Life changing experience for hospital nurses

October 25, 2022 

Used with permission of Steve Raymond, Effingham-Teutopolis News Report

Life-changing experience

3 local nurses go on mission trip to Neema Village in Africa

By Steve Raymond
Effingham-Teutopolis News Report Staff

Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

When three local nurses boarded a plane on August 19, they did so as volunteers. They were headed to a baby rescue center in Africa, planning to help share their medical expertise and care for orphaned and abandoned infants.

When they returned home 15 days later, each one admitted they had received much more than they gave.
They described their experience as life-changing.

For Madison Healy, Aly Lane and Kristen Raddatz, this trip was an opportunity to both serve and learn; to laugh, love and cry; and to possibly get a glimpse as to what God might have in store for them in the future.
They will remember their trip to Neema Village forever.

All three are nurses at HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital in Effingham. Aly, a 23-year-old from Dieterich, works in the Intensive Care Unit; Madison, 22, from Louisville, is in the Medical/Surgical Care Department; and Kristen, 31 and from Effingham, is a traveling nurse that also works in the Medical/Surgical Care Department and in Intensive Care.

Both Aly and Kristen have been on mission trips before. Aly went to Costa Rica in high school with her friend Kassie Stanfield and Kristen went on two medical trips to Africa.

“I knew Kassie also went to Neema Village for a year,” Aly noted. “When I saw photos and videos from there, I knew I wanted to go there, too, but I didn’t want to go by myself. So, I talked to Kristen about it, and she said, ‘I’ll go, too.’”

“I wanted to go back to Africa, but I wanted to go on a non-medical trip,” Kristen added. “I thought this sounded perfect.”

Madison had never been on a trip like this, but was intrigued after checking her emails one day.

“My manager shared about Aly and Kristen’s plans and was asking for prayers for their mission trip,” Madison recalled. “I googled Neema Village and just started crying. I called my mom and told her I wanted to go to Africa. Then I reached out to Kristen and asked if they could take another person.”

Their response? “Please come,” Aly said.

Each felt like God was calling them to do this.

“As a little girl, I saw other people going on mission trips,” Aly explained. “I felt like God put that desire in me, too. I definitely have a passion for it and I will definitely do this again. I saw God’s hand at work. It brought me closer to him.”

“I’ve always had a heavy heart for mission work in Africa,” Kristen added. “I have felt God calling me to do this work; maybe even long-term. I have a son who is 12. I plan to go back to Neema Village next May and take Carson with me.”

“It’s always been my dream to work with children and babies, especially those with special needs,” Madison said. “I felt God was really drawing me to this. It was the first time for me to be away from my family, so I was very nervous. But once we got there, I was at peace.”

The girls flew out of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on Friday, Aug. 19. Twenty-seven hours and 8,200 miles later, they landed at Kilimanjaro Airport in Arusha, Tanzania. The flight included an eight-hour layover in Qatar.

Neema Village is located on the outskirts of Arusha, a city with a population of a little more than 416,000. It’s in the eastern portion of Tanzania at the base of Mount Meru, the fifth largest peak in the country with an elevation of 14,900 feet.

Neema Village was established in 2012 as a non-profit baby rescue center for abandoned, orphaned and at-risk infants. It accepts babies from newborn to two years old and provides them with a loving and healthy environment until they can return them to an extended family member or find a forever home for them through their adoption program.

Neema Village cares for about 60 babies at a time. They also provide programs to help mothers, especially those from the Maasai Tribe. 

The Mothers Against Poverty program is for single mothers and widows. It trains the mothers to be self-sufficient by helping them start a business, that in turn, helps them provide for their children.

There is also the Save the Mothers Program, which was started by Kassie Stanfield during the full year she volunteered at the village. The program equips birthing attendants in the Maasai community with knowledge on safe birth and resolving the most common obstetric complications.

