Richard Schoenbrun (Richard is a Registered Nurse and former Plenty Board Chairperson)
In the winter of 1993-94 I visited Senegal and worked in the medical clinic, “Shiffa Al Asquam (Curing of Sickness).” The clinic was then located in a large schoolroom were Dr. Khadijha Askari, pediatrician, and Sondra Abdullah, Certified Nurse Midwife, and I worked on patients together with support staff.
I practiced primary dental care, which consisted mostly of extracting teeth. I had the good fortune to learn how to extract teeth during my clinic experience at the Farm community in Tennessee in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After my training on the Farm, I went back to school to become an RN. In 1993 I was asked by Sondra Abdullah to come to Senegal to help there with my dental skills.
After my first visit to Africa, I continued to work with my contacts in Senegal and in the United States. I was able to collect and ship thousands of dollars worth of medical supplies to the clinic. One load of supplies got there just in time to help fight a cholera epidemic. In the fall of 1997, Dr. Askari invited my wife, Christine, and me to work in the newly completed health center facility. This new clinic is “state-of-the-art” in a three-story building with lodging for volunteers. The clinic was funded by the United Nations Department for Family Planning and Shaykh Hassan Cisse, founder and director of the African American Islamic Institute (AAII). The health center is also supported by the World Health organization (WHO) and the Senegalese government. Shaykh Hassan is the Imam (spiritual teacher) of the mosque that is located across the road from the center. Dr. Askari is his wife. The health center is an outgrowth of their dedication to caring for the people of this area.
The center was formally inaugurated during our stay there. Shaykh Hassan requested that I speak through an interpreter to the hundreds of dignitaries and citizens of Senegal who attended the inauguration. I spoke of the need for more volunteers to come to Senegal to give assistance, how privileged I felt to visit this very religious and special place and work with such gentle people, and I stressed how important it is for everyone to experience other cultures and join together for the common good.
The clinic charges a nominal fee for care. The area that is being served has approximately 75,000 people, which includes 10,000 children. The new facility is a very significant addition to the medical and dental care of the area. It is serving 50-120 people a day, is open 4 days a week, and is open all the time for emergencies. When completely finished the health center will have an ambulance service, medical laboratory, dental clinic, surgery suite, obstetric and gynecological services, and pharmacy.
When Dr. Askari invited Christine and me to come to Senegal, I saw the chance to fill a need that had come up in previous discussions with Bisi Iderabdullah, director of Imani House International (IHI), a project in Liberia that Plenty has been working with since 1990. I suggested we bring IHI medical director Benjamin Grant to Senegal to train in dental care during our visit there. The state of war in Liberia has made it unsafe for medical volunteers to visit, while dental care there is in such short supply that people have been known to use battery acid to relieve the pain of their toothaches. Plenty funded Benjamin’s travel and in-country expenses while AAII provided lodging and food. This partnership to train Benjamin and use the clinic site was made possible by the continuing generosity of Shaykh Hassan and Dr. Askari. Benjamin and I worked together for 3 weeks in the dental clinic as well as doing primary care with Dr. Askari. With the assistance of an experienced Senegalese dental health worker, Mr. Ansou Mani, and the staff of the clinic, we were able to bring Benjamin’s primary care training to a level where he could extract teeth with confidence. I was also able to give Benjamin donated supplies and instruments to take back to Liberia with him.
Recently I received a letter from Benjamin in which he writes: “Since my return to Liberia I have been visiting a local government-owned clinic in the suburb of Monrovia (capital of Liberia) where I continue my practicum and observation under the supervision of a dentist. Due to other heavy assignments at IHI, my visit here is once weekly, but very rewarding and highly appreciated by the dentist who tends to feel very comfortable with my skills… If all goes well I will begin seeing patients for dental care at the IHI clinic by March.” It is through your donations to Plenty that we get to do this kind of work. There is a serious need for other trained healthcare practitioners to work at the clinic in Senegal.