Wednesday, January 16, 2008

We Pause for this Brief Infomercial . . .

At the risk of sounding like one of those late night infomercials pleading with you to call now and for just so many cents a day you can save a child . . . well, I just found out that for less than $25 per mother or child, lives truly can be saved. Over a five-year period (with the first just concluding) the Minnesota International Health Volunteers project in Karatu, Tanzania estimates (conservatively) that it could have a positive impact on at least 87,462 women and children. And all they submit that it’s going to cost just a little over $2 million dollars to do it!

USAid lived up to its name and has provided $1.5 million, leaving MIHV to kick in $551,257. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t sound like a lot. And that’s why I really like this gig.

Let’s face it. None of us have ever heard of Minnesota International Health Volunteers. The name alone kinda makes you smile doesn’t it? Minnesota and International? Have you been there? Stuck in a traffic jam you’re not going to in any way think you’ve suddenly landed at the United Nations. The state is diverse, I’m sure, and I don’t want to disparage it but I (with my semi-blonde hair and freckles) definitely blend in.*

And yet, this organization is totally on top of what I think it means to partner with a country to get something done. They are working alongside and not “over” people who were born and live here. They are all about sustainable actions. They actually are measuring what they are doing and holding themselves accountable. And the “them”? Well, it’s a handful of people coordinating a gargantuan task.

Here’s the problem as they’ve identified it:
 The district of Karatu has an infant mortality rate of 93/1000. Due to a lack of reporting, estimates have to put that at 8 out of 10 babies die at home and 6 had no contact from formal health services.
 The three big culprits are malaria, pneumonia and respiratory problems, and diahreal diseases.
 The maternal mortality rate is 247/1000. Since ¼ of the women have babies before the age of 18 and then have the next baby before two years is up, you can begin to see a problem, right?

The solutions they’ve said “Yes, we’re here to help” with are all about working with existing systems including governmental entities and traditional service providers like the drug store shopkeepers (do not read “pharmacist” here because only the owner is one of those, otherwise these are just clerks offering advice) and traditional birth attendants (and here you need not think of midwives as we’ve come to know them but village women who have “been there, done that” and are willing to stay by the mother’s side if she invites them in (and sometimes she doesn’t which adds to the mortality rate mentioned above). They also are trying to develop community with the high risk groups and even focusing on not just surviving but thriving as they seek self-sustaining avenues to help young women support themselves and their families.

Today I found out that if they could get their hands on the money for 90 bikes they would have the motivational tool needed to have hand-picked and trained workers in the villages they’ve targeted. These would be and currently are (though the numbers are small) volunteers mind you. But the bike and the status in the village would be incentive enough.

I couldn’t help think, “I know a gynecologist who would be great at training. And a pharmacist who could help with the drug stores. And a computer guy who could fix these machines that keep breaking down. And a videographer, and a marathon runner for the malaria awareness campaign they’re doing and probably at least one person who could help with every other need they have.” While I don’t expect all my friends to pack up and come here for the project’s duration. I did wonder if the chance to make a difference with what they kow would be enticing. And I know that one small vagabond group of friends and family could certainly help financially with this small group that’s making such an incredible difference! (Really, folks, they have done more in three months than I’ve seen some groups do in three years and that’s with one hand tied metaphorically behind their backs as the governmental support exists but the faces keep changing due to turnover.)

Oh! Just in case you think I’m intoxicated from all the sightings of elephants, giraffes and exotic African landscape, I want to report that thus far I’ve seen one baboon roadside, a few interesting birds and that lizard in my closet.

This project just rocks. So if you want to make that difference . . . if you have $80 for a bike . . . if you want to check out other options . . . visit

This telethon has now concluded for the day.

*Note: Before anyone gets too offended, I know Minnesota is diverse. I remember something about it having one of the largest Hmong populations in the state. I’m just saying I don’t think “international” when I first hear it.

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