Because their villages are so remote, the Maasai often have no access to maternal care and deliver their babies in mud huts with no medical professional present, only a traditional birthing attendant. When complications arise during delivery, mothers die preventable deaths simply because no one present knows how to save them. This program provides that training.

A typical day for Madison, Kristen and Aly would include time with the babies, helping teach a nutrition and family planning class, or helping in the Bible class or music class. Everything is Christian-based and they said the days were very structured.

There was also sightseeing done on some days, including a safari to the Ngorongoro Crater, where they saw a variety of animals, including lions, zebras, hippopotamuses, impalas, and more.

Kristen celebrated her 31st birthday while in Africa and received a birthday cake from the staff at the village.
It was winter time in Tanzania during their trip. The temperatures ranged from the 70s to low 80s during the day and then cooled off at night.

They stayed in the volunteer’s house. They each had a separate bedroom and bathroom and then shared a living room and kitchen area. Two volunteers from Ireland left the day after the local girls arrived, but they shared their space with another volunteer from Texas.

Lending a hand with the babies was the highlight of each day. They provided a lot of one-on-one attention by feeding, playing and bathing them, or changing their diapers.

Before leaving, fellow workers at St. Anthony’s Hospital, plus family and friends, donated several items the girls brought with them. Those items included sewing kits, diapers, wipes, books, toys, etc.

“We loved spending time with the babies and showering them with love,” Kristen admitted. “You can read their stories on the internet, but to actually see them and hear their stories first-hand and in person changes you.”

“I remember seeing them for the first time,” Aly added. “My heart was so happy. Hearing the stories from the young mothers, and everything they had been through, was amazing. These were women my own age and they had been through so much.”

“I loved giving the babies love,” Madison continued. “I’d walk into a room and there would be six or seven babies crawling toward me. I also loved their special needs room. It’s amazing all they’re doing for these kids with special needs.”

There were also difficult times on the trip, especially learning about the female circumcisions being done to so many young girls in the Maasai Tribe. It is a procedure performed to alter or injure the genitalia for non-medical reasons, and in some cases is being done on girls as young as 7 years old.

Medical complications can include severe pain, prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and even death. It can also lead to increased risk of HIV transmission. Women who have undergone genital mutilation can experience complications during childbirth, including postpartum hemorrhage, stillbirth and early neonatal death.

“They view it as a passage into adulthood,” Kristen explained. “They don’t see anything wrong with it. It took awhile for that to sink in and then I just cried.”

Another Maasai custom has pregnant women discontinue eating when they reach seven months. They believe the smaller babies will be easier to deliver and don’t realize the health concerns that creates.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” Aly said.

This is where the Neema Village’s Save the Mother Program is helping. Birthing attendants are receiving proper training and are taking that knowledge back to the tribe.

Another eye-opening experience came during a visit to the local hospital. A newborn baby had been abandoned and was taken to the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

“This was the nice hospital and there were ants all over the walls,” Madison recalled. “But they were doing the best they could. I just thought about the things that I get frustrated with here and we have it so good.”

The girls said it was difficult to leave.

“It’s crazy how attached you get in such a short amount of time,” Aly said.

“I was surprised at how quickly I got attached to those babies,” Kristen added.

“It was hard to say goodbye, but I just know I’ll be back,” Madison noted.

Each one is now sponsoring a baby from Neema Village. Sponsorships are available from $30 to $300 per month. If interested in sponsoring a baby or making a donation to the village, visit their website --

Aly, Madison and Kristen returned home September 13 and are now back at work. But the memories of their 15-day mission trip are still fresh on their minds.

“I’ve never been so happy,” Madison said. “I felt like God was using us. I now feel like God is calling me to do this.”

“It was amazing and yet tragic,” Aly added. “I had some worries about going, but everything went smooth. God took care of everything. It was absolutely life-changing.”

“It felt like my compassion for others was draining before I left,” Kristen admitted. “But now I’m filled with overwhelming love. Going to Africa renewed my soul.”

Life changing experience for hospital nurses