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Column: The healing power of medicine, soccer balls and a smile

zambia

This is very difficult for a grown man to admit.

The evening that we came back to our hotel, after the first full day of our mission in Zambia, I sat alone in my hotel room and wept. This was after one of the most emotional days that I had ever experienced. 

I realized that my tears were not only for the sadness of the poverty that I had seen, but also for the strong resilience of the orphans and their caretakers. I also felt so lifted up, even by the little amount that we had done for them. It had taken us over 32 hours to get from our comfortable homes in the Patchogue area to the city of Kitwe, Zambia. In actuality, it seemed that a lot more than 32 hours of travel separated us. Even the hour and 40-minute trek from Kitwe in to the bush country of the villages seemed like a step back in time.

As we first drove to our rescue mission site, we passed numerous villages that looked like something out of a Hollywood movie set. They consisted of grass huts, with children running around and playing. As soon as our vehicle came by their village, the children would run out to greet us, sporting huge smiles. They wore clothes that looked like they were pulled out of a St. Vincent de Paul dumpster. The few adults we saw were women wearing mostly traditional African clothing, which appeared to be sheets of brightly colored material wrapped around them. None of them had any idea of who we were, or why we were there.

When we pulled up to the Teen Missions rescue site (an area set up to help orphans), we saw children playing with a ball that was made out of old plastic garbage bags tied together.

We later bought soccer balls and basketballs and a hoop for them. They were overjoyed.

We set up our clinic in an old, dilapidated wood building. Our four volunteers consisted of Dr. James Bopp, former Brookhaven Memorial Hospital medical director and now an owner of STAT Health on Sunrise Highway in Sayville; Brother Jim Maloney who served as a chaplain at Brookhaven Memorial and is trained as a nurse; Christopher McGuire, former Patchogue Village justice, and me, Marty McIndoe, a deacon at St. Francis de Sales in Patchogue. 

Dr. Bopp and Chris McGuire are the founders of our charity, HALO Missions. I serve as the chaplain.  Our mission there was to bring medical treatment, educational help and prayers to a community that consisted of so many orphans. The AIDS epidemic in Africa, as well as many other diseases, has left many children without parents.  Some have family members or friends to care for them, and some fend for themselves. We were told that their main diet consisted of corn meal grown by the villagers, and field mice captured by them.

Somehow word got out that a doctor was there to help. There is such a shortage of doctors in the area that most had never seen a doctor before. They began lining up at our door for treatment. A large number of the children suffered from malaria and ringworm. These are easily treated with medication, which we provided. We had some very serious cases of burns and injuries and numerous other ailments. The first day we saw about 90 children, but each day the number grew to the point we reached 160 in a day.

Although, we had to treat a large number each day, we spent significant personal time playing with them. They were so appreciative, and the truth of the matter is, that even though we accomplished a lot for them, we all received more from them than we gave. They loved the lollipops we kept handing out. We gave everyone toothbrushes and toothpaste. We provided some eyeglasses to those who needed them.

In Zambia, the government requires all students to have a uniform for school. If you don’t have one, you cannot attend school. We identified 109 children in this area that did not attend school because they couldn’t afford uniforms. We bought all 109 uniforms. We also visited the school and found that it had an addition that was never completed, due to lack of funds. The government told the school master that they could not finish the school.  We were able to give the school enough money to finish the addition. We also left funds for more school supplies with the local Teen Missions staff. We left medical supplies and medicines for them to use.

When we had our fundraiser this last summer in Patchogue, we promised our contributors that every penny given by them would be used for medical and educational needs of the orphans. I can attest that we have done that. 

The four of us who volunteered on this first mission paid all our own expenses for air fare, hotel and meals. The generosity of the people of Patchogue and surrounding area was put to good use. We are already planning our next trip for next year. We hope to have more doctors and nurses to join us.

Personally, I miss seeing those children and can’t wait to return. May our good Lord bless you all. 

Please check out our website:  www.halomissions.org for information and donations.

Top photo: Dr. James Bobb (clockwise from left) a Teen Missions translator, Brother Jim Maloney, and a mother and her baby who was suffering from ringworm or malaria, possibly both, in Zambia.

The baby is holding toothpaste. (Credit: Marty McIndoe)

About the author: Marty McIndoe

Marty McIndoe is a deacon at St. Francis de Sales in Patchogue.