Tuesday, May 12, 2009

48 hours to go...

This is my final message from Lesotho before I start the long trek back to South Dakota tomorrow morning. For those of you who have been following this experience I appreciate you taking the time to read my thoughts and the kind words many have sent me. It has been fantastic to return to Lesotho and see the progress being made in this country and specifically in the remote medical clinics. I feel very blessed to be even a small part of the work here.

It was great to hear Jeremy Keeton and the PIH staff talk about the value of having reliable communication at the clinics, and to see how excited everyone was that we were here to make technical improvements. And it felt great to climb back into the MAF planes and get a bird’s-eye view of a country both blessed and cursed with amazing geography.

Many of you reading this know why I am here. As a follower of Jesus Christ I have a responsibility – actually more of a privilege – to reflect His love to those around me and throughout the world. I realize I don’t always do this well and I understand that I don’t have to travel halfway around the world to demonstrate love to others. But looking back at my life I can see a series of events and decisions that has brought me back to this place. And it is clear the God has a plan for me and for some reason that plan includes the tiny country of Lesotho in southern Africa.

I do not claim to be the best father, son, husband, employee, or friend that you will ever meet. I have many flaws. I am certainly not perfect. But I am striving to follow the One who is perfect and demonstrate His love through what skills and capabilities I do possess. And I pray that God continues to use me as a tool to construct His Kingdom here on Earth

1 Peter 4

(8) Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (9) Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. (10) Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. (11) If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Thanks to Jeremy Keeton and Partners In Health (www.pih.org) for inviting me back to Lesotho and covering my travel expenses. And for the love and compassion you are showing to the Basotho people.

Thanks to Mission Aviation Fellowship (www.maf.org) for providing flight and communication support in Christ’s name to PIH and countless other organizations and individuals serving in Lesotho and around the globe. (And please send me information on your frequent flyer program…)

Thanks to Jim Peterson at Application Technology, Inc. for allowing me the time to pursue this missions opportunity. Jim your generosity and integrity continues to astound me.

And finally thanks so much to my family and friends. Especially my wife Laura and our kids Hannah, Thomas, Noah, and Elyse. I love you and will see you soon!

Blessings from Lesotho,


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Methalaneng to Bobete to Nohana

Hello again from Lesotho!

I last posted from Methalaneng on Wednesday evening. The technical work went great there -- the satellite system is running well and the new networking equipment will benefit the doctors and EMR team working in that clinic.

Before leaving Methalaneng on Thursday morning I visited the local school, just up the hill from the clinic and very close to the airstrip. I had brought a soccer ball and pencils donated by my daughter Hannah's class and her teacher (Kathy Christensen, East Elementary School -- Spearfish, SD) and planned to give them to the school.

Hannah’s class wanted to support the kids in Lesotho by sending donated clothing and Kathy included 3 brand new soccer balls – a real treat over here. The donations pretty much filled 2 of my 3 trunks. I asked American missionary Laura Holmes if she would help distribute the clothing. Laura ministers to the Basotho people in and around Maseru, and was very happy to have the clothing. She guaranteed she would find worthy recipients. I brought a few donated items with me into the mountains this week, including the 3 soccer balls. Thank you very much to Mrs. Christensen’s class for being so generous!

At the Methalaneng school I was introduced to the Principal (man in the blue blanket, I can’t remember his name) and he was very happy to accept the soccer ball and pencils on behalf of the school. I had a black Sharpie marker with me and he wrote “A gift from America” on the ball. And then he asked me if he could keep the Sharpie. I gave it to him, but only because I had a spare.

The Principal asked me to “thank the children in America for these gifts for our school”. He then instructed me that when I return to America I should ask the American people for the next donation to be “a fence for the school grounds, a garden, and solar power.” I told him I would pass on the request. So you big givers out there let me know what you can come up with. It never hurts to ask, right…?

The Principal was clearly excited about the new school and looking forward to starting classes in these brand new buildings. He toured me through the old buildings, many of which were in pretty bad shape. One of them was crumbling and was now used to store food provided by the World Food Program and used for school lunches. The WFP bags were labeled as being gifts from Italy and the United States.

He was especially proud of the new bathrooms. They just call them “toilets” here. There is no running water – these are outhouses. But I have to say they really were an improvement from the old toilets. Talking with the Principal a little more I learned why he was so proud of these structures. They were funded by the World Bank and he personally wrote the grant request to have them constructed. The grant was approved and they are a welcome addition to his growing school.

