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LWALA - Living With A Life-long Ambition is a youth based organization that employs innovative ways to involve youth in fundraising efforts for worthy causes. Our goal is to connect young people with tangible solutions for epic problems by enabling them to use their talent and passion to contribute to global efforts. The youth-based organization was inspired by the story of Vanderbilt Medical students and Lwala natives Milton and Frederick O’Chieng, whom co-Founder Danielle Snyder met while attending Vanderbilt.
LWALA - Living With A Life-long Ambition – is a youth based organization that employs innovative ways to involve youth in fundraising efforts for worthy causes. Our goal is to connect youth with tangible solutions for epic problems. Our AIDS focus brought us to Lwala, Kenya where the efforts of this organization in conjunction with the LCA have helped to build a health clinic in an area suffering from high rates of HIV, AIDS diagnoses (above 30%) and which is additionally disadvantaged by its remote location and lacking infrastructure.
The founders of LWALA, Alexa von Tobel and Danielle Snyder, went to Lwala during a summer internship for 85 Broads in 2006 to create a documentary about AIDS that would inspire and motivate their peers to become part of the solution. The location and focus of their documentary is the result of a friendship between Vanderbilt students Danielle Snyder and Milton Ochieng'. Ironically enough, LWALA, the subsequent non-profit organization, is the result of a friendship as well—a lifelong one between Alexa von Tobel and Danielle Snyder, who have been next door neighbors and best friends since their childhood.
Milton Ochieng’ is a Lwala native, who after losing his parents to AIDS felt compelled as a Vanderbilt medical student to fulfill his father’s dying wish—the creation of the first Lwala Community Health Clinic. Despite his dedicated efforts, the clinic was far from fruition due to a lack of funding. Danielle read about his situation in a local paper, and decided to involve her peers at 85 Broads in the endeavor.
During July of 2006, Danielle and Alexa, along with three other students from Harvard, Princeton, and SCAD traveled to Lwala, Kenya to make a documentary about the village and its AIDS crisis. Through their documentary, "Journey to Lwala," they hoped to enlighten and motivate their peers to fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa.
Upon returning to the states, the two realized that their trip was not just a life-changing experience—it was the beginning of a life-long ambition to make a difference. While in Lwala, they worked with village leaders to test approximately 500 villagers and found that more than 30% of the village was infected. Further, they found that the reason so many villagers had not been tested was not because of fear, rather it was because they lacked access to healthcare. In August 2006, the Lwala Community Health Clinic was but a distant dream, and the closest district hospital was roughly 40km away.
With the support of 85 Broads and its non-profit, Miles To Go, the first LWALA benefit took place on November 2, 2006 at the Asia Society in NYC. The 300 person fundraiser featured their documentary, Journey to Lwala, and raised ~$15,000 for Lwala. In response to the benefit’s success, Alexa and Danielle vowed to continue motivating and inspiring their peers to remain dedicated to the dream of the Lwala Community Health Clinic. During her last semester at Vanderbilt, Danielle threw the 2nd Lwala Benefit with the Vanderbilt student organization, Students for Kenya. The 500 person LWALA benefit raised close to $30,000.
To date, LWALA has raised more than $90,000 for the village which has effectively been put to use by the dedicated staff of the Lwala Community Alliance. As a result of the LCA’s dedication, the Lwala Community Health Clinic finally opened on April 2, 2007.
The Lwala Community Clinic Project is the brainchild of Milton Oludhe Ochieng', a 3rd year Vanderbilt medical student and his brother Frederick Otieno Ochieng', a 1st year medical student at Vanderbilt Medical School class of 2010 with inspiration from their late father, Erastus Ochieng’ who helped write the proposal for the clinic but himself passed away one month before the groundbreaking ceremony in June 2005.
In the months before their death, Ochieng’s parents brought the community together to establish a village health committee, with the goal of creating a health clinic that would serve others like them who lacked access to basic health care. A committee of 21 people comprising 3 from each of the 7 clans was elected. The committee was charged with building and operating a clinic in Lwala that would serve the 4,000 residents of Kameji sub-location.
