Return on Investment

Following is the November/December newsletter from Tanzania Christian Clinic, one of the clinics supported by CompassioNow and Compassion Tea Company. The newsletter is full of interesting insight into life at the clinic and in the Maasai communities the clinic serves. Of note is the bottom portion. It takes all of 60 cents to treat a person at the clinic. For the cost of one holiday tea caddy ($12), 20 people could be served. What a great return on investment!

NOT beginning to look a THING like Christmas, Tanzania is now displaying a profusion of flowers, budding trees, and lush grass accompanied by colorful birds everywhere. How God’s rains have refreshed the dry landscape! As we enter the summer months here in the southern hemisphere, Danny and I anticipate the more familiar cold weather of the Christmas season when we fly into Amsterdam and on to the US soon to visit our families.

In addition to experiencing hot weather, we at TCC have also been on the “kiti moto” (hot seat) lately with an increasing number of new patients coming from far and near. Despite the more demanding patient work load, we try to stay focused on spiritual as well as physical ministry. One recent spiritual outreach was to Joseph Samwel (see photo) who was born again after attending several Saturday Bible classes.

Joseph Mollel preparing for baptism

Joseph Mollel preparing for baptism

Another case is that of a distinguished gentleman who came to TCC for his Parkinson’s care. On multiple occasions this man invited us to his home for fellowship and Bible study. After many thoughtful and insightful questions, he has decided to make Jesus Lord and Savior. A third person, a Maasai mother of a four-month old infant, has informed us that she will also be immersed into Jesus after eight more weeks. Tribal customs dictate that the mother can drink tea but no water and neither she nor her baby can be bathed or placed in water until this extended six month period ends.

Amazed that such customs do not result in the deaths of more people, we begin to understand the social factors that can lead to the serious patient presentations seen so commonly. Following a sore throat and extreme bout of glossitis, one five-year old boy appeared at TCC after several days in a nearby hospital with no improvement. Diagnosing him with Ludwig’s angina, we noted that the boy displayed high fever, a hugely swollen, fiery red tongue protruding from his mouth, inability to swallow, drooling, grunting respirations, and impending airway obstruction. Attended by his worried Maasai father and grandfather and many men from his village, all were waiting anxiously to see if the child would live. After prayer (on our part) and repeated injections of Rocephin and Dexamethasone over two days we were thrilled to see the boy’s dramatic improvement. “Asante Mungu” (Thank You, God)!

However, new Christians and patients with dire illnesses have not been the sole source of excitement recently. A few nights ago we were again awakened by a loud racket outside our bedroom window, including a wild animal’s hissing and ferocious barking by Phlebitis, our German Shepherd. When the guards began to shine their flashlights we again fell asleep, thinking little of the incident. The next morning a guard casually mentioned that another young “chewi” (leopard) had come calling in our front yard, having apparently no trouble climbing our fence!

Looking back over these five years in African missions we deeply appreciate you and our Lord for the sustenance you both have provided. Happy Christmas, and let us all remember to especially thank God for His indescribable gift— Jesus.

Because of Him,

Danny and Nancy Smelser

The magnificent crowned crane

The magnificent crowned crane

Crest of the Crane

On day five the Creator must have decided to make one more crowning bird. So He took a crane and added a special crest (see photo) and man now calls him the “Crowned Crane”. This elegant bird is commonly seen by visitors at the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania and has been designated as the national bird. But as beautiful as this bird is, it is no match for the true crown of God’s creation. Genesis tells us that man and woman are the only created beings that have been made in God’s image. We humans are the crown of creation. God himself described the people He made as being “very good”. So what is a “very good” person worth? It must be a lot in God’s opinion since His second greatest command is to “love our neighbor”. Would you think a sick person in Tanzania is worth $0.60? That is how much it costs for a patient to see the clinician at Tanzania Christian Clinic. Even at that price, some cannot afford the expense. So as you support the medical mission work in Tanzania, remember that all of us are part of God’s crown of creation. We all resemble God. We are all worth sixty cents. We are all worth a little bit of love …and then some. Thanks for your prayers, encouragement, and support.

