On Saturday morning at 9 am the otherwise empty parking lot behind the Social Security Administration off Main Street extension was buzzing with activity. A dozen or so doughty volunteers from Artists for World Peace (AFWP), as well as a three-person moving crew, proceeded to spend the next two hours lifting, pushing, hoisting and carrying more than $170,000 in medical supplies and furnishings, bicycles, and equipment into a 40-foot shipping container attached to a truck bound for New York City
All these items, donated over the past few months, will be shipped to the village of Kibosho Umbwe, Tanzania, where the local organization is helping to support the Good Hope Orphanage. Additionally, the group has helped to build a local clinic, to provide much-needed medical care to those in the area. Josephine Machuwa, who built the orphanage in the late 1990s, when she had returned to her native village and discovered that AIDS had devastated the community, observes that providing health care is imperative to keeping parents alive and healthy enough to care for their children.
Steven McDowell, who made the donations from Middlesex Hospital possible, was on hand to oversee the transfer and packing of beds (10), mattresses (20), and a number of furnishings and heathcare items. Additionally, 44 bicycles donated by the Ivoryton nonprofit, Bikes for Kids, were inventoried, numbered and logged. “It’s going to be like Christmas, Hannukah, and birthdays all rolled into one,” said founder and executive director Wendy Black Nasta, or “Mama Wendy” to the Kibosho Umbwe orphans. The children last saw her two years ago and well remember the maternal interest she lavishes on them and the hugs she is quick to give. Additionally, through AFWP, she brings them other necessities, including the funds for a private education in the next town and the “peace pigs” and chickens that serve to boost the protein content of their food so that malnutrition is not such an ever-present threat.
It was for these far away orphans that on Saturday morning Black-Nasta was in the hub of activity behind the off-site storage building for Middlesex hospital. “Each item that’s not in a box must have its own number and be registered in our logbook or customs will confiscate it,” she repeats, assigning numbers, handing out stickers and pens. The previous day, she and her two colleagues, Michele Wytas and Mena Fiore, boxed and labeled such diverse items as pillows, 500 pairs of eyeglasses, and gauze.
The eyeglasses and some of the medical supplies are in support of the eye care team that will be traveling with Black-Nasta. It will be the first time many in this area have had their eyes checked and efforts made to alleviate vision problems. The team includes Professor Ray Dennis, director of the Middlesex Community College Optometry Program, and Dr. Carol Gordon, who practices with CT Eye Doctors and earned her optometry degree from the New England College of Optometry in Boston, after earning her undergraduate degree from Lehigh University. Many in the team are experienced third-world caregivers and anticipate the range of problems they will encounter, including cataracts and infections that have led to low vision or even blindness.
Black-Nasta, a local jeweler with international acclaim, and who has taught at Middlesex Community College, and her husband, musician Robert Nasta, who holds a master’s degree from Wesleyan and also teaches at Middlesex, support the foundation with benefit events and fundraising throughout the year. His series of house concerts, called One Concert/One Child, just completed its fifth year and allowed AFWP to send the final tuition payment of this year for her “Children of Peace.” Additionally, they were able to purchase 100 pairs of sneaker for the children. It is this item that allows children access to soccer teams that provide a healthy activity and adult supervision so crucial to children everywhere.When the tractor was fully loaded, the last of the beds and mattresses hoisted into the cavern, a team member scrawled “Africa Or Bust” on a piece of brown wrapping paper at tucked it at the end, just as the driver, Raymond, prepared to shut the door. With a plastic locking strip, coded with an identifying number, he secure the doors and handed Black-Nasta some papers to sign. After hugs and waves, he set the truck in motion and started the equipment on its way. Black-Nasta and her team will next meet up with the cargo in late July on their two-week medical mission trip and visit with the children