The clinic seeks to improve access to primary healthcare in a rural village in western Kenya. Milton and Fred have enlisted the help of numerous organizations in Kenya and in America, American college professors and administrators, college student groups, high school and middle school students to build a community clinic in Lwala, the rural village in Western Kenya where they grew up. Milton’s and Fred’s efforts represent a unique addition to the attempts by many individuals and international organizations in pursuing the UN Millenium Goals for African countries. However, Milton and Fred have the rare advantage of having first hand knowledge of the Kenyan community in which they will be putting to good use some of the western education acquired from the American institutions they attended.
Lwala is in Nyanza province, which borders Lake Victoria. Nyanza has perhaps the highest prevalence of HIV in Kenya. Kenya’s overall adult (15-49) HIV prevalence, according to The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, was 6.7% as at the end of 2003. In Homa Bay, a town in Nyanza province, prevalence was estimated at 33%. Many factors contribute to the spread of HIV in this area, including poverty, migration associated with the lake, polygamy, wife inheritance, untreated STIs, and lack of circumcision. The problem of HIV/AIDS overlays a host of normal health problems in Lwala: Malaria, tuberculosis, pneumonia, cold/ flu, pharyngitis, tonsillitis, typhoid, diarrheal diseases and worms, among many others.
Poor infrastructure makes accessing health care in surrounding towns and cities very difficult. The primary modes of transportation in Lwala are bicycle taxis. In emergency situations, people carry the sick in wheelbarrows, or even in their beds. There is one health center 3km away (Minyenya), that provides some outpatient care and family planning, but for further care residents go to Rongo Subdistrict Hospital (10 kilometers away). Yet even Rongo, a hospital that serves over 60,000 people, is only served by a clinical officer, not a doctor, and cannot perform an emergency delivery by c-section for example. Rongo Sub-district hospital takes care of simple outpatient problems but stabilizes and transfers any surgical and complicated cases to the district hospitals that have doctors. The nearest district hospitals are Kisii District Hospital 33km away, Migori District Hospital 40km away and Homabay 41km away. Patients from the Rongo area stand to benefit from receiving ARVs in Lwala Clinic.
The idea for this project was inspired from a two-week Dartmouth Cross Cultural winter service trip in which Milton Ochieng’ participated during his sophomore year. Working hand in hand with the Nicaraguans, the Dartmouth group built a Women’s and Children’s Health Clinic in Siuna Nicaragua. The trip served as an eye-opener for Milton, who saw a lot of similarities in the healthcare situation in Nicaragua versus that of the rural village where he had grown up in Kenya. He was also struck by the impact that young college students could make by volunteering some of their time, effort and resources in service activities. On his return to the USA, Milton vowed that he too would lead a team in constructing a clinic in his rural village in Kenya whenever the opportunity would present itself. That opportunity presented itself when Milton joined Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in August 2004. Through the new Vanderbilt Emphasis Program, the first year medical students could choose one of 8 areas ranging from clinical research, lab research to international health in which to focus their efforts in the summer between the first and second year.
Vanderbilt Medical School would provide each of the students with a stipend for the summer. Milton chose to focus on international health and was lucky to find a willing advisor in Dr Peter Wright, the Shedd Professor of Pediatric Infectious Disease at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. With the help of his late father, Milton put together a proposal that they started using in soliciting money. Milton and Fred reached out to Dartmouth college groups, local middle schools and high schools in Hanover, NH and student soccer groups in the Upper Valley Region. With key support from the Dartmouth chapter of the Navigators, the Dartmouth Soccer Program , and Thetford Academy, Milton and Fred were able to raise the initial money needed to start the foundation. Fundraising for the project was launched in January 2005. Milton asked his brother Fred, then a senior at Dartmouth College, to think of fundraising ideas. At a Northeast Navigators Conference on January 27th 2005, Fred gave a presentation about the project and people raised $9,500 for the Lwala Clinic that weekend. Dartmouth Men’s Soccer Coach, Jeff Cook, organized an interview for Fred with a local newspaper, The Valley News and support came pouring in. Children emptied their piggy banks. The ford Academy students donated part of the money from their community service, Operation Day's Work, to the "Freddy clinic." The initial budget estimated that it would take approx US $25,000 to erect the 30.2m by 6m clinic building.