Breath of Life

Several years ago, in an interview with a doctor in a rural hospital in Cameroon, I learned how he does all surgical operations under local anesthesia. He explained how many deaths occur simply because of the lack of available oxygen to assist the patients’ recovery. This discussion made me realize that this problem is common throughout Africa. I knew that so many lives could be saved if we could only find a way to provide oxygen more directly to some of these rural areas.

When I came back to America and inquired further, I learned that there are portable oxygen generators that produce medical grade oxygen. These life saving machines can instantly turn regular air into medical grade oxygen for immediate use. This equipment, although very low maintenance and easy to operate, is very costly. I became motivated and looked for sponsors who might be interested in helping us in this life saving mission.

Among those with whom I discussed my intentions, was Rabbi Allen Tuffs of the Temple Beth El in Hollywood, Florida. He immediately expressed a strong interest in the project. With the support of his congregation, he provided us with 5 oxygen concentrators. With the help of volunteers, this equipment was shipped from New York and arrived safely in Nairobi in December of 2003.

In January of 2004, I returned to Africa for the next stage of our humanitarian work, among which was the distribution of the oxygen concentrators to some of the most needy hospitals.

One of my first destinations was the village of Wajir, located in a remote area on the border of Somalia and Ethiopia. It was a difficult journey in a harsh and inhospitable climate. This area is so dangerous that even the local people in surrounding villages tend to avoid it. To travel 12 hours by road with the danger of bandit attacks or car jacking was not a good option. Instead I traveled with a team of medical doctors in a small medical relief plane.

The tiny village hospital in Wajir was poorly equipped and badly understaffed, with only one doctor for several thousand people. At times, many seriously ill villagers wait for days outside the hospital building to see one of the medical staff. A large number of this population suffers from diseases such as TB, malaria, HIV/AIDS, and the effects of severe malnutrition.

The arrival of an oxygen concentrator in this environment was a cause for great joy and excitement. The doctor and his staff happily participated in setting up and testing the new machine. This equipment is capable of providing oxygen to three or four patients at one time. It will greatly improve the medical staff’s ability to save the lives of many who would otherwise suffer and die needlessly.

On another occasion, when I traveled to the district of Maragwa, many community members, including the doctor and church leaders, greeted me with gratitude in a special church service. In his welcoming speech, the head priest said, “Our prayers have been answered, and we thank God for this miracle.”

As the equipment was set up in the local hospital, I was able to personally witness the relief experienced by a small child struggling to breathe. His crying stopped instantly as the life saving oxygen was provided.

To be able to contribute in such a meaningful way to improving the quality of life of these poor and underprivileged people was truly a special experience for me.

When I reflect back, I realize how wonderful it was that a Buddhist Monk, a Jewish Rabbi, and a Christian Priest could all come together in saving lives and making a difference in the world. When it comes to human suffering we need to step beyond our religious boundaries, stand together, and open our hearts to serve humanity.

We would like to convey our heartfelt gratitude to the Rabbi Allen Tuffs, Sheryl Shaw, and the generous contributors and volunteers who made this project possible.