Have You Ever Been to a Dentist?

If you ask this question to someone in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, or most other parts of the so-called “developed world,” the answer almost certainly would be yes. I have had well over 100 dental visits–perhaps twice that amount. Almost every child in the U.S. who is five years or older has been to a dentist, and some adults continue to do so beyond their 90th birthday.

However, if you live in a developing country, especially in an area that is remote and extremely impoverished, the answer probably would be no. About half of the world’s population have never had dental care and must deal with the pain of rotten teeth and gums–and often worse. According to World Dental Relief (www.worlddentalrelief.com), dental disease is the most rampant disease in the world, affecting 95% of the population.

While at the Global Missions Health Conference in Louisville a few years ago, I met Rev. Kingspride Hammond. He serves in the northern part of Ghana where there are about two million people, but there was only one government dentist (and very few other ones). Fortunately, an American dentist came and taught some very basic skills to lay people — especially how to pull teeth more effectively and with less pain. Everyone was happy, and now Rev. Hammond’s activities have greatly expanded. See www.alabasterproject.org

Last summer my own dentist donated two used dental chairs and professional lights to World Medical Relief (www.worldmedicalrelief.org) so they could be sent to Kenya. I am happy to have helped make that connection.

The next time your teeth or gums hurt, think about how most of the world lives and feels.

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High we exalt thee, realm of the free.

“High we exalt thee, realm of the free.
Great is the love we have for thee.”

If you were to put these words into Google, you would learn that they are the first lines of the Sierra Leone National Anthem. Sierra Leone is a very impoverished country on the west coast of Africa.

I learned them long before Google while in Peace Corps training at Cornell University preparing to go to Sierra Leone for a two-year high school teaching assignment in 1963. Although not chosen to go there, Sierra Leone has always been of interest since then.

The country has some significant natural resources, including diamonds and other valuable minerals, and a climate for growing food better than many other places. On the other hand, it has a long history of tribal conflict that escalated into a major civil war (subject of the movie “Blood Diamonds”) and was at the center of the Ebola crisis. Both killed many thousands of people and caused tremendous material damage, much of which has not been restored. The average Gross Domestic Product is $1,651, or about $3.00 per person per day. Often it is much less. Many of the people, especially in the rural areas, live in thatch-covered huts.

In 2004, the World Bank noted that the rate of babies and children in Sierra Leone who died before their fifth birthday was 284 per 1,000 live births. That has improved in the past 14 years, but there is still a long way to go.

Rotary International (of which I am a member) is involved in humanitarian projects all over the developing world — including Sierra Leone. Two days ago, ladies from the Ann Arbor Rotary Club came to mine and told about what their club and others are doing to help a community called the Bumpeh Chiefdom. The goal is to help food production (especially with improved agricultural seeds), orchards, digging wells, education, and improved medical care. For more information, contact Mary Avrakotos. Her e-mail is: mavrakotos@me.com

Although I did not get to go to Sierra Leone, I am glad to publicize what others are doing to help there.

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How a Used School Bus Can Help Provide Medical and Dental Care

In my limited travels through three developing countries (Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua), I have seen several standard yellow school buses that were sent there after school districts in the U.S. no longer wanted them. Some still had the names of their original districts. Mostly they were then used for a wide variety of local transportation. That’s fine. I have been told that a standard school bus, if properly maintained, can last for several hundred thousand miles.

A more innovative use is through a Christian organization called BUSES International (in Lorain, OH — near Cleveland). They take used or new school buses and other vehicles and rebuild them into travelling medical and dental clinics.

It also happens that the Bendix Corporation (famous for making brakes) is close to BUSES and donated a standard school bus with only 20,000 miles on it after being exclusively used for brake testing purposes.

