KatherineAnneLee

Who cares, wins!

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It’s still dark as the on-the-ground Cedar Foundation Tanzania team picks us up from our hotel in Mwanza. It’s been a short night after flying in from Switzerland, but we have been told that it’s worth catching the first ferry from Mwanza to Kamanga. While driving through the empty streets, I try to study the area to get a first impression of where we are. Now and then we pass someone on foot or a motorbike, loaded to the brim with goods or water. Life starts early in the morning in Tanzania. Moments later, I’m whisked into the organised chaos of the port. It’s fascinating, and at the same time epic, and I cannot imagine how anything works at all here. Large buses, puffing black smoke, push their way onto the old ferry. Women with small children tied to their backs, men with ready-to-sell food supplies and we five Swissies wriggle our way through the little space left on the boat for those on foot. The sun slowly rises as the ferry manoeuvres out of the harbour. 

We visitors from Switzerland are not alone on the ferry - the Cedar Tanzania team is with us. Together with the Cedar team, we are the only Caucasians on the boat, and you can spot from far who has done this before. Standing there open-mouthed, clinging onto my cotton bag and camera, I’m fascinated, and at the same time worried that the ferry could sink. The chaos that could break out between the black-smoke-puffing buses is unimaginable. It truly is a different world. Feeling a little lost and overwhelmed, I find it best to stick to the group and do whatever they do.  

Vivian, Claire, Adam and Dylan from the Cedar team are sitting on the back of Mark’s pickup. It seems like a good spot, a little higher up, with some space of my own. We sit together there in the morning and evening, peeling oranges and talking about life, how the team is experiencing Tanzania, their work and what really matters. While sticky orange juice runs down my arm, I can metaphorically see their adventure in front of me and, for a short while, be part of the journey. They are totally dedicated to their work and the journey they are on. They are full of life, and what they are doing is inspirational. I cannot help but wish that I could one day do the same. I look forward to repeating the ferry procedure with them the next day, and to hear more of their tales.  

Arriving at the Kamanga Health Centre, we are given a tour of this tranquil place. They have made a great job of building the medical centre. After passing the gates, you enter a true oasis of peace and care. In a country that is not necessarily familiar with western medicine – in many areas, they work with traditional medicine, and we have to be aware that our way of living isn’t necessarily theirs – this is definitely a good basis on which to build trust. During the tour, we do see that there is definitely more we can do. In my last story about Emanuel’s walk, I talked about Lake Victoria and how the lake’s water is poisoning its surroundings. The Cedar Health Centre is on the lake, and depends on its water. Although water-purifying systems are doing their job, more is needed, and projects to filter the water in ponds are in progress. What amazes me is that the fish of Lake Victoria are moving with the water. The natural cleaning system seems to be a good spot for the fish, and this could maybe become an attractive side-line for the centre one day. Another problem we are made aware of is power. The hospital regularly experiences power-outages. Emergency generators can fill the gap, but this solution isn’t compatible with the aims of low costs and sustainability. Ideally, the centre should be powered by solar energy. I think this is a great project idea, and I truly hope it can be started sooner rather than later.  

At Kamanga Health Centre, we get to know Sian and Colinda. They are very talented doctors from the UK and the Netherlands, and I don’t know what the centre would do without them. Our group is allowed to join their training session for local medical staff. I have never done anything like this before, and try my best to keep up with the medical terminology. I actually catch myself wishing I could stick around a little longer and support them in their everyday tasks. It’s really fun to learn and be part of the group. They do an amazing job with their teaching, making Cedar Tanzania’s efforts more lasting, with a sustainable outlook. Day by day, the local medical staff can take over more and more of the centre’s tasks.  

What impresses me most is how devoted and happy the Cedar Tanzania team is. It’s such a great atmosphere and they all give the impression that they have found profound happiness in what they do. I’ve heard the term “who cares, wins” in a financial business context, but I feel this is also true in the case of the Cedar Tanzania team. If you ever get the chance to visit them, I can only motivate you to do so! My big thank-you goes out to the Cedar Tanzania team. Thank you so much for having me, for showing me your world, for inspiring me. You all do a great job! My third story is about you, because you are on my mind, and you did change my view for the better.  

