Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sons of Lwala

In Lwala village,
you really don't belong

to your parents,
you belong to everybody.

- Milton Ochieng'

Today, I would like to tell you a story about two brothers (medical students at Vanderbilt University) and their dedication to help the people of the village that helped them.

Milton (small photo right) and Fred ( below left) Ochieng' were born in Lwala, Kenya. A rural village that lacks both electricity and running water, Lwala is located in Nyanza province bordering Lake Victoria. The 1500 villagers rely on rainwater and water from local springs and rivers for their water. The economy relies on farming, and most villagers grow a variety of crops and keep chickens, goats, cows, etc. The village's remote location and lack of infrastructure make it difficult for villagers to access good health care. The main mode of transportation is by bicycle, making the more than 25-mile trip to a doctor extremely difficult.

Milton and Fred are the second and third children of Erastus and Margaret Ochieng'. They have one older and one younger brother and two younger sisters. Their parents, both educators, took out loans so that the boys could attend the top boarding school in Kenya. Milton was one of two students from the high school to come to the United States through an exchange program with Brooks School in Andover, MA. He later applied to and was accepted by Dartmouth. The problem was he didn't have the plane fare to make the trip to the States. The people of Lwala sold crops, chickens and cows to raise the $900 for Milton's ticket. Their one request was that he not forget the village. The following year, Fred joined Milton at Dartmouth.

Their father, a biology and chemistry teacher, wanted to build a health clinic in Lwala to help area residents fight preventable diseases and bring health care to those in such desperate need. Unfortunately, both he and Margaret were dying of AIDs (Nyanza province has one of the highest rates of HIV in Kenya.), but he discussed it with Milton and Fred. When Milton became a medical student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville (class of '08), he began working to fulfill his father's vision, enlisting the help of various organizations and obtaining donations while taking a full class load. Fred joined him in medical school (class of '10) and also helped in fulfilling the promise they made. It was not easy for either of them.

Erastus and Margaret got the village and surrounding area behind the project, forming a committee comprised of members of all area tribes. Unfortunately, Margaret passed away early in 2004. As sick as he was, Erastus continued to work on the proposal but passed away one week before they broke ground for the clinic in 2005. Milton and Fred continued to work toward their goal, and the clinic finally opened in April, 2007, staffed by a few nurses and one physician's assistant. In its first eight months of operation, the staff treated 12,000 patients.

There is much more to this story than what I've told today. Two years ago, television reporter Barry Simmons met Milton and decided to quit his job to work on a documentary about the Lwala clinic. He left his job at WTVF-TV and, working with photographer Ian Montgomery (who still works at WTVF), traveled with Milton and Fred to Lwala and other places to document the fulfillment of the Ochieng' dream. Thursday evening, the documentary, Sons of Lwala, premiered to a crowd at TPAC (Click here for my post on TPAC.) in downtown Nashville.

The Kenyan musicians in the main photo performed at the premiere.

For more information on Sons of Lwala or to view the film's trailer, click here, and for more information on the project, click here.

Aside: Milton was the first person from Lwala to ever fly in a plane. After he graduates from medical school this year, he'll become a resident at a hospital in St. Louis.


Anonymous said...

What Africa really needs is people like these two sons of Lwala and not those old fashioned dictators that only know one thing: steal the most they can.

For instance, when the wife of Angola's president gives 500USD as the smallest tip to hotel servants I think that is quite good for those who get the money but one can only wonder why is she able to do that and people in Angola are starving.

Or when new south african leader or ANC says that taking a shower is enough protection against AIDS (what he really did and say) what sort of message is he passing to the country?

And I also think western countries and governments should commit to help cases like "Sons of Lwala" and not throw away money by giving it directly to corrupt leaders. If they want to do that better ask them wich bank account in Switzerland should the money go.

Chris, os meus sinceros parabéns pelo post.
Exemplos assim devem ser divulgados.
Você deu aqui mais um exemplo de como tem um grande coração

George Townboy said...

This is a fantastic post and a great story, Chris. Sad that they lost their parents, but what a legacy the parents have created with their sons! Very nice.

I think this also speaks to the higher education system in the states being more in tune with the needs of the international community than the government.

Carlos said...

A story of courage in poverty stricken countries. It is a shame that we can live in the Western World while most of them lack basic stuff like food or medical assistance. I am sure their parents would be more than proud. In the end, that is the only reward you can take with you, some dignity and humanity, the rest is bullsh**

Rambling Round said...

What an inspiring story! Just goes to show what a few determined people can do.

Anonymous said...

It is a promising story. I hope it all works for the brothers and for the people who sent them to school.

It is a nice post. And the photos are also nice.

Abraham Lincoln in Brookville, Ohio

Jim said...

I am sure thier parents are looking down on them and are very proud. The trailer for the film is very good.

GMG said...

Great post!
Things are never so clear cut black and white as one could unthinkingly believe, but anyhow this is an African story that went well. So far, at least!

slinger said...

What a fantastic story. We need more people in the world like this. From the villagers helping the sons, in turn they help the villagers. A great community story.

Slinger - Daily Photos from the Twin Cities

isabella said...

Just when you lose faith (Darfur)and feel helpless about most African issues, an uplifting story comes this way...Thanks for sharing!
2 questions:
Is Milton planning on practicing medicine back home after his residency?
Will the documentary be available to the public?

Southern Heart said...

Chris, this is such an inspiring and special story---of the young men, and the village, and ultimately of the spirit of humankind. This is the type of story that should be item #1 on the evening news and the front page of the newspaper. Thank you for sharing it with us.

And yes, it is colder and a bit gloomy here this weekend. Just makes you appreciate Spring all the more... :)

Chris said...

Thank you all for your comments. This story and the Ochieng' brothers have impressed me so much that I just had to share this with you. You will be able to buy the DVD. If you go to the website, you'll find a link that explains how you can get one.

Ming the Merciless said...

I think I have heard of the brothers. They have been featured on numerous news programs over the last couple of months.

Amazing work from amazing people.

Mo said...

This is an amazing story.
Thank you for sharing this.

Jilly said...

What an amazing and heart-warming and uplifting story. So terribly sad the parents passed away. What great boys who had simply fabulous parents.

Thanks so much for this story, Chris.

Clueless in boston said...

Great story of some fine human beings. I'm sure they will both become fine doctors and repay those who helped them many times over.

brian said...

Wonderful story and post, Chris. They are very inspirational...

Denton said...

Wonderful story Chris. Sad that Erastus did not live to see the ground breaking for the clinic. But it is great that his and Margaret's dream was fulfilled ... Milton and Fred look very dashing in the tuxedos.