When Chris Lewis
made a solo trip to Tanzania as part of his residency at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine
in 2003, it was his first visit of what would become many.
“I was working in a local hospital—I use the term 'hospital' fairly loosely,” Lewis says. “They sometimes have running water, sometimes have electricity, sometimes have medicine. What they all the time do a good job of is using whatever resources they have to save lives.”
At the time, that hospital was one of two Tanzania facilities that served half a million people, Lewis says, and the need for more accessible assistance was critical.
“Pretty much on a daily basis, I saw people carried in to the hospital that had already died on the road trying to walk six, eight hours,” Lewis says. “One of them was a lady who was pregnant and hemorrhaged to death while in labor, and that sort of stuck with me. I came back home to Cincinnati and then had the urge to go back.”
Rather than return to the same hospital, however, Lewis saw the need to assist those in the outlying regions who couldn’t make it to the hospital in time, so the idea for Village Life Outreach Project
“After our first group trip in 2004, people received us very warmly but were skeptical we’d return. There had been other groups from the U.S. and other European countries that had traveled there and made promises to work with people and maybe dropped off supplies or money and never heard from them again, but our approach was different,” Lewis says. “We don’t just give handouts—we develop relationships with the community so we can work long-term to identify and solve problems the folks there face.”
After Village Life returned for a second, third, fourth and eventually eighteenth group trip, Lewis says the people came to understand the nonprofit’s dedication.
Lewis says Village Life has established strong relationships in the communities the organization serves, including a sister organization on the ground that manages the group’s projects on a daily basis, the region’s first-ever permanent health center, a school, and programs
providing everything from nutrition, water filtration and mosquito nets to help prevent malaria.
“The main goal centers on our mission statement, which is to unite communities to promote life, self and education," Lewish says. "So that whole concept of global unity and trying to play a part is our long-term goal—just bringing people together, helping them understand each other. Understanding people different than you makes you better understand yourself, so we’ve been thankful to have so much help from the Cincinnati community. It’s all about that idea of promoting love across continents throughout the world to people who are fellow human beings.”
• Support Village Life by attending Night on the Serengeti 2013.
• Support Village Life by making a donation
• Contact Village Life if you're interested in volunteering
By Brittany York
Brittany York is a professor of English composition at the University of Cincinnati. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia.