth College from a rural village in Western Kenya. They had done well on their 8th grade national school exams and were admitted to one of the most prestigious schools in Kenya. From there they both won scholarships to Dartmouth. It was like winning the lottery. Their success was so celebrated that, in 2000, when the people of Lwala heard that Milton was going to go to college in the US, they sold chickens and cows to purchase a one-way airfare for him and said, “Don’t forget us.”
The clinic Milton and Fred proposed to me on that winter day in 2005 was to be a tribute to their parents, who were teachers, passionate about education. Their father, Erastus Ochieng’ challenged them to do something about the non-existent health care in their village. Erastus had even begun plans for a clinic, including putting in place a local committee to organize it. After he died, Milton and Fred wanted to honor their father’s dream by fulfilling his plan.
Fred with his parents, Erastus and Margaret Ochieng’
The challenges they described to me were daunting. Lwala had no running water or electricity and limited transportation. There were only a few vehicles among a wider population of 30,000 scattered within a three-hour walking radius. The closest medical facilities were accessible by foot, bicycle, or motorcycle. It could take several hours to get to a clinic or hospital.
When Milton and Fred were boys, a good friend of their family was in the throes of childbirth, having a complicated delivery. Needing medical attention in her duress, her family placed her in a wheelbarrow and tried to transport her up the long dirt road. She died en route. Milton and Fred vividly remember the grief around her body the next morning. Experiences like this one drove their desire to see change.
As we finished our coffee, I asked them the cost.
“$30,000—$35,000,” was Milton’s reply.
A first-year medical student at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Milton had worked out the plans for the clinic as part of a medical emphasis project required for one of his classes.
“Who is going to build it and who is going to channel the money?” I asked.
Those details were still a little fuzzy.
We wrapped up our conversation and I wished them well. Milton returned to Nashville and Fred to his Dartmouth classes. I moved on to other things.
A month or so later, in early 2005, I was helping to lead an annual Navigators conference where we decided to take an offering for an AIDS peer education program for university students in Nairobi.
Shortly before the conference, I emailed my friend. “Fred, I need a real, live Kenyan to speak at the conference.” His AIDS story would dramatically portray the need and work of ICL.
Fred was in the midst of preparing for medical school exams. Time was tight, but he emailed back, “Hee, hee, a real live Kenyan – OK, I will come.”
I was delighted.
As I drove to the conference, I thought about Milton and Fred’s proposal. It occurred to me that this could be a great opportunity to help fund their clinic. On the spur of the moment, I called my supervisor. “Doug, how about we divide the Kenya portion of the offering project between ICL and Milton and Fred’s clinic idea.” Although it was risky, Doug agreed to my suggestion.
After we took the offering we were stunned to discover that, from a group of mostly college students, a donor had enclosed a check for $20,000.
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