And the grant process only took 10 years.

We said goodbye to Methalaneng and flew by MAF plane to another PIH clinic in Bobete. Bobete is again a special place for me because my son Thomas helped me build the VSAT dish at this site last year. Thomas stayed the night with me in Bobete and enjoyed a decent mutton supper. Having him with me in the mountains is a memory I will always have.

Thomas will be pleased to know the dish in Bobete is still running very well, we did not have to recalibrate this dish at all. We did run some new cables across the clinic grounds, added a new router and more wireless coverage, and cleaned up the overall network at this site. The EMR workers were very happy with the improvements and we were happy to be done in a matter of hours at this site.

Bobete has a very nice clinic grounds. This site is accessible by road (several hours drive from Maseru but still accessible) so PIH hired a landscaper to evaluate the site and she brought in many nice decorations. I personally like the meerkat statues. (They don’t actually have meerkats in Lesotho so those ones are funny to me.)

The Bobete clinic has a warm, inviting feeling and sees between 200 and 300 patients a day! Friday morning I spent some time walking around the clinic grounds and handed out donated clothing. I also gave one child my second soccer ball. His mom was pretty young and she and the other young mothers began playing a game of “keep-away” with the ball. They were having so much fun and it was enjoyable to watch. It was easy to forget they had come for health care, likely regular check-ups for ongoing AIDS treatment.

We were in Bobete for about 24 hours and then again flew by MAF plane to the village of Ketane. The airstrip here is called Nohana, as is the PIH clinic but the people call this place Ketane.

Nohana was the first clinic established by PIH in Lesotho in 2006. Along with Bobete this clinic now serves between 200 and 300 people a day. The clinic has had about 2000 patients test positive for HIV since testing began by PIH and most of them are on managed ART (antiretroviral therapy) treatment programs. They have seen about 6000 unique patients since the clinic opened. Nohana even has an x-ray machine and equipment for doing blood labs instead of sending samples to Maseru for testing.

The Nohana clinic is the only health care facility for people living in an area of more than 200 square miles. Considering the aggressive terrain and that most people have to walk or ride horses to access the clinic this is a huge area. Talking with Jeremy Keeton about where the patients come from he commented “we have had patients from Maseru!” Seriously, they have had people come from Maseru. Why? All of the medical service provided is free – even the ART treatments.

The MAF plane left us here on Friday and will be flown back to Maseru on Monday morning. Jeremy scheduled the project this way because we had the most work to do at Nohana and it is a nice place to stay for the weekend. This site has a dedicated solar power system with backup generator, hot water (using solar heaters), and the village is larger with many small shops and places to buy basic groceries. It is becoming sort of a boom town and I think the PIH clinic is a big part of the growth.

I gave out the final soccer ball and it was a huge hit with the local kids. They played with it until I made them leave for the night on Friday, and then woke us up on Saturday morning by yelling into our windows for the ball. Today was the same story. Nohana also has a great clinic grounds with a playground, nice grass, and landscaping like Bobete.

Nohana was the first site to receive a VSAT dish last year. It seems fitting for this to be my last stop on this trip. We completed our tasks about noon today and had time to explore the surrounding area on a nice hike. It was such a beautiful day in Lesotho and honestly my pictures cannot do this place justice. It is absolutely breathtaking. I could not have asked for a better last day in the mountains. I felt closer to God today than I have in a long time and it was a good feeling.

Please enjoy these photographs. I will try to post one last time tomorrow night before I return to the U.S. on Tuesday. As always thanks for reading.

Blessings from Nohana,


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I’ll get the recipe for those interested…

Well, I'm sorry to say you all missed out big time.

It was like a men's gathering of sorts. Not a normal meal cooked by the women, but a special event.

A photo would have been awesome but I didn't want to be the cheesy American snapping pictures. So you will just have to imagine a small crowded room with a bunch of Basotho men, maybe 10 of them, huddled over a big bowl of sheep guts. A huge bowl actually, like the salad bowl at a restaurant salad bar. And another huge bowl of corn meal. They had already started when we arrived and it sounds like we missed out on "the really good pieces."

