Saturday, July 26, 2014

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Operation Smile - back from Rawanda  2013
    After the Congo I was asked to go to Rawanda for another mission to repair cleft lips and cleft palates in that country.  I learned as much as I could about the country, from its beauty to its turbulent past.  The recent genocide gave me pause to go there, but once I got into the country I was amazed at the progress this little country in the middle of Africa has bounced back to be more of a model of tolerance, and gaining slowly in prosperity.
   I flew a long, long way and a long, long time to get to the capital called Kigali.  I flew west from Hawaii with a long lay-over in Seoul, Korea, and on Qatar Air to Qatar then Uganda and finally Rawanda.  The 40 member team from various countries gathered the first night in Kigali, then took vans a few hours west to the town of Ruhengeri.
    We were three to a room, with one on a mattress on the floor.  We spent a week there, walking back and forth to the hospital,  except on nights in the pouring rain, when we could get rides. There was a nice center where people with clefts could come as families and stay for the screening and surgery.
    The first day there we screened all the kids and people can came requesting surgery.  Some were too sick or too malnourished to have an operation, and will be seen on another mission, maybe next year.
    I helped set up the operating rooms in the hospital, all our equipment and instrumentation coming from shipments from Operation HQ in Virginia.
    A group of guys from England, like a boy band, came to lend their support and help publicize the mission.   The local volunteers and the children and parents were so wonderful.  They were happy to see us and even happier after the surgeries.
    I worked in the Operating Room.  One room had two operating tables and the other room had three.  It was quite crowded and very busy, but we did over a hundred cases in the 4 1/2  days of surgery.
   Interestingly a man came into the hospital's ER and then to their OR. He had stepped on a hand gernade or land mine that had been buried in the mud around a lake since the genocide.  It blew his lower leg off.  Our operation smile doctors helped the local staff to stop the bleeding and clean up the stump so he could be transported to Kigali for further treatment and a major hospital.    Times like this is when reality really hits home.  This country has suffered tremendously.
    I will add pictures of the mission later.
     After the mission I went on my own, but with a couple other people that stayed over, and we went up the nearby Volcanoes National Park to see the Mountain Gorillas... as in the movie of Diane Fossey "Gorillas in the Mist".  This was the place!  The first day we went to see the Golden Monkeys in their home of the bamboo forests, it was really fun to watch them and take lots of pictures.  The next morning, praying that the rain would hold off, we met at the Park and were assigned into groups of eight.  We had requested to view a gorilla group that would take us on only a moderately strenuous hike.   There are about 12 gorilla groups that are habituated to humans watching them.  There are other groups that can be visited across the border in Uganda.  But the gorillas that are on the other border to the Democratic Republic of the Congo are in danger still, because they are not protected, and can still be poached.
   We drove to a small village where the trail to our gorilla group called "Bewandi" were.  Trackers had followed them the night before and knew the location where they'd "nested" and went back up in the morning to continue tracking them until we arrived.  We had a guide and I hired a porter to carry my backpack and help me up the tricky and steep mountain path.  Hiring the local men is helpful to the village and a deterant to poaching.  The hike took almost two hours and I was usually in the rear, with four physically fit Aussies setting the pace in the lead.   We had a couple park rangers meet us at the stone wall that surrounds much of the park.  Then we all walked up to meet the trackers and put our bags down ready for the one-hour adventure with the gorillas.  
     It was amazing to see two Silverback Mountain Gorillas in the group with other members of various ages.  One female had a one month baby gorilla which she carried closely in her arm.  We were very close to all of them, and had many rules to follow during the encounter.  Basically the gorillas had no concern about our presence and more just intent on eating the bamboo and other plants and leaves that they found find.  We all got many photos and videos of the visit, and were grateful for the once-in-a-lifetime experience we had, even if it was just for one hour.   The rain held off until we were back in Ruhengeri.
     After that we went to the big lake near Goma, the border crossing to DCR.  ...to be continued

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