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Useless

“Useless. There is no way you can use these, Clara.” I hated to have to say this. Mama can usually fix these things. But when the dog shredded her brand new flip flops, ripping the strap completely apart, there was no way to fix this except through copious amounts of duct tape. Who wants to wear that? (Don’t answer that… I realize there are websites devoted to duct tape apparel. Yikes.)

The pronouncement against the flip flops was met with copious tears, a true flood and a resistance to reality. All over a pair of shoes.

What else can be “useless?” Our dog Winston has rendered many things useless… from Legos to dolls, from buckets to fly traps. It almost makes one want to call him “useless.” But something stops us from calling another living thing “useless.” It certainly isn’t politically correct and it certainly isn’t Biblical. If we believe in a creator, who created us in His image, then certainly no human is less than remarkable.

Apparently, this is a first world perception however. In places where living is tenuous and people need to work together to provide the minimal for subsistence, those who can’t carry their own weight are, by society’s standards, “useless.” Chris and Jack Faherty, Compassion Tea co-founders, were in South Africa earlier this month visiting two clinics CompassioNow supports (in part thanks to your support of Compassion Tea!) Dr. Karin Volker has been working at the Lily Medical Centre for about four months now. She offered to take Chris and Jack around and discussed with them several of the patients she has been helping. One particular woman, in her early twenties and handicapped, has been deemed by the community as “useless.” Unable to walk, she crawled where she needed to go. Her own family had refused to help her. Because of the lack of care she had received, the woman eventually arrived at the clinic sickened with severe infections. Dr. Volker has been treating her infections and has given her a walker… the first time anyone has offered to help this woman improve the quality of her life. But Dr. Volker is frustrated too. She told Chris and Jack that she had sent the woman to a nearby government clinic. Unable to run certain labwork at Lily, Dr. Volker hoped the government clinic could do it. The government clinic had the capacity, but refused to do the labwork because “it was unnecessary.” The woman was useless; why spend the money?

Chris and Jack were taken to the woman’s house. I’m going to let their words tell the story:
“Wednesday morning we awoke to a very bright, cold day, (around 35 F). The conference center is a long cement block building with bedrooms on each side of the dark hallway. We were grateful for our warm showers but we ate breakfast wrapped in the blankets off our beds. The building never warmed up even with the windows open during the sunny afternoon. I mention this to put our community visit in perspective.
The home [we visited] was one of the round houses with a thatched roof and I wondered on the way there how they handle the cold nights having fewer resources than we did. When we went in the home there were three women and a baby, two of the women lying in bedding on the floor with the baby lying beside one of them. Apparently both of them were ill that day and were being cared for by a family member. As we looked around a few things stood out: there was no lighting other than the window, there was some crude electrical wiring, there was no furniture other than three “beds” on the floor, a small table, a large refrigerator (?) and a small electric space heater. The woman we came to see was one that Dr. Volker had told us about … who was handicapped. She has not received much help in her life as she is considered “not useful” and she had come in quite sick with infections. She was lying in one of the beds that morning and the woman there said that she was having a bad day but that she had been improving since Dr. Volker had been treating her. She pointed out a walker in the corner with a seat attached that the clinic had given them and she said this woman had been able to use it to get around without crawling. I believe the woman is in her early twenties and this is the first time anyone has offered to help her improve her quality of life.”

For twenty years, this woman has heard words that labeled her as unworthy, unlovable, hopeless. A walker, some antibiotics, and a person willing to take the time to help must add some hope to a life otherwise considered worthless.

I recently had the privilege of attending parts of the Global Leadership Summit and hearing Condoleezza Rice and John Ortberg speak. Rice spoke about her meager upbringing in the segregated south where her parents weren’t able to take her to the movies or to a restaurant. Nevertheless, they passionately imparted to their daughter that even though she “couldn’t sit at the counter at Woolworth’s” she might “one day become President of the United States.” That same child, who in the eyes of some would have been considered unworthy, potentially useless, grew up to become Secretary of State. It was a rousing moment at the Summit and I just heard Rice use it again during the RNC. Opportunity and hope are so powerful.

