Druffner’s trip to Tanzania was family affairNine-year-old Charlie Druffner probably has the best “how I spent my summer vacation” story of anyone in his class at St. Patrick’s School this fall.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
Nine-year-old Charlie Druffner probably has the best “how I spent my summer vacation” story of anyone in his class at St. Patrick’s School this fall.
Charlie and his parents, Dr. Mark and Molly Druffner, and six brothers and sisters, as well as Corey Peters, also of Hudson, spent most of their summer in Bwambo, a village in Tanzania, as part of Mission Doctors which sponsors Catholic physicians and their families in hospitals and mission clinics in Africa.
The Druffners live in Hudson and Dr. Druffner practices with Hudson Physicians. The challenge of traveling and working in a place as far away as Africa might be daunting if traveling alone, but what would it be like taking an entire family halfway across the world and into another culture?
The logistics of making the trip began with the entire family dressing in orange for the trip over—the better to keep track of everyone, the children ranging in age from 2-16. In addition to 12 suitcases, the family carried an ultrasound machine donated by members of their church, medical equipment, medications and other supplies.
The journey was a long one but an important one. Dr. Druffner would be the first doctor in three years to man the clinic in Bwambo. He also ran a mobile clinic, taking care and treatment to remote locations among the Masai people and others who are beyond the reach of the limited medical care available.
Dr. Druffner hit the ground running, working with a small staff of nurses and a midwife, and training them on the ultra-sound machine and other equipment he brought. Once people heard there was a doctor in the house, patients started to come. The clinic had 500 outpatients in the six weeks Dr. Druffner was there.
The family pitched in as well to help get the clinic up to speed. Son Julian painted all the clinic walls. Molly and the children helped to organize the pharmacy and stock it with the drugs and over-the-counter medications they brought with them. Peters, in addition to minding the children, helped check patients into the clinic.
The family lived in a house formerly occupied by some nuns. They cooked on a wood stove, had to filter all their water and heated water for baths. The family also had assistance with household chores from people in the village.
Dr. Druffner treated a wide variety of ailments during his six weeks from back pain to high blood pressure to parasites to post-partum hemorrhage. He and the staff conducted up to eight ultra-sound examinations a day calling it a revelation for the people there to see their babies in utero.
But there were other revelations as well. “It was sad to see people come in with conditions that could be treated readily here, but can’t be there for lack of resources,” said Druffner at a recent presentation to colleagues at Hudson Hospital. But he and the staff at Bwambo did the best they could with what they had available.
In addition to operating the clinic in Bwambo, Druffner also had a mobile clinic that took treatment to those who were too far away. The Druffners have made the mobile clinic a priority and hope to raise the $1,000 a month it takes to operate the health clinic through donations before they return to Bwambo.
A mother’s view
The family will return to Bwambo according to Molly Druffner, maybe as early as next year. It was an experience she would like to repeat.
She said the family was overwhelmed with the generosity and hospitality they received from the people of Bwambo, “especially since they have so little but still gave so much to make us welcome.”
But she was also impressed by the adaptability and resilience of her children in dealing with some serious culture shock and doing without so many things they all take for granted at home.
“They didn’t complain, even on a horrible, 12-hour bus ride. Maybe it was because wherever we looked, we were seeing new and different things. They were always so interested in everything and seemed to understand what they were seeing,” said Molly.
She said the transition into everyday life was a little easier for the younger children who made connections with village children easily. For her older children, the experience was more of an emotional one but they, too, made connections. “And they were happiest when they were busy, either in the clinic or around the house. I think they missed their friends and home less then.”
She often asked her children, “Can you believe you are here?” so often that it became a family joke.
“But it was true. How many kids could say they were at 6,000 feet with a particular tribe and were in the vicinity of 4,000 elephants? I mean really, think about it.”
Charlie Druffner gets what his mother is talking about. When asked what he liked best about his summer vacation, he quickly answers, “The people and the animals. The safari we went on was the best. And the food was good too. They had this sort of tortilla bread with a lot of oil in it. That was great. The kids were shy at first but not for long. They all play outside a lot and we did too. They don’t have the same stuff we do inside like we do. But I’d like to go back.”
If their trip has a message in it, Molly thinks it is to “go for it” when it comes to stepping outside your comfort zone and finding a way to make a difference.
“If we can do it, anyone can do it. It is something we will remember always. It changed us all.”
Anyone interested in the Mission Doctors Association can find information at www.missiondoctors.org. The Druffners hope they can raise the funds for an x-ray machine and the clinic through donations to the organization. Donations can be sent to Mission Doctors Association. 3435 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1940, Los Angeles, CA 90010 and refer to the Druffner Mission.