BUSES then did an “extreme makeover” by removing the seats, putting in separate rooms, adding a special generator for electricity, air conditioning, and other equipment, putting a durable vinyl cover on the outside to designate its use, and turning it into a mobile medical and dental clinic for a pastor in Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Rev. Jean-Martin Etienne — whom I know very well) so it could be used in his church’s outreach ministries. Then they filled it with medical equipment and supplies — mostly from MedWish International in Cleveland. It arrived a few months ago and is now being put to good use in helping people with various health problems.

Two of the major problems at BUSES is the fact that there are far more requests than they can handle (at least now) and raising the necessary funds.

I am happy to endorse what BUSES is doing in Haiti and elsewhere.

Additional note: In 2016 BUSES changed their name to Mobile Outreach Solutions and introduced some new products. Their website is www.mobileoutreachsolutions.com

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How Kimani Maruge Got Into the Guinness Book of World Records

Kimani Maruge lived in Kenya until his death at the age of 86. For a very outstanding accomplishment, he was honored by being included in the Guinness Book of World Records. When you think of outstanding Kenyan people who establish world records, distance runners probably are the first to come to mind. But does becoming a First Grade student also qualify?

If you have seen the movie “The First Grader” or heard the story via the internet or other news media, you know that the answer is yes.

Mr. Maruge was born into an impoverished Kenyan farming community and fought for Kenya’s independence from Great Britain in the 1950’s. As a result, he lost a toe when it was deliberately cut off, and he had to hobble around for the rest of his life.

He had wanted to go to school, but there were no opportunities. In 2002, the Kenyan Government made primary education universal but did not set a maximum age to qualify. Thus he hobbled over to the local primary school and announced his desire to enroll. One of his main goals was to read the Bible. The principal declined his request — adding that admitting him could mean less room for the children of normal age. He also would need a uniform.

Mr. Maruge was not deterred. He kept coming back again and again before the principal finally relented. He also sold a goat to buy pants and then cut them into shorts so as to match what the boys wore. Finally, at age 84, he took his place on the front row and became an active part in all of the academic activities.

Stories about him spread across Kenya and beyond. In 2005, he was invited to New York City to address the United Nations about educational needs in the developing world. ABC News did a special about him, and so did various newspapers and other media. Unfortunately, he died in 2009 and thus did not live to see “The First Grader” movie about him. I saw it twice and was very impressed.

Although no longer being shown in theatres, it is available on DVD or Blu-ray through Amazon. A Google search also brings up other venues.

Mr. Maruge’s story impresses me in two main ways: (1) the power of faith and determination against heavy obstacles; (2) the need for universal education at all levels and for all age groups that want it. As a retired teacher, I will always believe in that.

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I Am Starving: Flippant Phrase or Fearful Fact?

As middle class American, I often hear people say this when one of their meals is a little later than normal. Maybe they want a simple doughnut or some other small item rather than a regular meal.

Today I got an e-mail from one of the most outstanding humanitarian organizations: World Vision. They said that one of eight children never reaches the age of five, and hunger is the leading cause of the tragedies.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that about 800 million of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one out of nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2012-2014. In Sub-Saharan Africa, over one in four people are undernourished. Stunting affects 161 million children, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund. Undernutrition magnifies the effect of virtually every disease, including malaria and measles. Leading causes of hunger include poverty, harmful economic systems, conflict, and climate change.

I live only a ten minute drive from Detroit. With nearly 700,000 people, it is frequently called the poorest major city in the U.S. 39% of its residents live below the poverty level ($24,250 for a family of four). Many children get government-funded school lunches, and those may be their main meals. However, they still get much more than a child in Haiti, most of Africa, and many other places where poverty is far more severe.

There are strong reasons for hope in the poorest countries. Micronutrients (such as iodized salt and vitamins) can greatly help. It costs only a few pennies for enough iodine in salt to protect a person from a neck goiter for his or her lifetime. Special peanut butter supplements are very effective. More publicity is being given to the subject of severe malnutrition (a term that has largely replaced starvation). Many of the organizations on my website and thousands of others are making a difference.

Yes, sometimes I get hungry. However, it would be a blatant lie to say that I am starving. Go to www.mfkhaiti.org (Meds and Foods for Kids) and watch their brief video. Afterward, I doubt that you will say you are starving.