John Ortberg’s speech focused on research he did for his latest book Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus. Listening to the speech and subsequently reading Ortberg’s book, I’ve been amazed at the impact of Jesus’ life. I’ve had the privilege of growing up hearing the stories of how Jesus healed through touch or mud packs or mere words people with leprosy, lameness, blindness, excessive bleeding, and disturbed minds. But in today’s world, where we have huge institutions that lobby and fund-raise for everything from autism awareness to prison care, Jesus’ care for humanity seems par for the course. Ortberg says no. He explains the social culture of the day whether it be Greek, Roman, or Jewish. And concerned about others they were not! Ortberg explains, “Anything malformed or defective was considered by Pharisees to be unable to reflect the perfect holiness of God. Therefore, nothing malformed was allowed within the precincts of the temple” and that translated to people’s homes as well (pg. 36 Kindle version). According to Ortberg, “Sociologist Rodney Stark argued that one of the primary reasons for the spread of Jesus’ movement was the way his followers responded to sick people” (37-38). “The idea that ‘the least of these’ were to be treasured – that somehow the Jesus that they followed was present in despised suffering – was essentially a Copernican revolution of humanity. It created a new vision of the human being. People actually took Jesus at his word” (39). And therefore, Ortberg suggests “… wherever you have an institution of self-giving for the lonely (and for practical welfare for the lonely), schools, hospitals, hospice, orphanages for those who will never be able to repay, this probably has its roots in the movement of Jesus” (44).

Ortberg goes on to attribute libraries, hospitals, charities, democracy, abolitionist movements, and the rise of women’s rights to Jesus and His followers. Could these events, movements, institutions have occurred without Jesus? Possibly humanity could have gotten there eventually, Ortberg surmises. But we’ll never know because the world did have Jesus and continues to have His followers.

I can’t speak for Dr. Volker’s inspiration, but I can speak to the founders of Compassion Tea. As followers of this man named Jesus, they have publicly declared no life useless. Daily they strive to improve the lives of those in Africa deemed so and they support the people on the forefront of the fight to bring hope and health to people who are otherwise considered worthless. That is what Compassion Tea is about; we share tea in order to save lives… because no life is useless.

Olympics and the Temporary

Oh Olympic fever is taking hold! The excitement is building! Opening Ceremonies are on today and I’m thinking about how to best view them and what foods to have at the ready. As I’m typing this, I have a window open to USA Today’s online Olympics coverage where a clock is ticking down the time until the Opening Ceremonies. It’s not long now!

Next to the clock is an article about Michael Phelps in relation to his housing in the Olympic Village.  (http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/london/swimming/story/2012-07-25/michael-phelps-ryan-lochte-share-suite-in-village/56485516/1) The Olympic Village is of course the temporary housing for all of the athletes and is meant to be cozy, a good place to relax, and designed to encourage friendly camaraderie with athletes from around the world. According to the article, Phelps has a single room in a four-bedroom suite he shares with six other swimmers including his rival Ryan Lochte. Apparently, the village has no air conditioning (and after having lived in London for a year I question why it would need air conditioning) but “athletes use rotating fans of the kind familiar in college dorms.” And then the article finishes off with: “Phelps said his room ‘is about the size of a closet. … You walk in, and I’m not joking you, my room is probably about that wide.’ And here he spreads his arms and then tucks his elbows in, to indicate his room is not as wide as his famous wingspan. ‘I have, like, a bed, a nightstand, a dresser,’ he said, ‘and that’s about all I got.’”

Doesn’t it just pull on your heart strings? After three very successful Olympics, shouldn’t Mr. Phelps be entitled to something more posh for his fourth and last?

“Temporary” is the key word here. The Olympic Village is home for roughly two weeks. Temporary.