As much as I admire the passion, fearlessness and work of the volunteers on the ground, those back home also help immensely and show passion for good work. I can remember a speech by his holiness the Dalai Lama. He was talking about volunteering to help others. A guest told the Dalai Lama how it makes him feel bad to not be on the ground, helping those in need. He wanted to know if the Dalai Lama would suggest that he should give everything up and travel to a country in need of support. I feel this is a question that bothers many of us. The Dalai Lama reassured his guest by telling him that it would never work out if we were all to give up what we are doing and head out as volunteers. Two kinds of people are necessary in order to keep a healthy system running: those who provide the support on the ground and those who stay home and keep our world working. What is important is that we all do our best, be thoughtful and care, because, ‘who cares, wins’!

Katherine Anne Lee is a published author with her first novel  "From dust to dust and a lifetime in between" receiving much public acclaim.

Habari Kamanga (Hello Kamanga) - second article by Katherine Anne Lee

Nearly a month has passed since I arrived back home from my journey to Tanzania, and the last mosquito bites on my arm are finally fading. My mind is still very actively processing my visit to the Kamanga Health Center, however. Maybe you read my previously published story about Peruzi’s light? Today, I would like to tell you my second story about Emanuel Mavuno. I hope you will enjoy the read and feel assured that your generous support is needed more than ever.

EMANUEL’S WALK

By car, we follow Jackie and Neema, who are on their motorbikes. They are from the Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) project. As mentioned in my first story, CBR is an outreach project, aimed at offering quality health services to those unable to reach any form of medical support. The Kamanga Health Centre runs the project, and I cannot stress how impressed I am by their work. Many people in Tanzania don’t have any means of transport, which means they have to walk for hours to reach a larger town. This becomes a very challenging task if they are not well. On top of this, traditional western medical support is only encountered with caution. Tentativeness paired with a difficult journey often leads to health problems being neglected, even when severe. Thanks to the CBR project, the ambassadors of the Kamanga Health Centre are in the field and can find people who are in desperate need.

Our small convoy swirls up red dust as we make our way through the remote landscape of the outskirts of Kamanga. Now and then children spot us, wave frantically or run beside the car for as long as their short legs will carry them. Even today I can hear them chanting, “white people, white people”. It’s amazing how happy they are. During the whole journey, I never saw a child cry, let alone get into a temper. Their joy underlines the fact that possessions don’t necessarily mean happiness.  

Emanuel mending shoes

Emanuel mending shoes

We stop on a grass bank and park our car and the motorbikes. We are out in the middle of nowhere, and I can’t imagine where we are heading. The sun is beating down on my head, I feel thirsty and a first wave of travel tiredness overcomes me. But it feels good to move and use my legs, following Jackie and Neema down a little path. Well, it’s not really a path; it’s actually just some beaten down grass. It reminds me of hiking the rural hills of Church Stretton in England, close to the Welsh border. My grandparents lived there and, every summer, my brothers and I would spend loads of time exploring the hills. The grazing sheep left similar simple paths behind them. It was a great adventure to follow the short-legged animals while picking wild blueberries, and feeling the harsh Welsh wind on our faces. Lost in memories, I reach a platform with a wonderful view of Lake Victoria. Large rocks seam the outer area of a simple clay hut. But my attention is drawn to the view and the peacefulness of the area. It’s a beautiful spot, and its tranquillity distracts me from the real reason for being here. It takes me a minute to realise that we have arrived at Emanuel Mavuno’s house. Actually, I have to admit that I know we are visiting someone, of course, but I’ve somehow missed out on what I should expect. A tall man is sitting on the ground, bent over some old shoes. He carefully gets up as he sees our group. Still admiring the view, I wonder who we are visiting. The tall man has such a happy smile and a calm aura that I don’t immediately make the link between him and medical support. I admire his happiness as he slowly moves closer to our group, but then I notice that he doesn’t walk smoothly. His flip-flops are totally worn under the heel. Well, the rubber shoes don’t actually have heels anymore, just a large hole at the back. Jackie and Neema introduce Emanuel Mavuno to us. He doesn’t really give me the impression of being ill. But as I study him more closely, I realize he is missing large parts of his fingers. Only maybe 30 per cent is left from what must have been once long fingers. While I’m wondering what happened to him, Neema explains that Emanuel suffers from leprosy. Leprosy! A thousand thoughts rush through my mind. Does leprosy still exist? How does leprosy infect you? Is it safe to be so close? What about vaccinations? Did I get a vaccination? How can Emanuel be cured? After inhaling the tranquility of the place, it’s like being slapped in the face.  

