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posted: 8/29/2012 2:08 PM

Libertyville doctor helps out in Tanzania

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Submitted by Advocate Condell Medical Center

Half a world away from Lake County, in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, is a village in which the adult population's HIV/AIDS infection rate is approaching 12 percent.

Within this village, there are dozens of children orphaned because of this disease. But while few in this country have ever heard of it, the Tanzanian parish of Mailisita (pronounced "my-liss-eet-ah") has a strong connection with Libertyville.

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"In Swahili, 'Mailisita' means, literally, 'mile six' because it is six miles outside of the nearest town, Moshi," Advocate Condell surgeon and Libertyville resident Dr. Michael Scheer said.

Scheer and his 17-year old son, Michael Jr., spent a week this summer in Mailisita, helping to build a school, as well as bringing much-needed medical supplies and surgical assistance to a nearby hospital.

"The education system in Tanzania is such that each person can receive a state-subsidized education up until eighth grade. But in order to go on to high school or higher-level education, you need to pass a proficiency test that is administered in English, which excludes a lot of the population," Scheer said.

In 2006, parishioners from St. Joseph in Libertyville, under the leadership of Associate Pastor the Rev. Val Laini, a native of Tanzania, resolved to provide an English-speaking school for the orphaned and underprivileged children. Members of the parish explored the feasibility of building a sustainable school for the area.

"It presented a problem, because we wanted to make sure that this school would be sustainable long-term," Scheer said. "And we knew that, as is the case with a lot of these projects that rely on donations, the funds would eventually dry up."

That's where nearby Mt. Kilimanjaro came to an unlikely rescue. Due to the village's proximity to the mountain, the parishioners knew that if they provided a service in conjunction with the school -- the proceeds of which would go directly to the school -- it would be a more sustainable model.

"The area sees travelers from all over the world each year who are interested in safaris or climbing the mountain, so the team thought it would be appropriate to build a guesthouse attached to the school," Scheer said.

"That was in 2006. When I went for the first time with my family -- my wife and four kids -- in 2008, half of the school was built and the guesthouse was under construction."

Since that time, the school is in its third year of operation, with three full classes, and the guesthouse has 14 rooms open, with another 10 on the way.

While Scheer felt good about helping with the construction, he knew that, with his medical training, he could do more. He traveled to nearby Kibosho Catholic Hospital to bring supplies and assist with basic surgical procedures.

"I always say it's a 200-bed hospital with only 20 rooms. It's amazing to see compared to the facilities we have in America. There's no working CT scanner in Tanzania. We have one on every corner here. They are about 30-40 years behind us, in terms of medical technology," Scheer said. "Up until a few years ago, they were still using ether for general anesthesia."

Scheer assisted with routine surgeries such as appendectomies and helped to treat common injuries like burns, which are prevalent because of the villagers' reliance on kerosene for lighting.

Since Scheer's first trip to Mailisita in 2008, he's been gratified to see the progress of both the school and the hospital.

"In just four years, the hospital has gone from an X-ray machine to ultrasound technology, and they're also in the process of exploring possible laparoscopic surgical technology."

The progress is contagious, to Scheer, who plans on returning.

"Since going in 2008 and helping to finish the first classroom to staying in the actual guesthouse this year, words can't express these kinds of experiences. It's a labor of love," he said.

"The children are so enthusiastic, and the teachers' love for education is palpable. I just hope that my small contribution makes a difference."

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