Two of my Compassion Tea friends, Chris and Jack, are currently flying to South Africa where they will be visiting our partner in serving, Dawn Faith Leppan at the 1000 Hills Community Helpers clinic in the Valley of 1000 Hills. While they are visiting, they will be making a trip to Claremont Camp near Inchanga. According to Ms. Leppan, Claremont Camp was created “in 2007 [when] the local municipality identified a squatter camp near Claremont, on the outskirts of Durban, and it was planned that this population would receive government subsidized housing in Inchanga. In the interim they were moved to temporary housing structures adjacent to the land where the subsidized housing would be developed.” That was in 2007. Five years later, the population still lives in the temporary housing, which consists of  “6 rows of pre-fabricated temporary housing units with 60 rooms per row.” The estimated population is 2500 people of all ages. Ms. Leppan has described the camp as a place of high unemployment, high rates of alcohol and substance (mostly marijuana) use, and highly dangerous for several reasons.

1.     There are communal toilets but they are “blocked and littered with excrement.”

2.     The municipality supplies water but the connections are broken creating a “wet area which is a breeding ground for disease as well as wasting valuable water.”

3.     The camp has electricity… in the form of wires snaking across the ground, open connections and uninsulated wires exposed to physical contact. Ms. Leppan writes, “There have been several incidents of children and adults being shocked by electricity.”

4.     There is no safe place for the disposal of garbage so the camp is littered making it dangerous for children and animals and serving as another breeding ground for disease.

5.     HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and tuberculosis rage in this camp where people are over-crowded and there is little privacy.

For more information about the camp, read the blog from 1000 Hills regarding their initial visit to the camp: http://1000hch.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/the-story-of-inchanga-camp/

Ms. Leppan and her staff have set up a weekly mobile clinic at the camp in order to provide much needed medical care on-site including supplying contraception, training on how to live more healthy, and creating support groups for patients with chronic illnesses. They serve 40 to 50 patients a week at the clinic and are securing food for the roughly 200 families in need of food. Currently, they have enough to cover 60 families.

This is a slightly different temporary housing situation than Mr. Phelps’ closet-sized bedroom. And it is much less temporary. Thankfully, Ms. Leppan is making headway in improving conditions. Yet, this gives another insight into why waiting for government organizations to take action is not effective planning. CompassioNow and Compassion Tea both understand the necessity of grassroots efforts of support for organizations already operating in rural Africa. So, what can you do to help?

1.     Donate directly to CompassioNow on their website: www.compassionow.org.

2.     Purchase a tea membership through Compassion Tea (www.compassiontea.com/memberships). 100% of after-tax profits go directly to CompassioNow and on to people like Ms. Leppan.

The situation in Africa is proving to be anything but temporary. Together we can make it more temporary!

