By Jean Schurman
For the third time in five years, Tim and Mary Nielsen of Florence made the trip to Tanzania in east Africa earlier this year. They were part of a group that gave medical aid to the rural areas around Arusha, a city of approximately 1,290,000. Nielsen said that although the metropolitan area has access to modern medicine, many of the people in the surrounding areas are too poor to travel to the city for treatment. Because they go to the same village each trip, they are beginning to get to know some of the villagers.
This village and the surrounding areas are where Nielsen and his wife, along with several other Bitterroot residents contribute. They are a part of the I.E.O., International Evangelism Outreach, an organization based in Poulsbo, Washington. This group brings doctors, nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, as well as non-medical people together for three weeks to treat the residents of these outlying areas. Nielsen said although this is a Christian-based organization, they are not tied to any certain church and treat whomever is in need.
Nielsen said they typically are based in one village where they set up a clinic to treat the villagers. They also do day trips farther out into the bush to treat more people. He said it’s really not that remote, it’s just the cost of traveling is more than many residents can afford. The group works with the local medical establishment often, especially the pharmacies. Sometimes they will refer patients to a local hospital and pick up the transportation costs. The cost of many of the procedures in Arusha is miniscule compared to here said Nielsen.
This year’s group consisted of 26 people including a doctor, two dentists, a pharmacist, an occupation therapist and a physical therapist (Nielsen), nine nurses including nursing students, and support staff who took down patient histories and helped with the day-to-day organization. There were 12 other people from the Bitterroot that went. They were Jim Filek, a nurse at St. Pats and his daughter Katie, Dave Blackwell, Crystal Coyne, Sara Snell, Dennis and Jeanne Simmerman, Ed and Kelly Boniecki, Will and Mary Crews, and Kris Hall.
“The goal is for these people to be self sufficient medically,” said Nielsen.
They saw almost 1,400 people on this trip. One woman was in the area of the clinic when she saw Mary Nielsen and recognized her from the previous trip. At that time, the woman had a huge cyst on her eye. She had to go to the city for treatment. The organization gave her $500 for the neurosurgery. She received treatment and although she lost her eye, she is in good health. When she saw Mary, both she and Mary burst into tears and gave each other a big hug.
“When you give them money, you never know if it is going to be used for treatment or for other basic necessities,” said Nielsen. “In this case, she used it and is alive because of it.”
It’s these types of stories that keeps the Nielsens going back. Prior to this trip, they gathered shoes, eyeglasses, baseball caps, vitamins, anti fungal creams and other basic medical items. Many people there have foot issues and do not have proper shoes so the tennis shoes are very welcome. The baseball caps come in handy for those who have skin issues. The eyeglasses are set out on tables and the villagers come by and try on pair after pair until they find a pair they can see out of. Nielsen said he collected a huge amount of items at his business, Valley Physical Therapy Clinic just south of Stevensville.
Nielsen said the people there are so joyful and happy to see the group come to their village. The average monthly income is about $65. One of the highlights of each trip has been to a local orphanage where they do well child checkups. The children are fun loving and appreciative.
“We bring back much more than we give,” said Nielsen. “It really changes your perspective about what is important.”
Nielsen and his wife are already planning their 2015 trip there.