Emanuel carefully sits down on a rock and slips his feet out of the remains of his flip-flops, while Neema unpacks some medical supplies.  

Emanuel Mavuno is one of the many people in Tanzania who rely on water supplies from Lake Victoria. The water is used for daily nutrition, and many people also wash themselves on the shore of the lake. The growing population, industrialization and the lack of water and waste cleaning facilities have led to the poisoning of this water lifeline. Lake Victoria is ill, and is infecting the more than 30 million people from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania who depend on its water. Emanuel Mavuno also washes himself in Lake Victoria. After he became infected with leprosy, his family left him so as not to risk becoming caught by the same destiny. Alone, he was not able to keep up with life. He lost his family, his work and his connection to the community. Before the CBR team found him, he was in great pain, hoping for the odd passer-by to show compassion and leave him some water or food. Today, the CBR team has been able to stop the infectious disease on his hands. But his feet are still a worry. Ulcers the diameter of an orange cover both his feet.The medical care has luckily been able to stop the further growth, which would have led to losing his feet, and thereby the ability to walk.  

Neema is holding a bottle and signals to Emanuel to lift his foot. While the clear liquid runs over the wound, the giant ulcer turns white. I can remember having pin-size ulcers in my mouth as a child. My father gave me salt to disinfect the wound. Only too well can I remember the burning in my mouth, and the salty taste running down my throat. It was a terrible feeling, and I cannot imagine how this procedure must feel for Emanuel. While his ulcers turn white, he closes his eyes as if to enjoy the sunlight on his face. Only the flinching of his eyebrows now and then reveals the pain he is experiencing. Once both feet have dried, a healing lotion is added and the wounds are covered with a bandage. Emanuel slips his feet back into his flip-flops and stands back up on his heels. I wish we could give him some new shoes – it would be so easy to do. Facing us all, Emanuel expresses his thanks to all of us for visiting and helping him. He expresses his extreme gratitude to the people in Switzerland, who support this project and thereby give him a cure and the hope of a somewhat more ordinary life.  

Back home, I’ve thought about Emanuel Mavuno many times. The terrible disease at such a tranquil place just seemed so surreal to me. Such a kind man with so much happiness to give. Even though his illness shocked me, he was able to give me peace of mind. Even today, in the 21st century, leprosy is a dangerous and discriminating disease. I’m impressed by Emanuel’s capability to face this condition with so much grace.  

Emanuel’s situation has now improved further, and his wounds are still being regularly treated by the CBR team. The upper layers of the ulcers are slowly healing, and it appears that his feet will improve with just a little more time and care. What makes me really happy is to hear that he’s making progress with his business of mending shoes and fishermen’s nets. Emanuel is becoming able to manage his life again, and this must be game-changing for such a proud man. He’s also helping some fishermen with their catch, and now and then doing some fishing himself. Lake Victoria’s water is what it is, and I pray that he will be all right. Maybe one day the remediation of Lake Victoria will also be a topic – I would love that moment. Today, I’m just happy that we can celebrate this step of healing and enabling Emanuel Mavuno. The Cedar Foundation Tanzania and you, its donors, can be proud. This change matters, and no action is too small! Can you also see Emanuel Mavuno standing by his clay hut, gazing into the distance, feeling the sun and a soft wind touch his cheeks? He is now able to walk towards his own future.

Written by novelist Katherine Anne Lee

Habari Kamanga! (Hello Kamanga!)

My name is Katherine Anne Lee. I live in the beautiful city of Zug in Switzerland and, a few weeks ago, was given the unique opportunity to visit the Kamanga Health Centre in Tanzania, which was opened by the Cedar Foundation Tanzania one year ago. My friends and family back home have been very excited to hear about my latest Africa journey, in which I saw many things, some beautiful and some hard to grasp, even painful. They are all stories about everyday life in Tanzania and the wonderful work the Cedar Foundation team is doing. I’d like to share my first story about my visit to Peruzi, and maybe I can share some more later on. I hope you will enjoy reading this, and see how your support for the project matters.