Gratitude… It’s the Proper Attitude

“Gratitude… gratitude… it’s the proper attitude. Show some gratitude.” These are the lyrics of one of the songs currently playing in my car. Clara is preparing for another class musical, a play about how character matters. A tour through a series of fairytales, the show highlights in a humorous way the quality characteristics fairytale heroes and villains may or may not exhibit. Apparently, in this song, the 7 dwarfs are chappy because Snow White never thanked them for saving her from the evil stepmother, for performing the Heimlich to bring up the poison apple. I guess they have a point. She merely hops on the prince’s horse, throws a mild kiss and waves gracefully as she rides off into the sunset. So much for gratitude.
The San Francisco Chronicle recently ran an article about Dr. Frank Artress and his wife Susan Gustafson. (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/05/04/BA8MUSL28.DTL&ao=all) A cardiac anesthesiologist from Modesto, California, Artress was quite successful and enjoying the fruits of his labor. But a brush with death while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro changed Artress. “I thought how stupid it would be to die without ever giving anything back to society,” Artress told Meredith May, staff writer at the Chronicle. Saved by the courage and perseverance of his mountain guide, Kapanya Kitaba, and the porters who sang Swahili prayer songs as they raced across Mount Kilimanjaro, Artress determined that there was no “better way to thank the people who had saved his life than by returning to their medically deprived village so he could save theirs.” Artress and Gustafson returned to Modesto, sold their “matching silver sports cars, the signed Miros and Picassos, the full-throttle espresso machine,… the Montana ranch, the condos in Colorado and Palm Springs, the $40,000 garden sculptures” – everything. Today, Artress and Gustafson are overseeing FAME, the Foundation for African Medicine and Education, which is building a hospital in Karatu, Tanzania, the first hospital for this city of roughly 180,000. And Artress makes regular rounds to the villages where his saviors live. Gratitude.
Tanzania, according to the article, has an 80 percent unemployment rate. The other 20 percent earns “the equivalent of $1 a day” leaving them without the money for bus fare, “let alone a doctor bill.” Writes May in her article, “… the patient-to-doctor ratio is as high as 60,000 to 1 in some of the more remote areas. Poverty, isolation and lack of dependable medical care mean most adults have never seen a doctor. Most don’t live past 40, succumbing most often to malaria, tuberculosis and routine infections from drinking dirty water. A quarter of Tanzanian adults are HIV-positive, and the majority has no access to antiretroviral medicines that keep the virus from escalating to AIDS. Half of all Tanzanian children are malnourished.” As Artress explained to May, “You can save someone here with $1.50 worth of antibiotics – but the heartbreak of Africa is that people don’t have access to that most basic care, so they are dying of completely preventable diseases.”
Sound familiar? It should! This is the very purpose behind CareNow Foundation and its Compassion Tea Company. The CareNow Foundation supports the Tanzania Christian Clinic in the rural village of Ngaresh Juu in northern Tanzania. About 6 km away from Monduli and about 50 km from Arusha, this part of Tanzania falls under the designation of a “medically underserved area.” The clinic’s February 2012 newsletter describes some of the typical complaints coming to the clinic: “Continuing to travel a long way to be seen, patients with malnutrition, rheumatoid arthritis, typhoid fever, amoebic dysentery, inability to urinate due to schistosomes (parasites) in the bladder, acute alcohol toxicity, fungal and bacterial skin infections, sexually transmitted diseases, scabies, TB, brucellosis, and HIV frequent the clinic.”
In their March 2012 newsletter, Danny and Nancy Smelser, who serve as MD and RN at the clinic, retold the story of a 32 year old man who had been hit by a motorcycle last December. Because he was unable to pay for the leg surgery he badly needed, he had been discharged from the government hospital. Desperate, in severe pain, and badly infected, the man arrived at Tanzania Christian Clinic. They removed the dirty cast and bandages and assessed the situation. Steady rounds of antibiotics and continuing dressing changes have eradicated the infection and through the help of the TCC and its supporters, the man is awaiting surgery scheduled at a teaching hospital 2 hours away.
Following this description of success, the Smelsers recounted an afternoon’s events. They wrote, “Yesterday, while patients crowded onto the clinic’s front porch, our grounds worker, Enock, spotted an eight-foot black mamba [snake] nearby. Needless to say, that was one patient that did not leave TCC alive! Meanwhile, our German Shepherd was disassembling our washing machine on the back porch of our house to capture a hedgehog which had taken up residence behind it. Oh the thrills of East Africa!” I suppose one has to laugh at an 8 foot snake! Eventually.
Treating the medical needs of patients who come to the clinic is only part of the picture. TCC also believes in empowering local peoples with knowledge of how to treat and prevent disease, infection, and wounds. Mobile medical clinics go around to areas surrounding the clinic with the intent of teaching. This, too, is an important element of CareNow’s mission and vision for helping. CareNow Foundation’s board and founders believe that part of the transformation of the African continent will come about through the “development of self-sufficient communities.”
Undoubtedly, those who are treated at places like Artress’ hospital in Karatu and the Tanzania Christian Clinic feel a deep sense of gratitude for the treatment and for their return to health. But what a lasting sense of gratitude must come from learning how to prevent further illness and infection. In a place where the patient-to-doctor ratio is a staggering 60,000 to 1, the odds are that a person isn’t going to see a doctor in his/her lifetime. But maybe a neighbor has and maybe that neighbor knows what to do for a skin infection or maybe that neighbor teaches how to wrap a wound to prevent infection. The ripple effects may be small but frequent. In a place where $1.50 can save a life, a little bit of knowledge can save many lives. That’s something for which to be grateful.