No plates. No silverware. You just dig your hand into the meal, and then pick some pieces of meat and enjoy. Jeremy thought the kidneys were pretty good. And he was hoping for some liver. I have no idea how he could tell what was what. I don't think I found any kidney, but the intestine was just as I remember it from last summer…

[ not good ]

Ok so the meal tonight in the village of Methalaneng was not exactly my favorite experience but it was a privilege to be invited to this gathering by Dr. Mopeli (Pronounced “Mo PED ee”. There is no letter “D” in the Sesotho language, but the combination “li” sounds like “dee”.) Talking to the Doctor this evening I understood the importance of this meal. It is one of the techniques he uses to bond his team together up here. He is not from this village -- although he is a Mosotho, raised in the mountains of Lesotho and educated in South Africa. Other members of this PIH clinic team are not from this village either.

Dr. Mopeli knows it is important to build a strong team and this meal has become a tradition. When a sheep is slaughtered he gathers the men who work at the clinic, and others from the village who are associated with the work being done here, and they feast the way the former generations did -- around the pot, with their hands. Most use their hands for all meals but this is deliberate. They eat the innards of the sheep – the heart, kidneys, liver, intestines, etc. They love it in fact. But it is the time together that is most important. The Doctor tells me “we all get so busy we don’t take time to share a meal together and just have fun as men anymore.” Wow what a parallel with life back in the U.S.! Tonight’s menu aside, we really are not that different…

It was 2 years ago tomorrow (May 7, 2007) that I first flew by MAF plane to the remote mountain village of Methalaneng, Lesotho and saw this amazing place. Having returned several times in 2008 and being back here today I can understand why my friend Myron Weber once said Methalaneng is one of his favorite places on Earth. I would now have to agree with Myron. It is one of my favorite places as well.

For me it is a combination of things. Landing at this airstrip is a remarkable experience. As we made the approach this morning I recall saying to pilot Danny Hulls “now remember you fly straight at that mountain and just before you hit it you turn left.” That pretty much sums it up. It is considered one of the hardest airstrips in the world to fly into and for good reason.

The village is picturesque. The small round homes climb a gentle ridgeline above the airstrip. Most of the homes are traditional rondavels, a sign that this place is pretty remote in terms of civilization. The closer you are to decent roads and larger populations the more the houses are square. But landing in Methalaneng is like stepping back in time a hundred years.

But I also love it here because there are amazing signs of advancement in the areas of life that are really benefiting the villagers. The first thing I noticed was a brand new school. 2 beautiful buildings that were built by the Lesotho government will open tomorrow (once the military flies in the keys to the doors…!). What a great time to be here, I hope the helicopter arrives before we have to fly out, but even if we miss the doors opening it was great to talk to one of the teachers and realize the excitement they have for this new school.

The PIH clinic is also thriving here. They are seeing 100+ patients a day now. On the walk down from the plane one of the clinic workers was talking to Jeremy Keeton about how great the progress is. How they notice a real difference in the number of deaths as they are declining!

I came here with Jeremy to upgrade the VSAT system that is becoming crucial to the PIH program in Lesotho. The technical work went incredibly smooth and the connection is working great. For now this site is running on small generators but a solar system has been approved and the funding is in place. Hopefully by the end of the year they will have clean power at this site around the clock.

Wow I have so much to tell you about Methalaneng I just can’t express how amazing it is to be here again and to see this place so full of life. It is easy to think of the death in Lesotho, which has about 30% prevalence rates for both HIV and TB and a life expectancy of only 34 years. But the feeling in Methalaneng today does not reflect those dire statistics.

After having our day canceled by rain yesterday it was such a fantastic experience to have sunny skies, a great flight, successful equipment upgrade/replacement, and good conversation with our Basotho friends here. And yes... even some sheep intestine for supper. The experience would not have been complete with out it.

I may not have time tonight to upload photos but will post many tomorrow. It is late now and we have to turn off the generator.

Blessings from Methalaneng – I wish you were all here to experience it with me. Take care and thanks for reading.


Great day for flying!

Methalaneng airstrip, clinic
and new school from above

Methalaneng Clinic

Jeremy talking with
Clinton Foundation guys.

School kids coming
to see the plane

Methalaneng Village

A beautiful place

Brand new school!

Patients waiting

Patients waiting

Dr. Mopeli

Inside the Clinic

Inside the Clinic

Current generator building
(ha ha)

New generator/solar building