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Making A Joyful Noise

I believe in Heaven and expect to hear a lot of joyful noise there. As to the exact kind, there is no way for me to predict. However, I hope that it might include some good orchestral music. Psalm 98:4 tells us to “Make a joyful noise to the Lord,” and perhaps this could be part of it. Handel’s Messiah “Hallelujah Chorus” is a very powerful expression, especially with a large choir and orchestra.

After church today, I took my wife to hear the Detroit Symphony Orchestra play a special concert in beautiful Orchestra Hall. It marked the culmination of their two-week Tchaikovsky Festival. They had a full house, and everything about the event was superb.

At the conclusion, they played the famous 1812 Overture. Although I have heard it played numerous times before, that was always in an outdoor setting — especially around July 4. At those times, there might be loud cannons booming and sometimes fireworks. That has has been one of my favorite classical musical selections for well over a half-century.

This time the conductor announced (to everyone’s laughter) that there would be no fireworks, and it was not possible for live cannons. However, the orchestra played with such strength and ingenuity that those effects were felt.

Tonight I did an Internet search to learn more about Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and see if there was any material on his personal faith. There was hardly anything on the subject, so I have no idea about his faith — or lack thereof. He did have some very significant emotional and other personal problems.

People all over the world have their many ways of making joyful noises, even during times of hardships, and that certainly includes Christians.

I do believe that faith in Jesus Christ and accepting His gift of salvation is the only way of getting to Heaven. I might not hear the 1812 Overture there, but if not, I feel certain that the other music will be much better. Likewise, I believe the sounds inside Hell, the only place one can go if not Heaven, will be far worse than anyone can comprehend. I want to do what I can to help people learn about the only good place for eternity and make the best of their lives in serving God and humankind while here on earth.

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Meet Me In Migori

Unless you are very familiar with Kenyan geography or are active in some of the Rotary clubs in and around Los Angeles, it is not likely that you have heard of Migori. Until last month, I had not heard of it either.

The city of Migori has is located on the southern edge of Kenya and has about 40,000 people. Nearly all of the people in the surrounding area are impoverished farmers and their families with small plots of land. Some of the problems include getting adequate water during dry seasons and having adequate sanitation facilities — even at their impoverished schools.

During the past three years, I have had more than 200 e-mail contacts with a man from Uganda by the name of Clement Esiat. He faces many of the same problems. Fortunately, he was able to attend a conference in Nairobi organized by Kidzana Ministries in the Seattle, Washington area that focused on helping children in developing countries. While there, his roommate was Rev. Charles Koyoo. That is also how Rev. Koyoo learned about my website.

Often I am asked for money from people in developing countries, but my basic reply is that I provide information instead. Thus I was able to offer several suggestions to Rev. Koyoo.

Having attended the Global Missions Health Conference in Louisville, Kentucky for each of the past 12 years, I got to know a Christian organization called Kenya Relief. They are headquartered in Cullman, Alabama. When I contacted them, I learned that their focus in Kenya is on Migori. Given the large amount of land that Kenya covers, that seemed almost like finding a needle in a haystack. Rev. Koyoo did not know about them, and they did not know about him. Now they do.

Next I suggested that he contact KickStart International (described in the “Clean Water / Sanitation / Food” category of this website because they provide foot-powered pumps for extracting water from underground. They also have an office in Nairobi. He did that and is very happy.

Another recommendation was to contact Seed Programs International to get improved agricultural seeds. One of their staff lived in Nairobi before moving to the U.S.

Yesterday I used Google to learn more about Migori. That’s how I learned that some Rotary clubs in southern California raised funds to get clean water and toilets for schools in and around Migori. Anyone else can see their fascinating YouTube videos.

No, I have not personally gone to Migori, and it is not likely that I ever will. However, through these internet experiences, I feel that I have done so.

