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What are we doing on this mountain?

August 20, 2023 

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First, and most important – the luggage arrived on Friday afternoon! I’m pretty sure both Darin and Ratish hugged their suitcases at the airport, but I wasn’t there and neither of them admitted to doing so. Seriously, though, they handled several days of missing luggage with a lot of grace and patience.

Frequently asked questions
I’m going to spend this update answering a question few people ask out loud, but I can sense everyone wants to know. Which is: What are you guys doing and why do you need to be in Tanzania?

The short answer is we are doing two critical things for our work and for the good of our international partner (in this case St. Joseph Hospital). We are building relationships and doing our due diligence on behalf of Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach. If we didn’t do either of these things, at best we would be poor stewards of our resources and at worst we could actually harm our partner’s community, environmental and economic health.

Take what I’ve seen Ratish Kumar and Darin Gardner do here so far. Ratish is a biomedical engineer at Mission Outreach. Darin is our operations specialist, with expertise in materials management. When a partner, like St. Joseph Hospital, requires medical equipment or is constructing a new building – such as a mother/baby hospital – it’s our team’s job to ask the big questions about their ability to use, maintain and dispose of donated supplies and equipment safely. We aren’t here to evaluate anyone or give orders. We are here to listen, learn and ensure that what we send is actually going to be useful. If it’s not, we’ve caused St. Joseph problems.

Serving as consultants
Just yesterday our team walked through the shell of a new hospital addition at St. Joseph. We were with the architect, contractor and Sister Hellen (CEO). They have their drawings, and the place is clearly well-built and structurally sound – but Ratish was able to discuss with the architect the distance the MRI machine must be in relation to the elevator. Why? Let’s just say you don’t want a mega-magnet too close to steel doors. Ratish also acted in a consulting role for questions about electricity and requirements for machines. These are not things an architect necessarily would know, so Ratish’s input now could save hundreds of thousands of dollars later. Darin assisted the St. Joseph’s leaders as they plotted the logistics of inventory management in the new building – asking questions that prompted critical thinking about storage needs and time-saving practices for frontline staff.

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Helping from afar at the Mission Outreach warehouse
There’s a lot Ratish and Darin can do from their desks at Mission Outreach, and they’re surrounded by other experts in our office. Vicki Detmers, our operations manager and head of recipient services, also works on capacity evaluations for both supplies and equipment. Our warehouse team knows what we have on hand and how to ship it. And thanks to our volunteer specialists, we have a strong handle on what’s coming through our sort room and how fast we can inventory it.

Advising on efficient operations
But nothing tops standing in the construction with our international partners, in person, and talking over the plans. That’s the difference between “donations” and “partnerships.” We can send donations, which is no small feat. But if we want to understand the needs, priorities and vision of others – and see how close buildings are to each other or discuss drawings with the architect as we look at the structure -- we have to stand with them and listen. For a project like this, one week of operations people connecting face-to-face is invaluable for increasing efficiency and preventing “we should have done…” later. (We also had a generous donor who funded our trip, which made it possible at this particular time.)

So now you may have noticed that I didn’t mention why I’m here. And the answer lies in the paragraph above. I’m here to build partnerships that support responsible donations. What an incredible blessing my job is.

Guarding the mission
How? Well, besides writing about what we do, my role here is the administrator and the guardian of our mission. In summary, I determine if a project is feasible, sustainable, and appropriate for our ethical and quality standards, and if it aligns with our mission. I also spend a lot of time thinking about how we’re going to pay for the project and determining if our involvement is mutually beneficial for us and for our international partners. Mission Outreach is not a “charity giver”; we’re serious partners who respect our customers and want to support them as they improve the health, environment and the economy of their communities. So, I also build relationships with partners, donors and communities.

A sound investment for Mission Outreach and partners
When you look at supplying/equipping a new hospital building, like St. Joseph’s Hospital, Mission Outreach can expect to invest at least $250,000 in the project over the next five years. If they have a lot of equipment and/or we develop support services (supply chain optimization, inventory management, etc.) that cost for us can as much as double. When completed, it’s a huge success – the value of our supply and equipment donations will likely exceed $2.5 million. More importantly, St. Joseph Hospital will improve health outcomes, and even save lives that otherwise may be lost. That’s a mother who will go home with her newborn baby, a child who will thrive into adulthood, and a patient who can get that MRI when symptoms start.

(Incidentally, did you know that the only MRI machine in Tanzania is in Dar Es Salaam? That’s nine hours away from Kilimanjaro. The current ratio of citizens in Tanzania to MRI machines is 63,000,000:1 and most people in this country are not able to travel to get the care. That’s not acceptable.)

With an investment of this magnitude, and lives of our Tanzanian neighbors at stake, we must develop deep, integrated relationships of trust that will build and grow for years to come. That’s why Darin, Ratish, and I are here. As you know, so far, we are blown away by the love, skill and professionalism of Sister Hellen, the team at St. Joseph, and their vision.

Sometimes we take a break
And finally, it is true we work hard during site visits. It’s also true that we play hard on our few “off” days. Yesterday I convinced Ratish and Darin to climb the first leg of Mt. Kilimanjaro to Mandara Hut and the Crater Rim. I thought it was amazing! And I think the guys had a good time. Well, realistically I should say I think someday they may forgive me. I included a picture of that too!

Have a great week and talk to you soon,

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What are we doing on this mountain?