Thirteen times, Fulton Rotarian Bob Hansen has traveled across the Atlantic to eastern Africa, seeking nothing but to help.
He just completed his latest trip. He's already planning the next.
Hansen, Amanda Gowin and Doc Kritzer made this recent trip together. It was Gowin's third trip and Kritzer's first, he said. They worked on various projects with Maasai people in several traditional villages.
"It's a wonderful experience," Kritzer said. "Bob and (the team) are so well respected. It's obvious how much they (the Maasai) appreciate what's going on."
Besides being a long-time Rotarian, Hansen is president of the board of directors for Humanity for Children, an organization based in Columbia. The threesome along with other service team members traveled to Tanzania on March 14 and spent 12 days working on projects. Hansen and Gowin spoke about the trip Wednesday at the Fulton Rotary Club lunch meeting.
While in Tanzania, the team trained traditional birth attendants in remote villages and worked with village leaders on building birthing centers, establishing an ATV-based ambulance system and community toilets. They also prepared two village health clinics for laboratories and enhanced solar power systems.
Kritzer said he was impressed with the native people living in the villages.
"They take everything in stride because they don't know any other way," he said. "They are very content with what they have."
Hansen spoke about an initiative began with Mike Beahon, a former Rotarian who he since died. He's spent the following three years and countless hours researching and writing a grant to lower the maternal and infant mortality rates among the Maasai in Tanzania. The $154,000 Rotary Global Grant is furnished by local, international and other Rotary Club members.
Hansen said the first step in solving deaths of mothers and children, expecially in childbirth, was defining why the problem exists at all.
"We're not talking about a little project; it's a big project," he said.
The Maasi people live in a region around Mount Kilimanjaro sometimes called Maasailand. The group teamed up with locals in that area and identified isolated villages where they could help.
"It's goose bumpy to think about us, living here in the middle of nowhere, working with people also in the middle of nowhere," Gowin said.
The nomadic Maasai live in temporary huts hand built by village women from raw materials around them: Sticks, cow manure and mud.
They are a polygamous society where many wives mean lots of help. The men chiefly herd animals while the women labor to collect water and firewood, construct houses, and protect themselves and their small communities — the boma — with lion-defying thorn fences.
They believe they own all the cows. All of them.
"The Maasai believe God gave them the cows, and they belong to nobody else," Hansen said. "Their whole lives revolve around cows."
The Massai men pride themselves as fierce warriors. Some have cellphones but there's not much in the way of electricity, and they like it that way.
"They've decided this is the way they live," Hansen said. "They've embraced some technology but not all."
Each woman has her own hut. On the menu is meat, milk and blood. They have babies when they are very young, and not everyone survives.
"We've done three years of research, and identified factors why they lose mothers and children," Hansen said.
There is no prenatal care, so no regular clinic visits. Even if there was a clinic, how would they get there? There's very little transportation.
Hoping for smaller babies, pregnant women restrict their food intake. There's no hope for a hemorrhage. The pregnant women are young, and their bodies often are not mature enough to survive child birth.
There are elasticity problems because of mutilation to their genitals.
The women do have birth attendants, mainly unskilled.
Hansen showed the group a large clear plastic sack that included a plastic tarp, plastic medical gown and gloves, blankets and a washcloth, and other supplies to help with births. They've also put together some solar kits with lights so attendants can see what's happening during the births.
Hansen said he and his fellows hope to create a model that can be replicated in other remote areas where medical care is rare. Constructing birthing centers and clinics with actual laboratories and electricity are more goals. Coming up with simple vehicles for patient transport is happening, as are training programs for midwives and solar solutions. Even mosquito nets are being collected.
"This is what we're doing, what we're doing as a club," he said to Fulton Rotary Club members.
He plans to return in June. Gowin didn't say what her future plans are, but she did add: "Every time I go, I come back with new energy and hope."