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Some of the children of the village of Ndoonbo teach Charlene Young about sugar cane.
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Woman on a mission
By Kathleen Ostrander

Charlene Young of Springfield has always wanted to go on a medical mission and take a safari.

Young, a nurse practitioner and clinical instructor at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, was in eastern Africa from Sept. 15 to Sept. 26. She and another nurse practitioner as well as a number of medical students, worked at a clinic in the village of Ndoonbo at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

"The clinic we were in was built about five years ago. It had running water and electricity, but not a lot of medicine," she said.

The clinic particularly wanted nurse practitioners because of the high infant-mortality rate.

"Prenatal care is practically non-existent. There is a mortality rate of 35 percent," Young said.

There are clinics set up in Tanzania, but funding cuts have reduced or eliminated staff. Complications during pregnancies or childbirth kill a quarter of a million African women each year.

"AIDS is a problem, as well as chronic malaria. We saw mumps, chicken pox, diabetes, hypertension and asthma. The dust is a problem. There are a lot of back and neck pain because they carry items on their heads or backs," Young said.

She said children would come to the clinic themselves. "They had no shoes or just flimsy flip-flops and would have cuts and lacerations. We had no tetanus to give and next time, that's something we should take.

"We didn't see a lot of infants, but we did do work with the midwives to try and convince them to use sterile or at least clean instruments to cut the umbilical cords," she said.

The base of the mountain is a temperate area. Villagers grow maize, beans, bananas and coffee.

"They may have milk, but it is all sold. The men may go away to work in the mines, and they don't come back sometimes for 10 years. We never saw TV or a radio, although there are people who have radios. The people are too busy just working hard to stay alive. It is a mix of poverty and paradise," Young said.

She said the children were wonderful. "They were at the clinic all the time. They followed us on a hike, they wanted to hear English and they read to us in English. The children were the best part," Young said.

The group slept at the clinic and security was a guard armed with a machete. They ate rice, beans, spinach, bananas and watermelon. They saw patients from morning to night.

Young spent four days on safari with Serengeti Select Safari in Dares Salaam and Zanzibar.  

They flew into the mountains, but the top of Kilimanjaro stayed cloudy, so they couldn't see the top. They also went sightseeing at the Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara.

"We saw Masaai villages and had more interaction with the villagers," she said. "It was beautiful. We saw all sorts of animals - lions, giraffes, rhino, gazelles and baboons."

She'd do another medical mission there.

"I'd go back, oh definitely. The people are so friendly and so, so appreciative. And now I know better what to take - things for the children and different medicines." 


Story published Friday, December 5, 2008 ( Volume 3, Number 7 )

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