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Pastor Phanord’s Dream and How It Became a Reality

Nearly everyone remembers, or has heard about, September 11, 2001 when two American Airlines planes were deliberately flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade center in New York City, as well as two other deliberate crashes in Washington, DC and Pennsylvania. What is less remembered is another American Airlines crash just over two months later that instantly killed everyone onboard as it left John F. Kennedy Airport for Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. That’s how I lost one of my very good friends, Pastor Jean-Luc Phanord.

In 1997, I got acquainted with Pastor Phanord on my second short-term mission trip to the Dominican Republic. His church was in one of the lowest-income areas of the city of La Romana and had a membership of and outreach mostly to impoverished Haitian immigrants. Many were sugar cane cutters, and they lived in shacks in rural villages called bateyes (“bah-tays”). Virtually none had clean water, sanitation, adequate educational facilities, and definitely not medical care. His vision was to help change that, and having a hospital was at the center. It was my privilege to be there on the Sunday afternoon when the opening of the first floor of the new hospital (actually a clinic at that time) took place.

I have met many people in my 76 years, but few made such a strong immediate positive impression on me as Pastor Phanord. He lived his Christian ministry 24 hours daily, seven days a week. Fortunately, in addition to his many local friends, he had American ones–especially in New England and other parts of eastern U.S. They agreed with his vision of a new hospital and were able to find over 2,000 American volunteers, mostly high school and college students, to go down there on short-term mission trips every year and work with local people in building it concrete block by block. Many medical volunteers also donated their time, and the hospital has received a lot of donated medical goods.

Today the Good Samaritan Hospital has three floors, and another is being constructed. It is the largest hospital east of Santo Domingo (the country’s capital). Patients are served regardless of their ability to pay. See their website: www.laromana.org

I might add on another personal note that my several experiences in La Romana were major factors in getting me more interested in missions. I wish that there were more people like Pastor Phanord across the planet.

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Poop Into Fuel

One of the organizations that sends me frequent e-mails is Global Citizen. Today they sent me one with the title “Poop Into Fuel.” It was quite interesting and gave me the idea for this blog.

Along with many other developing countries, Uganda has lost much of its forests due to trees being cut to get fuel for cooking food. People (mostly girls and women) spend much of their time going to get the tree branches and carry them home on their backs. Likewise, they have problems with lack of sanitary facilities, especially when they have bowel movements.

A man whose name is Bosco Odyer developed a special system that converts poop (solid human waste) into fuel for Ugandan cooks. The finished product is somewhat like charcoal briquettes which cause almost zero odor and smoke when burned. Mr. Odyer is in the Kole District which is in the eastern part of Uganda. Water for People (which is in the first category of my HelpingWorldwide.org website) assisted him and some other people with similar goals.

National Geographic Magazine did a story about that in their December 2014 issue. The Gates Foundation is very interested in the subject. Eco-Fuel Africa is led by Sanga Moses and has similar goals and activities. Likewise, you can find more information through a Google search.

I am very fortunate that when my wife or I need to cook, it is only necessary to put the food on or into a stove and push some buttons. More than one billion people in the world do not have that opportunity.

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Queen of Katwe

When you think of pathways out of the most extreme poverty situations, chess is probably not one of them. However, the ability to rise from a slum community next to Kampala, Uganda by mastering chess is what made it possible for a girl there by the name of Phiona Mutesi, age 10, to attain a higher educational and living standard. Her father was dead, her mother tried to make a subsistence living by selling small amounts of produce, and no one in the family was literate or had enough money to go to school. However, a Christian mission program called Sports Outreach had program that included chess as well as soccer and other activities. (See www.sportsoutreach.net).

Almost no one believed that any girl could beat the boys and men in chess, but Phiona did. After considerable effort and disappointment, she went on to become her country’s leading chess champion. Then her story became a book in 2012 This year it was made into a movie by Walt Disney and other production companies. It was filmed in Uganda and South Africa.

I saw it last week and was very impressed. Hopefully you can see it too. Use Google for more information.

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