Our First Medical Clinic

As promised I am back again!  First and foremost I have to congratulate the Schiff family on their beautiful new daughter Audrina Vyolit Schiff.   They have been a huge support to me, and I would not be here without them.  I know that God is blessing all of us with another Schiff, so I just want everyone to pray for them and express my congratulations and well wishes! As I said last week, this post is going to be all about the first MEDLIFE mobile medical clinic in Tanzania.  Next week I will write about my first weeks back in the classroom after our August holiday, teaching again, and organizing the first ever field trip in the history of Stella Maris.  It was exciting and quite a bit different than St. Joseph field trips… 

Many people have asked how in the world, or what in the world could possibly drag me out of the classroom?  It’s what Medlife does, represents and how they do it.  Check them out online www.medlifeweb.org. I promise it’s worth your time, the website is really slick and the movies are short and informative.  Or if you just want to watch a video of our first clinic in Kilimanjaro (it’s about a minute long) check out our movie here: http://vimeo.com/74751469
MEDLIFE stands for Medicine, Education and Development for Low Income Families Everywhere.  Working on those three pillars is what truly excites me.  I have grown to understand now more than ever through my work in Africa and in the United States that the only way out of poverty for a family or a country is through developing all three sectors: Medicine, Education and Development.  The idea of bringing development projects to impoverished communities is truly new and exciting. 

Right now we are working on and budgeting for a project to finish a classroom for a school of more than 700 children.  One of their classrooms that has 90+ is a fifth grade classroom that the children are learning in without a proper floor, walls or windows.  As well as another bathroom project that will fix their toilets so their children do not have to run out into a field to go to the bathroom.  In education we are working on many things, but currently I am writing curriculum for a program that combines personal values and goals with personal health for children to young adults.  By incorporating a greater value for one’s self and clearly defined personal objectives, we hope to instill our students with a greater value for their personal health.  This will also be our platform for adult education classes in gaining the right to vote, land title, business classes and many more topics.  These are all the reasons I was brought on board for MEDLIFE: to design a new program, bring their services to Africa and open Medlife to new volunteers and provide them with a program to educate and empower others.  

In our first clinic in Tanzania I worked with fourteen University students from the United States and Canada to serve and educate more than 1,300 people.  What do I mean by serve and what is the mobile clinic?    Well what we do is: I meet with community leaders, the priests, pastors, Imam and local political representative (CCM party) and ask about their needs.  When we identify a community as being underserved (without adequate healthcare) then we look for some structure for us to create a mobile clinic.  The structures can be anything from an abandoned dispensary (Kikavu) to an outdoor kindergarten classroom (Kimashuku).  The reason why we don’t use medical facilities is because the communities that we serve in have no dispensary or access to medical facilities, which is why they are of such a high need.  Some of these people have to travel 20 or 30 kilometers by foot just to find a public hospital that still does not provide free healthcare.  Therefore these communities oftentimes have people dying simply because they are too poor to pay for basic treatments.  After we identify and coordinate with the community, we wait for our students to arrive.
With the program fees that the university or high school students pay to Medlife we hire local, in this case Tanzanian, doctors and nurses to treat their people.  It is amazing how quickly and easily I was able to recruit friends and find more medical professionals who wanted to help.  The Tanzanian doctors and nurses recognize that their medical system cannot meet the needs of everyone simply due to lack of doctors and resources, so they truly love the opportunity just to help more. Together with the students we leave early in the morning from Stella Maris Lodge, ride in a bus for about an hour to some of the poorest communities in the Kilimanjaro region.  There we set up tents, projectors (for education seminars), our pharmacy and doctors’ offices.  At our clinics we have had anywhere from two to four doctors and always at least three nurses, but one day will hope to have what Peru and Ecuador have: two doctors, three nurses, gynecologist and a dentist at every clinic.  Together side by side and hand in hand we work to educate and treat our patients.  

