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Tanzania: Day 1

June 27, 2024 

We’ve been here before, but still didn’t know what to expect

Yesterday Ratish Kumar (Mission Outreach biomedical engineer) and I arrived in Moshi, Tanzania to visit our friends and colleagues at St. Joseph Hospital. A few members of our team had been here last August to get to know the administrators and clinicians at St. Joseph, and that partnership kicked off with a 40’ container of requested medical equipment and supplies that arrived here in Moshi a few weeks ago. Because this is the first project of what we anticipate will be a long-term partnership, Ratish and I arranged to be at St. Joseph for the opening of the container. (And, in case you are wondering, no one’s luggage was lost this time – hooray for KLM Airlines!)

St. Joseph Hospital is a part of a health system operated by the Our Lady of Kilimanjaro Sisters. It is an excellent facility with strong leadership, competent staff, and good outcomes for patient care. A few years ago, a team of MBA students from Georgetown University assisted St. Joseph to do some strategic visioning, and it was identified that a significant risk for St. Joseph’s Hospital was outdated or lacking medical equipment – and that is not unusual in some parts of the world. The healthcare teams are superb; however, cost and availability of medical equipment and supplies is a limiting factor for many hospitals and clinics in low-resource areas.

Over the last 22 years, Mission Outreach has sent about 800 containers around the world. Ratish and I have every confidence in our team of experts at home. From the accuracy of the packing list to the crating of equipment, to the packing of supplies, we know the Mission Outreach staff and volunteers are the best at what they do…but still, to be there when the doors open and the team of St. Joseph starts unpacking. Would everything be exactly as it was when we shipped the container from our dock in March? Would they be satisfied with what they received? And how would they get all that stuff out of that container with neither a dock nor a forklift?

Sisters begin to open the shipping container

We learned a lot today.

The answer, as always, is that today we learned a lot and we stood in awe of the strength and expertise of our international partners. 

We began at 9 a.m. with many of the Sisters and some St. Joseph staff singing a blessing over the day’s work and a prayer of gratitude for the gifts we have been given. The container door was then opened by Sister Hellen Kyilyosudu, MD, who is both the CEO of St. Joseph Hospital and a practicing physician – she’s actually apologized for being a few minutes late to a meeting because she was delivering a baby. 

That’s when things got real because staring us right in the eye from that container were two biomedical-grade refrigerators (thanks to a donation from Hellmer). One for pharmacy, one for lab. A group of determined-looking men, about 10 of them, starting bringing in concrete blocks and within minutes had constructed stairs because the container sits about four feet off the ground. With the precision of a team of ninjas, some of the men jumped on the top step and others gathered to support them and, without the use of a forklift or any other tool, those men hauled down both refrigerators. 

Six feet of container unloaded, 34 feet to go

And that 34 feet contained hospital beds, bassinets, incubators, boxes, patient monitors, and scales for infants and adults – among other things. Everything was taken off the container by hand, staged on the lawn, then reloaded by hand into trucks for transportation across the road to the hospital. I’ve never, in my life, seen a better demonstration of strength, smarts, and coordination. 

Sister with an infant incubatorI’ve also never seen as much joy as I did watching those guys work. By 2 p.m., when the group was getting ready to load the last bed onto the pick-up truck, they were still laughing and clearly having a good time with each other. It mirrors the awe I have when I watch our team load containers – and mirror is exactly what’s happening. Our Mission Outreach team, with care and precision, pulls orders and stages them to the inch in our warehouse. When the container arrives at our dock, they have only two hours to disassemble thousands of pieces of the order and perfectly reassemble it. It’s a lot of work, a lot of strain, and takes incredible intelligence and experience – and we end our part of this process with a blessing; just as we started our day at St. Joseph.

All this work – what’s it all for? I’ll tell you. 

Shipping container contents on the lawnThis afternoon, when most of the container contents were on the lawn and everyone was taking stock of what was there and planning transport to the hospital, I ended up standing next to Genevieve Lucas, the biomedical engineer at St. Joseph Hospital. She reached down and lightly touched a bassinet. A goal of the St. Joseph team is to improve infant outcomes through further development of NICU and birth center services. She looked it for several seconds then looked up at me.

“These things you have sent us are very good,” she said. “And they will help us. Thank you.”

And she wasn’t just thanking me – she was talking to Ken, Lou, Nick, David, Vicki, Sue, Joe, Darin, Ratish, all our volunteers, all our HSHS colleagues (especially Ryan Bolerjack at St. Mary’s Decatur), the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, and everyone else who together makes Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach exceed what any one of us could ever expect.

Tanzania: Day 1