Saturday, February 7, 2009

I'm so thankful to have NOT been born in Ethiopia

My good neighbor, Larry, asked me to write this article about his foundation; I think it is supposed to be published in one of the local newspapers-please feel free to point out any blatant errors:

One of the greatest benefits of belonging to a community united by a specific religion is just that: unity. Religion can bind people together, driving their purpose(s), creating miracles, and like any smart business, hone in on specific needs of a “market” to provide help for the helpless. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is world renowned for its ability and desire to give help to those in need.

In the process however, as different religions specialize in their own areas, gaps are created. In the market of providing essential medical care, the failure of churches to collaborate with one another can mean death for the citizens found in the gap. On the extremely positive flip side, when parochial organizations work together, countless lives are saved. Dr. Larry Thomas has figured out how to turn the principle of interfaith collaboration into a miraculous life saving machine by implementing such rudimentary tools as clean water and basic medical care for thousands of Ethiopian citizens.

Says Thomas, “Throughout Ethiopia, the only source of water for many families is a contaminated pond or stream. For others, their only source of water is from muddy puddles, aggravated by the dirt-covered hoof prints and feces of many different kinds of animals. Only one in three people in this country has access to safe water. Worse yet is the sobering fact that one Ethiopian child in ten dies before his or her fifth birthday—half of them from diarrhea.”

Moreover, the cultural practices of marrying young pre-pubescent girls to older men create devastating circumstances for childbirth: a physically immature girl attempting to give birth to baby with no trained professionals often leads to the death of the baby, which leads either to death of the mother, or sepsis; in the latter case, the young girls are often sent back to their families and forced into isolation because of their resulting foul odor and “uselessness” for further child bearing. In most cases, a c-section can prevent either dastardly consequence.

With heartbreaking scenarios like these, more than just mission trips, medical professionals and money are needed to save the lives of pregnant mothers and their children. Enter the Catholic Church. Dr. Thomas saw a great need for the constant attention that both nuns and priests in the area could-and were more than willing to-provide. They constantly monitor the basic needs of the members of the mission and, when necessary, direct them to Dr. Thomas’ no cost Gimbie Mission hospital.

So the Catholic church and the Seventh-day Adventist church are now working together, achieving amazing results in far off Ethiopia. And as a result, the partnership has spread all the way back to little Loma Linda. In a recent interview, Dr. Thomas says that a major source of support for his Ethiopian project comes from Loma Linda’s St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Mountain View Avenue, the city’s only other church besides Seventh-day Adventists. He has made several presentations to the members at the invitation of Father Solomon who gives enthusiastic support for Dr. Thomas’ projects. “We not only have ties with our local Catholic friends,” says Thomas, “but we also partner with the church’s mission near the Gimbie Hospital in Ethiopia.”

Dr. Larry Thomas, who works as an emergency room doctor at the Hemet Valley Medical Center, organized the “Tropical Health Alliance Foundation” _ years ago. On his initial visit to Ethiopia, he quickly saw the need to provide pure water for residents in order to cut down the incidence of disease. For just US $2,500 he is able to construct a cemented area around a spring or stream that provides water for an entire village. He says that more than _____villages are now benefiting from his project.

Dr. Thomas first came up with his program when he was a post-graduate student in London’s School of Tropical Medicine. After his graduation in medicine at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, class of 1974, he decided to take this special post-graduate course. Part of his graduate work was a field trip to a needy place in Africa; he chose a Seventh-day Adventist rural medical facility in western Ethiopia. Over a period of___years he has been able to provide funding for European physicians attending the school in London to spend anywhere from a month to three months helping the medical needs of this small ___ bed hospital, thus providing a steady stream of care, making procedures like c-sections possible, preventing death or like unto it. The Catholic Church provides the managerial help, directing patients to the clinic and Dr. Thomas orchestrates the medical aide.

As a devout Seventh-day Adventist, Thomas is an excellent representative of his church. His paramount priority, however, is interfaith collaboration. The best take home message is not just the nice idea of a religiously motivated organization saving lives, but rather, that religions are working together, both here and abroad, to prevent easily preventable death. Says Thomas, “Parochialism kills people, collaboration saves lives!!!!!”


lauren said...

good article. and it especially hits home when you've seen such things first hand. good for you friend in his quest to make a difference.

Anonymous said...

A very nice summary of the work and the spirit of the work that Larry is doing in Ethiopia.
I do think one clarification is in order. Treatment at Gimbe SDA hospital is not free. As I understand it (from what Larry told me) full obstetric care (dependionmg on if a C-section is needed or not costs between $25 and $70 US. Thus the problem. For the people of this area the cost might as well be $250,000 to $70,000 because the actual amount is way, way beyond their means. Larry came up with a way to help remedy this problem. He raised $10,000 and put it in a special account at the Gimbe SDA hospital for use by the two beloved nuns. When they identify a woman at risk with her pregnancy, they give that woman a note to take with them to the hospital, and the costs will be covered by withdrawing from the special account. I do not think this kind of partnership between an SDA Mission Hospital and local Roman Catholic Nuns would have happened years ago. The way I see it both groups are helping the same people in serious need and both groups are serving the same God. I think it is wonderful and worthy of prayer and financial support. Dennis Nicola, D.D.S.