by Wayne Tellekson, Becketwood Member
If you hear of someone planning a trip to Tanzania, you may well assume that they will: a) climb Kilimanjaro; b) visit Zanzibar’s beaches; c) take a safari in the Serengeti to see lions, giraffes and wildebeests; d) visit the great Apes in Gombe Stream. On my trip to Tanzania in January I did none of these, but had a memorable trip nonetheless. I went to join the celebration of 50 years of Operation Bootstrap, which helped build 3,500 primary school classrooms in those years. It was also the 20th anniversary of the Maasai Girls Lutheran Secondary School – dedicated to educating girls from the poorest tribes. A current project is the unique “Plaster House.” Just outside Arusha on a scenic hill is this lovely treatment center for clubfeet, fluorosis, burns and cleft lips.
Clubfeet occur about 1 in a 1,000 births, but are rarely seen in the United States. In Tanzania they are much more frequent and, unless treated, the child/then adult seems to walk on ankles or the side of feet. Fluorosis occurs when a person’s water supply has much too much fluoride. The bones weaken and bend so they won’t support the body’s weight. In both cases surgery can correct the problem. But too often after surgery, the child may go home and the parents take off the cast too soon, which undoes the correction.
So the Arusha Lutheran Medical Center established The Plaster House where kids would stay after surgery until the bones were healed. About 75 are in residence at any time – preparing for operations or healing after one. Kids are kids and they play, crawl, and run as they are able regardless of the plaster hindrance. School, play, meals, love are all supplied. There are substitute mothers to give love and attention to the very little ones. A visitor has to have a hard heart not to be affected. Orthopedic surgeons fly in and do a batch of surgeries and then leave. Plastic surgeons come to repair burns, which happen mostly when children fall into cooking fires. Justin (pictured) has two new ears, straws where nostrils will be and still faces more major surgery. Repair of cleft lips gives a child a future that is not hidden from view. There are no animals at Plaster House, but this scenery is unforgettable. Untreated, these kids are endangered. Their problem is not extinction, but a painful, isolated and unproductive future. To see them play you’d think they don’t have a worry in the world… as it should be.