What typically happens is a patient arrives, they go through registration and have their vitals taken by a nurse with the help of our students.  Then the patients have to “pay” us by listening to some short educational talks.  They listen to one of our nurses talk to them about Breast Cancer (how to check yourself), Cervical Cancer (warning signs and risk factors as well as tests), nutrition (what foods are most important in their local diet) and tooth brushing.  This is their payment to us, and also our investment in them.  We hope the education will empower them to take care of their own health and reduce the illnesses most prevalent in impoverished communities.  This is our effort to make sure that our impact in a community extends beyond clinic days.  The focus on women’s health is especially valuable, because mothers are vital to a family everywhere, but here in Tanzania are almost always exclusively responsible for the needs of the whole family, caring for the children and even farming.  After the education lesson, they wait to be seen by a doctor.  This cannot be overstated how valuable this is.  In one of the communities we have been working in, Kikavu, the village leader Mtundu said “some of these grandmothers and grandfathers haven’t ever seen a doctor”.  The doctor will examine the patients, run tests if necessary and then provide free medicine to the patients, which is not limited to vitamins, over-the-counter medicines and ibuprofen like many NGO medical clinics. 

We treat malaria, amoebiasis, various forms of worms, heart conditions, and anything else presented to us, just like a hospital.  Most of all we strive to go further and will not shy away from recommending ongoing treatments or tests if we suspect more serious illnesses.  IF we find someone with cancer or suspect someone of cancer, not only do we arrange for follow up and connect them with professionals, we will offer to pay for their treatment, and what percentage we pay is dependent on their situation.  This I find most valuable because by going through social workers and community leaders we find out how much someone can contribute or if they can contribute.  Then we require some investment by them in their own health and then make sure that they receive the proper treatment.  A common phrase thrown around in this work is “giving hand ups not hand outs” which is a direction aid work has been moving and one I strongly support.  Again look on our website for stories of everything from heart surgery to prosthetic limbs that Medlife has provided for our patients all over the world.

One special part of our program is that we use local doctors and nurses to educate our students from abroad.  People are often afraid of outsiders, let alone medical professionals in impoverished countries like Tanzania.  By using local professionals with our volunteers we don’t need to worry as much about cultural issues, language issues or confusion because our lessons and treatments are approved and given by local medical professionals.   Even still the role the student-volunteers play is vital.  They set up the clinics on the spot in the morning, observe and learn about tropical medicine, facilitate and assist in lessons, educate children on tooth brushing and help the medical team with every step.  The students provide so much energy and passion that the whole clinic is dependent on them.  Through culturally sensitive care we strengthen bonds in the communities and restore positive realationships.  It is amazing but one of the community leaders even mentioned how he was reluctant to believe that we would follow through because they have been burned by countless NGOs in the past who failed in their projects, but we had restored his faith, at least in Medlife.

Besides all the service work, which was definitely the highlight of the trip we also found time to: go on coffee tours, play soccer with children, visit a school for an oral hygiene lesson, swim under a waterfall, watch the Lion King in a makeshift outdoor theatre, discuss and learn about Tanzania’s current state in our three areas of Medicine, Education and development, have a guest speaker from the United Nations, go on safari to the Tarangire, go on a rainforest walk, shop for souvenirs and develop friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.  So why on earth could I leave teaching, well because I’m not.  I’m learning, leading, teaching and giving young people an opportunity to serve in Africa and all over the world through Medlife.  
Next week I will write all about being back in the classroom, share a story about a recent volunteer I hosted and tell all about our first field trip to Nyumba ya Mungu.  

Lots of love,


  1. Great to have you back Kaka Mdogo
    Inspirational writing!

  2. Happy to see you blogging again and getting an update on what's happening with our friends in Tz. I know you've been busy and taking time to blog is one more thing on a loooong list of things to do. We enjoy whatever you can share!! We're keeping you in our prayers as well as our family at Stella Maris. Tell everyone we said Hello. Coincidentally I just heard from Edwin MMassey this evening also. Take care Terry!

  3. Terry, YOU are an inspiration! Thank you for the update and information on MEDLIFE.

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  5. Those are great pictures. It makes me appreciate the medical clinic in Scarborough more. Sometimes we don't appreciate what we have.

  6. This was very interesting, thanks for sharing! I agree with Bill, it really does help you appreciate what you have. I notice I complain about the medical clinic in St Paul, but I am very grateful for it!

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  8. That is so awesome! I really love when people from the clinics in Saint Paul MN go abroad and do something to help out, you know? Those kids look SO happy. I bet they're so grateful.

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