Heart-wrenching journey

Project S.A.V.E. members reflect on a humanitarian trip to Tanzania

Project S.A.V.E. Director Janice Walker and one of the students at Kilolo Star Vocational School stand next to one of the many wells that Chico attorney Ron Reed helped build in Tanzania.

Project S.A.V.E. Director Janice Walker and one of the students at Kilolo Star Vocational School stand next to one of the many wells that Chico attorney Ron Reed helped build in Tanzania.

Photo By Janice Walker

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To learn more about Project S.A.V.E. or to contribute to the organization’s efforts, visit www.chicoprojectsave.org.

“And these are little kids with broken femurs,” said Janice Walker, pointing to two photographs of young children lying in rudimentary hospital beds in rustic-looking rooms, each with a cloth- and bandage-wrapped leg jutting up at a right angle from their bodies and hung from a ceiling hook attached to a rope tied around their ankles. The pictures were in a photo album Walker was paging through of her recent trip to the East African country of Tanzania.

“They have no traction devices,” continued Walker. “They are just hung by their feet for six weeks.”

Walker is the director of Project S.A.V.E. (Salvage All Valuable Equipment), a Chico-based nonprofit that collects used medical and dental equipment from local area hospitals and clinics and various professional organizations and individuals, and ships it (and other medical supplies) to countries in need. She has been the director of Project S.A.V.E.—founded in 1996 by local medical doctor Phyllis Cullen—since 2004.

Walker, sitting recently with Dr. Darrel Lary, retired longtime Enloe Medical Center cardiologist, and local attorney Ron Reed, in Reed’s north Chico office, was sharing stories about the two-week-long humanitarian mission she made with Lary, Reed and six others to Tanzania, a country in which malaria, HIV/AIDS and respiratory illnesses from cooking over smoky charcoal fires inside mud huts are among the numerous prevalent health problems. The group recently returned to the United States from its self-funded trip.

While in Tanzania, they worked with villagers at three clinics and two hospitals (such as the one in the village of Iringa, where the kids with broken legs were photographed) to determine medical needs and provide relief where possible, and distribute the equipment and supplies—hospital beds, portable X-ray units, surgical tables, wheelchairs, crutches, bandages and so on—that Project S.A.V.E. had sent in a 40-foot sea container ahead of the group’s visit.

The $10,000 shipping cost of the container, Walker emphasized gratefully, was paid for by Pleasant Valley High School international service group Globally Conscious Youth, which raised the funds through various events and solicited donations, spurred on by the students’ reading of widely known humanitarian Greg Mortenson’s book Three Cups of Tea.

“We were there to assess their needs,” offered Lary, who led the Project S.A.V.E. medical team, consisting of himself and four of Enloe’s registered nurses—Juliette Fish, Pam Henning, Karen Starkey and Jeremiah Stanley. Fish’s sister Janine Dorn, a teacher from Santa Barbara, was also part of the group.

Reed was making his 11th trip in five years to Tanzania to help build much-needed wells (see the Oct. 23, 2008, CN&R story about Reed, “In Africa with ‘Father Water’ ”), and to attend the inaugural ceremony for the new Kilolo Clinic, in the village of Kilolo, for which Reed provided the building materials. His son, local electrician Jordan Reed, rounded out the group as the ninth member.

“We wanted to try to distribute the equipment and make sure that the equipment sent was used to the greatest benefit,” said Lary. “We were hoping to do patient care, but that wasn’t our highest priority.”

As it was, Lary and the others—in addition to providing patient care to people who often can’t afford the most basic of services—spent a considerable amount of time wherever they went simply removing items one by one from the 600 boxes of supplies shipped and showing medical personnel and patients how to use each one.

“We found that we needed to teach them, number one, what each thing was,” said Lary, “and how to use it. Teaching was the most important thing we did there. This is a country in which HIV is rampant and wound care is poor. They have no gloves, and used, sharp needles are thrown in open trash containers.”

Teaching the residents of Kilolo how to wash their hands with soap and clean, running water was of the utmost importance, added Juliette Fish, speaking by phone the following day. Until only recently, thanks in large part to Reed’s tireless and generous efforts, Kilolo-area villagers’ water supply has been solely that fetched by bucket from germ-laden rivers shared with livestock and other animals.

Fish, who taught herself to speak a fair amount of Swahili (the language spoken in Tanzania) by listening to language tapes before the trip, helped organize a poster-making contest at the Kilolo Star Vocational School specifically focused on the importance of hand-washing to help prevent the spread of disease, offering prizes of flashlights and calculators to the eager 12- to 18-year-olds.

“We posted the pictures all around the school, on the walls of the classes,” said Fish. “They had no other pictures on the walls like we do in American schools. Those were the only pictures they had. … The kids just loved it. These are kids who walk an hour each way to school, who live on a diet of corn gruel and tea, and carry 5-gallon buckets like you get from Home Depot filled with water on their heads a couple of kilometers to their houses.”

Fish also gave a pair of reading glasses she had packed in her luggage at the last minute to a young girl who was having trouble reading—until she put on the glasses, of which she was extremely proud, said Fish.

“What we found,” Lary summed up of the country in which paraplegics often have no wheelchairs, but are regularly seen propelling themselves forward along the ground with flip-flop-shod hands, “is that there is such a tremendous need for virtually everything, a great need at every level. If people [from Chico] are interested in any way, there’s a place for them to contribute.”

Walker said Project S.A.V.E. has shipped the equivalent of 31 sea containers to 33 nations. She turned to a photograph of a 14-year-old mother clutching an 18-month-old baby.

“In Tanzania, unwed mothers are thrown out of the home, put out on the street,” she said.

“That’s who Janine [Dorn] gave her shoes to,” said Walker, pointing to the young mother. “She [the girl] just loved those red shoes.”