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Saving Time, Saving Lives

Milton Ochieng' '04 wanted to do it so worried mothers wouldn't have to run eight miles down the dirt road to test their children for malaria. His younger brother, Frederick (Fred) Ochieng' '05, wanted to do it after watching a woman die in childbirth in a wheelbarrow because she couldn't get to a hospital quickly. When first the brothers' mother and then their father died within the last four years, it strengthened their resolve to do something simple but extraordinary—build a medical clinic to serve the residents of the small village in which they were born and raised.

Milton Ochieng' '04
Milton Ochieng' '04 with his sister Florence Anyango Ochieng' and baby Maggie (left), and his grandmother, Sarah Otienoh, in Lwala, Kenya. "Dartmouth was 100 percent what I dreamed it would be," Milton says. (Photo by Craig Parker)

From left: Fred Ochieng' '05, Caitlin Reiner '06, Omondi Ochieng', and young girls Nyar and Apiyo in front of the Lwala clinic. Omondi, the oldest brother, is the clinic manager. (Photo courtesy Caitlin Reiner '06)

The Ochiengs' (the brothers use the apostrophe to represent their native Dholuo language) journey is one that many at Dartmouth have traveled with them. After raising over $120,000 in three years, the brothers, now both medical students at Vanderbilt University, opened a medical clinic during the first week of April in Lwala, Kenya, where most people live on $1 a day. Where once an emergency trip to the hospital took several hours, thanks to the Ochiengs' and everyone who helped them, now there's a clinic that offers basic medicines, immunizations, HIV/AIDS testing, and general health care much closer to home.

Ironically, the Kenya clinic has Nicaraguan roots. Participating in a Tucker Foundation program in 2001, Milton says he thought at the time that if a group of Dartmouth students could make a difference in a developing country, then he could do the same in his own homeland. Kyle Chambers '03, who traveled to Nicaragua on the same program that year, says the Tucker program "inspired us to think big."

The idea to build a clinic in Lwala gained momentum over the next three years, and it became a global health project at Vanderbilt during Milton's first year of medical school. Fred, then a senior at Dartmouth, spread the word among friends, and support poured in from many directions.

Dartmouth students, not satisfied with simply learning about the effort, traveled to Kenya to help, including Chambers. Caitlin Reiner '06 visited the village twice and has since started an organization that helps pay for Lwala students' education. Elizabeth Peacock-Villada '05 helped introduce HIV/AIDS testing to the village. Erin Osborn '05, Ashley Carruth '05, Leah Skypeck '05, and Allison Welsh '05 took time off from an Engineers Without Borders program to move stones to form the clinic's foundation. Joel Wickre '03 and his wife, Catherine Chamberlin '03, even moved to Lwala to develop a business plan for fund raising and operations for the new clinic. "This project is rare, because it is truly community initiated and community led," says Wickre.

William Young, associate professor of obstetrics at Dartmouth Medical School, is the head of the Lwala Community Alliance, an organization formed to support the Ochiengs' project. "Milton and Fred have magnetism and charisma, and it's an inspiring, grass-roots story," says Young. Other support for the brothers came from Dartmouth Varsity Soccer Coach Jeff Cook (both brothers played soccer) and Andrew Friedland, chair and professor of environmental studies.

The Ochieng' brothers speak about their personal tragedies and hardships only reluctantly. "Our parents' deaths were hard, and disheartening," Fred says. "But it made us realize even more how much we could help, how fortunate we are to have all of this support, and how special this clinic is." Milton says, "For me, it symbolizes the hope that we have in Lwala, in Kenya, and in all of Africa, that despite all the obstacles, when people share a vision, they can make a difference. We've come this far, and we started from nothing. There are a lot of people who aren't that lucky."

By STEVEN J. SMITH

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Last Updated: 5/30/08