Peruzi’s light

by Katherine Anne Lee

It’s only a short drive from the Health Centre in Kamanga to a small village nearby. Clay huts line the busy, graveled street. It isn’t a classic street as you would imagine in the western world - the main street of Kamanga is along stretch of dusty gravel that connects remote communities. Sooner or later, everything that is making its way from A to B, has to end up on this street, dodging portholes and stray dogs. Overloaded buses, children who walk for miles to go to school, cattle in search of a new grazing spot and locals on their way to the market or maybe the Health Centre, pass by. It’s a bustle you could watch for a while if you wouldn’t become coated in red dust every time a heavy lorry passes by. But we’re not here to observe the street. We are here to visit Peruzi. Jackie and Neema from the Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) project are showing us their work. CBR is an outreach project, aimed to offer quality health services to those unable to reach any form of medical support.

It’s only a short jump down the bank from the dusty road and we’re standing in front of a tiny mud house with two simple doors. Both are open, but it’s dark and difficult to guess what’s inside. An elderly lady is nervously sweeping the floor outside, and greets Jackie and Neema. She is missing some front teeth but nevertheless has a happy smile, and points us towards one of the small doors. As we come a little closer, I can see an old, weathered mattress on the floor. There are colourful sheets on top of the mattress, all muddled up. And there, in between the colours, I see a face and part of a leg sticking out between the sheets.So small and fragile, as if it were a child lying there. It’s Peruzi, a 40-year-old woman, marked by her heart-breaking past.

Peruzi is challenged with epilepsy. The illness was more under control in her younger years; she lived within the village and even gave birth to a son. In her twenties, her epileptic outbreaks increased to the point where she was no longer in control of her own destiny. Her mother, a small lady, closely interwoven into the local community and swayed by social stigmas, was unable to cope with her daughter’s deteriorating situation. Embarrassed by the local talk that her daughter was afflicted due to the failure of her mother, she thought the only thing she could do was to tie Peruzi to a rope and lock her into a small dark room. There, Peruzi vegetated for a full twelve years on the bare, cold, clay floor, without any form of comfort, light or proper nutrition. It was a pure coincidence that the CBR team found Peruzi. The degeneration of her body left the team with no option other than to transfer Peruzi to the nearby hospital. While Peruzi received care, the team patiently educated her mother to correct her misbelief about disabilities being a consequence of personal failure, and persuaded her to share her old - and only - mattress with her daughter.  

Peruzi’s situation left me feeling ashamed, and reluctant to enter the dark room. I didn’t want to disturb her; maybe she would be afraid or feel uncomfortable at having us all looking down at her. On the other hand, I didn’t want to appear rude by not visiting her.While I waited, I deeply wished I could do more for her. A new mattress, some fresh clothes, sanitary material; this would be easy for us to organise. Having so much, but having nothing in my hands to help gives a feeling of powerlessness. Her big brown eyes gazed up as I entered her room. I wished I could comfort her, tell her it will be better now that Jackie and Neema have found her.

A few weeks later, back home, I was happy to hear that the CBR team had been able to improve Peruzi’s situation. They brought her a wheelchair, bedding and sanitary material. I can picture Peruzi sitting outside, enjoying some fresh air and finally feeling the sunlight touch her cheeks again after twelve years in the dark. It must be an exciting moment for her to be part of the community again.  

Only a few days later, I received the terrible news that Peruzi has sadly passed away. Her poor health and missing nutrition had taken its toll. Were we too late? Or could we have made a change? While frustration and deep sadness cloud my heart, I decide to light a candle for Peruzi. Gazing at the flame, I whisper to her and thank her for her time. The candle burns all night in our window. In the morning, the flame flickers one more time before turning to smoke and I realise that Peruzi’s story matters. Peruzi’s light has been seen.

KATHERINE ANNE LEE IS A PUBLISHED AUTHOR WITH HER FIRST NOVEL  "FROM DUST TO DUST AND A LIFETIME IN BETWEEN" RECEIVING PUBLIC ACCLAIM.