Patients with malaria, AIDS and other diseases no longer have to wait under the sharp rays of the African sun to be treated at Igoma’s only medical clinic.
Work teams from Stouffville saw to that.
Two teams of 10 people from Whitchurch-Stouffville and surrounding areas traveled to the Tanzanian town this summer.
They’re part of the Stouffville Igoma Partnership, which is supporting residents there in a variety of ways.
This year, Igoma members built a shady veranda at the front of the clinic and constructed a house for a doctor, nurse and rooms for clinic education programs.
Local vegetable farmer Larry Simpson was on one of the first work teams in 2003, which renovated an existing building to become that clinic. He found it gratifying to see the clinic in action this summer.
Patients lined up early in the morning at the bustling 10-room clinic to see the doctor, who is there part-time. The clinic also has a lab technician and a dispensary.
Donations from Whitchurch-Stouffville and other residents allowed Igoma to buy more than $10,000 worth of medicine for the clinic, along with medical equipment, beds and chairs for the waiting room.
A Toronto hospital donated an MRI unit to the Mwanza Hindu Hospital.
Local Realtor Ron Elliott, who worked on the house this summer, was also in Igoma in 1999. The clinic and house are on the same grounds as the Revival Missionary Church. The Igoma team put on the roof of the house and built window and door frames. The interior was left for local tradespeople to complete. While he was working, Mr. Elliott noticed groups of children, who looked to be 7 or 8, roaming around the town all day.
There is no free education in Igoma and many parents can’t afford fees at the government-run schools, so the children simply don’t go.
He also noticed some improvements in the past six years, such as paved roads.
There are “cars all over the place now,” he said, “and a lot of private people are running buses back and forth.”
However, away from the few paved roads, travellers bump over dirt roads.
The general economic situation seems to have improved as well.
Most people in Igoma eke out a sparse living, growing whatever they can in small gardens.
Cutlivating crops is back-breaking with short-handled hoes that force farmers to bend almost double to work.
Once deemed one of the poorest nations on the planet, the average income here is about $300 a year. A typical home in Igoma has no electricity or plumbing, a dirt floor and thatch roof.
Despite that, Mr. Simpson found the people’s generosity overwhelming.
At a dinner on the last night of the team’s stay in Igoma, local residents gave whatever gifts they could – from one of the few spoons they possessed to a handmade potholder.
Drinking water is piped in from Lake Victoria and is available at four areas on the outskirts of town.
“All water is within a 20-minute walk,” Mr. Simpson said.
But that’s only when the water is actually running – which is only about half the time. And it isn’t properly treated, causing people to develop diarrhea and stomach upsets.
The Stouffville connection to Igoma came about when Pastor Lou Geense and his wife, Naomi, went there in 1998 to build and run an orphanage. Members of the Stouffville Missionary Church came to help.
He has returned to Igoma every other year, including this summer when he helped to put the roof on the new house and trained local pastors. The people he described as kind and loving draw the Geenses back to Igoma again and again.
In 2003, the Stouffville Igoma Partnership was formed, committee chair Peter Neufeld explained, “to take it from a church project to make it a town project”.
Stouffville residents realized ongoing financial support was vital for Igoma.
Whitchurch-Stouffville council endorsed the project in the fall of 2003.
Two years later, the Stouffville Igoma Partnership raised enough funds to cover salaries of the staff at the clinic and its operating expenses.
The focus this year was installing mosquito nets in as many homes as possible to lessen the risk of malaria. The cost of each net is just $3.50.
Mr. Neufeld has been to Igoma three times and going next year as well.
Next year, the partnership is working on getting safe, clean water to everyone in the town.
One of the youngest members of the Igoma team was 25-year-old Justin Kerswill. He always wanted to visit Africa, he said.
When he heard about the Igoma project, “it was a great opportunity to visit Africa and serve God and help people.”
He worked on the house next to the clinic that would house a doctor and nurse making medical care available to local people around the clock.
Mr. Kerswill also helped put up mosquito nets in remote locations around Igoma.
There, people’s huts were nestled into hillsides, perhaps two or three together. There was a lot of walking between homes, Mr. Kerswill found.
The three weeks he spent in Igoma changed the way he looks at the world and it made him look at money differently, as well. Now, he think twice before buying something, checking to see if he really needs it.
On the other hand, “you can’t overestimate everything you are doing,” he said. “You can’t live an African life here.”
He was struck by the small children he saw in Igoma – children raising children. Sometimes he’s see a three-year-old carrying around a one-year-old. He was also struck by the Igoma people’s generosity.
“They just realize God is going to take care of them and generosity is an important part of living,” he said.
He’s working on a concert in the park to raise funds and takes care of Igoma donation banks in local businesses.
Other initiatives for 2006 include distributing at least 500 more mosquito nets, expanding the HIV/AIDS education and compassionate assistance programs, initiating basic skills training classes, such as sewing, and others.
“There is just so much that needs to be done,” Mr. Neufeld said, “and it is so simple for us to do it.”
Several fundraisers are planned for next year, including a Bach to Blues concert Feb. 17, an all-day concert in the park in the spring and having more countertop collection banks in businesses and services, among others.
Mr. Neufeld received the town’s co-operation in promoting Igoma.
Donations to SIP have come from residents, Summitview Public School students and the Stouffville Lions Club.
In October, more than 1,000 Igoma residents walked or drove to the small medical clinic’s first eye clinic – and left with improved vision.
More than 500 pairs of free glasses, which were collected and donated by the Stouffville Lions Club, were dispensed and 67 cataract operations were scheduled to be carried out in the nearby city of Mwanza. Another eye clinic is planned for next year.
Schools around Igoma have benefited from the generosity of Stouffville students.
About a year ago, students at Summitview Public School spent about three weeks on a campaign to collect as many school supplies as possible for their African counterparts.
Under the direction of teacher Nancy Clark, who is secretary of the group, the school collected more than 60,000 items such as notebooks, pencils, erasers and paper.
The Giant Tiger store in Stouffville gave a discount for Ms. Clark and her students to buy more supplies.
Canadian Tire in Stouffville donated some toys and soccer balls.
Around $60,000 per year is needed to cover most of the basic programs for the Igoma project, Mr. Neufeld noted in a presentation to council.
By Hannelore Volpe
Staff Writer, Stouffville Sun-Tribune