The Road to Better Health

October 21, 2014 4:03 pm Published by

As all good Tanzanian stories start, it began with a breakdown. We were on the road, going only 35mph through the Serengeti when we get the call.

“Chris, I have good news, and bad news,” JBFC Campus Director Seth Diemond said in his typical matter-of-fact manner.

“Bad news: you’re not here,” Seth continued. “Good news: DC has agreed to come open our clinic…in two hours.”

We were miles away from campus, but all I could think about was the long road we’ve been on to bring healthcare to our children. There have been road blocks and speed bumps (much like the road I was on currently), but we were finally opening our own medical clinic. And the greenlight couldn’t have come at a better time.

Healthcare is still a rarity in rural Tanzania. The nearest doctor is still a 12-mile walk away. Recent stats have the shortage of doctors and nurses topping 89,000. Just at JBFC, we counted 90 school days lost because of sickness.

Thanks to our friends, JBFC is finally going to be able to do something about the healthcare crisis in our little part of the world. We have finally built our own little clinic; we’ve hired a qualified nurse; and we’ve stocked the clinic with supplies. A healthier tomorrow is just over the horizon… and I wasn’t going to let an impending two-hour deadline and the dozens of miles separating me from campus put the brakes on this celebration.

While I was driving safely, but swiftly (very swiftly) back to campus, there was a flurry of activity to get ready for the clinic ribbon-cutting and dedication. Mzee Kitula worked hard on the foundation stone, a traditional Tanzanian custom for dedicating a new building. Markus (who will soon be officially designated decorator in chief – see the pictures of our 7th grade graduation) got to work making sure everything looked nice and festive.

I made it back to campus just in time to greet our honored guests – an honored they were. The District Commissioner (the equivalent of a mayor), Jacqueline Liana, brought seven government officials with her, which is a testament to how important this clinic is not only to us at JBFC, but to our greater community. DC Liana was just as excited about the opportunity to provide this type of care to our community as we were. There were speeches, a fancy lunch with spiced rice, and a tour of the clinic and the new administrative building where it’s housed.

But it wasn’t all pomp and circumstance. Our clinic is already working to get the JBFC community on the road to better health. For the grand opening, there were tours, talks, and tests at the JBFC Clinic.

Local doctors have told me that one of the most undiagnosed critical conditions facing our district is diabetes. So on our inaugural day, we decided to do diabetes pre-tests. We tested 28 people and found:

– 40% had extremely high sugar levels and are considered pre-diabetic.

– 20% had elevated sugar levels and should be extremely cautious.

Possibly more concerning than the blood sugar test results was the pop quiz that happened just outside the clinic. Seth asked the line of kids outside if they knew what diabetes was. One kid eagerly raised his hand and answered, “Yes! It’s cancer!” Once again, we were reminded why this clinic is so needed.

We have a long road ahead of us. We need to educate our kids, our staff and our neighbors, we need to continue to provide healthcare screenings, and we need to provide more healthcare.

Many of our students are not as healthy as they should be. Many of them need the care that we’re now able to provide. And that means our students and community members will soon be able to focus on the things they need to focus on – doing well in school, working hard to feed their families, and making their lives better.

And, that is exactly why we are here.

Blogger Chris Gates is the Founder & CEO of JBFC, which provides refuge for girls, primary and secondary education, economic development through agriculture, and access to healthcare.

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This post was written by Mainsprings