After spending her childhood in Kenya as the daughter of missionaries, Glenna Cummins-Peterson hasn’t been able to forget the plight of the kind and generous people she knew there.
The family returned to Canada when Ms Cummins was 13 and she eventually became a nurse, working most recently at Toronto’s Sunnybrook.
The Markham resident jumped at the chance to return to Africa in Many of 2003, this time to the small town of Igoma in Tanzania with other Markham and Whitchurch-Stouffville residents, to create the town’s first medical clinic.
The facility was established in a building constructed in 1998 by people from 13 churches, who assembled under the banner of the Stouffville Missionary Church. By August 2003, a doctor was hired and began seeing patients.
“I really saw the need of the people – it touched my heart. I wanted to go back as a missionary,” Ms Cummins said.
A container of medicine, medical equipment and thousands of school supplies collected and donated by students from Summitview Public School in Stouffville also made the trip early in 2003. The large shipping crate included a CAT scan machine for the hospital in the nearby city of Mwanza and other diagnostic equipment.
Whitchurch-Stouffville council adopted Igoma as a partnership town in August 2003 and in September, the Stouffville Igoma Partnership was formed.
Ms Cummins began working with the partnership when she returned to Igoma in 2004. She didn’t come back to Markham until June 2006, but for a good reason: she married fellow missionary John Peterson, whom she met in Africa.
The couple will be here for a few months before heading back to Africa, where they intend to stay for several more years.
With the help of Whitchurch-Stouffville and other residents, the partnership, chaired by Stouffville resident Peter Neufeld, has been able to support the clinic to where it is now operating 12 hours a day seven days a week. The 10-person staff includes two doctors and four nurses.
Ms Cummins assists by dispensing medicines and assisting medical staff. The most common diseases include malaria, intestinal worms, respiratory infections and sexually transmitted diseases.
It’s particularly heart-breaking for Ms Cummins to see the large number of young children coming to the clinic to be treated for severe burns.
They’re at risk because almost all cooking is done outdoors on small charcoal stoves and children often stray too close.
If patients are too sick to be treated locally, they’re transported about 10 kilometres to Bugando Hospital.
About 42,000 residents are in Igoma and the average annual income is in the $300 range. Houses are made of mud bricks and many have sheet metal roofs.
Many children are being taken care of by relatives because their own parents have died of AIDS.
To help further the work of the partnership, a fundraising dinner is being held Oct. 20.
Donations of funds and items for the silent auction at the dinner are welcome.
They’ll help the partnership in its quest to have a clean, reliable water supply in the village.
Water is piped into the village from Lake Victoria and has to be boiled to be safely consumed, but the supply isn’t always reliable. There are two holding tanks at the clinic for when the water isn’t running, Mr. Neufeld said.
He’ll be in Igoma from Nov. 19 to Dec. 6, on his fourth trip, along with Dave and Doris Noble of Uxbridge and former Stouffville resident Darcy Forsy, now living in Manitoba.
They’ll help at the clinic and distribute mosquito nets, which drastically cut the risk of contracting malaria.
From Nov. 26 to Dec. 13, Pastor Lou Geense will make his fifth trip to Igoma, traveling with this wife, Naomi, who goes for the second time.
Their son, Chad, who spent four years there as a youngster when his parents ran an orphanage in Mwanza, is joinging the group, along with Josh Clubine from Stouffville.
Once there, partnership members will assess what needs to be done regarding such things as clinic medical equipment, building improvements or additions, general operations and staffing.
They’re also looking at health care vocational and professional training needs.
Some of the members are planning to meet with another town in Tanzania to see if another Canadian town could sponsor it, with the Stouffville organization acting as a mentor.
Pastor Geense will meet with fellow pastors and church members and work on eventually having an outpatient mobile clinic for more isolated areas.
Partnership members will also bring more than $10,000 worth of medicines from Health Partners International and Novopharm. The partnership will pay only an administration fee.
All members of the group travel at their own expense.
Both groups will purchase and hand out as many as 500 mosquito nets to the most needy.
By Hannelore Volpe
Staff Writer, Stouffville Sun-Tribune