Brothers Start Kenyan Clinic

Who: Fred and Milton Ochieng
Age: 25 and 26
What: Two brothers start clinic in hometown of Lwala, Kenya

The following is an interview with Fred Ochieng from Exquisite Safaris. Fred and his brother Milton (pictured, center) are two of the most inspiring people we at BIY have ever met, so it was only natural to start with their story.

Who are you, where do you come from, what are you attempting to accomplish?

My name is Frederick Otieno Ochieng and I am the 3rd born in a family of 6 children. My brother Milton Oludhe Ochieng is currently in his 3rd year of medical school at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine whereas I am in the 1st year class. We all grew up in Lwala, a rural village without running water or electricity, in Nyanza province of Kenya. To get to see a doctor, one walks 5.5 miles down an unpaved road, then waits for public service vans, matatus, to take them on a bumpy 20 mile ride to the nearest government owned hospital. The lack of health facilities at times had tragic consequences. We vividly remember how one time, a pregnant mother who developed complications during labor had to be hauled in a neighbor’s wheelbarrow to try to get her to the paved road then to the hospital, passed away en route. The body of the baby and the mother were returned to a wailing village by the same wheelbarrow. While growing up, we were always aware of the lack of health care in our village and surrounding communities. Both Milton and I got interested in medicine. With inspiration from a cross-cultural service trip to Nicaragua during his undergraduate years in Dartmouth College when they built a medical clinic, Milton was inspired to start a clinic in our village during his first year of medical school. He consulted via e-mail and phone with my ailing father, Mr. Erastus Ochieng. He spoke with me about the vision. In early 2005, while he and my father worked on the plans and details, he asked me to begin fundraising for the clinic. During a Navigators Northeast Conference at the end of January 2005, I gave an address to students and staff from some 13 colleges and universities who raised $9,000 for the clinic. Unfortunately, along the way, we lost both our parents to AIDS. Beloved Margaret in January 2004 and Erastus in May 2006. My eldest brother Maurice Omondi Ochieng has taken over the role of the coordinator back in Lwala, working with the community members. The vision has gathered momentum. We hope to see patients early April 2007. Now we need funds and partners to sustain the running of the clinic.

How do two brothers in a remote village in Kenya get scholarships to Dartmouth and attend medical school at Vanderbilt?

My mother taught in primary school and my father taught Chemistry and Biology in secondary school. They both valued education; they acquired loans to send us to good boarding schools and instilled in us good discipline. Milton was the 1st to qualify for admission to Alliance High School, the oldest and probably the finest high school in Kenya. I joined him a year later. In his 3rd year, he was one of the 2 students selected to represent Alliance High School on an exchange program with Brooks School, Andover, Massachusetts. He met Alliance alumni who were attending Harvard, MIT and other colleges in the U.S. The capable advisors and fellow students guided us through the test and application process. We both gave up our chances to attend medical school in Nairobi University for liberal arts training at Dartmouth College in the U.S. The need-blind admission policy offered a unique opportunity for a wonderful education for both of us. Getting into medical school is especially tough for an international student given the narrow selection of schools that admit them. However, Milton, a Biochemistry major, was later accepted into Yale, Vanderbilt and Dartmouth Medical Schools. Warm weather for his tropical soul, a full tuition Deans Scholarship, amongst other things drew Milton to Vanderbilt. A Biophysical Chemistry major, I got in after taking a year off to do chemistry research at Dartmouth, fundraising and conducting a needs assessment survey for the clinic. Looking at how far we have come, we are always heartbroken to reflect upon the countless sacrifices our parents made for us to get educated, yet neither of them ever witnessed our college graduations nor ever got to see the country where they had faith to let their children go to learn.

What challenges do you face starting and managing a medical clinic in a remote village in Kenya while attending medical school in Nashville, TN

Medical School is very involving and intense. It is tough staying on top of the material you cover, making time to exercise and play soccer, let alone fundraising, and designing a functional clinic thousands of miles away. Poorly developed communication infrastructure in the village makes it tough to connect and frankly, quite frustrating. My brother Omondi has to travel to Rongo town 9 miles away to charge his cell phone. Due to the 8 hour time difference, we try to call either early in the day or late at night here in the U.S. We are but novices. There are lots of complex decisions that we have to wade through.

How would you describe the current need for medical, educational and basic infrastructure in Kenya?

Very urgent, especially referring to medical services and basic infrastructure. There are many more educational facilities around. However, with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, TB, malaria menace, just to mention a few, there is need for a more robust health network. Unfortunately, some recent changes may not be beneficial. Mandatory retirement at the age of 55 for physicians and the fact that young doctors right out of medical school are no longer assured of assimilation into the field are two examples of recent policy recommendations.

What’s your vision for the future of Lwala/Kenya?

To provide affordable health care to thousands in a rural setting.
To address and reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.
To improve maternal and child health.
To improve the education of youths in Lwala and introduce microfinance projects.

How often do you travel back to Lwala?

Once a year, as school schedule and money allow. This year, due to the opening of the clinic, we may get to go home twice.

This article and photo are courtesy of Equsite Safaris and available at: http://www.exquisitesafaris.com/index.php/journal/more/philanthropic_visionary_travelers/

More articles on Fred and Milton are available at:
http://www.dartmouth.edu/~dartlife/archives/17-2/ochieng.html
http://thedartmouth.com/2007/03/27/news/alum/
http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/root/vumc.php?site=lwala

DIGG IT.

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~ by PJ on September 9, 2007.

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