Scottsdale realtor David Lewis has been a man on a mission to transform the lives of people living in the Southern Province of Rwanda, one of the poorest regions in one of the poorest countries in the world. Thanks to Lewis’s vision, along with the leadership efforts of his Scottsdale Sunrise Rotary Club, approximately $1.5 million in medical supplies and equipment have been donated to the Nyaruguru and Huye Districts in Rwanda over the past five years.
The club teamed with Project C.U.R.E., or Commission on Urgent Relief and Equipment, to arrange for delivery of three 40-foot containers – each carrying around a thousand pieces of equipment including electrocardiogram machines, incubators, anesthesia supplies, examination tables, wheelchairs, and feeding tubes. Africa Health New Horizons, an Arizona nonprofit organization founded by a Tutsi survivor of the Rwandan slaughter, also joined in the project. The final shipment of goods arrived last month.
“It’s easy to lose sight of how many people in communities throughout Africa continue to lose their lives from preventable and curable health conditions,” said Lewis, an associate broker with Realty Executives, who has been selling residential real estate in the Valley for 40 years. “These discarded and used medical supplies could not be used in the United States, but are truly lifesavers for people in Rwanda who are in desperate need.”
2019 marks the 25-year anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, one of the most harrowing events of civil unrest in world history. During the Summer of 1994, the Hutu majority rose up against the Tutsi minority and murdered approximately 800,000 of them in a 100-day period.
Since that time, the country has worked hard to recreate itself, officially erasing the designations of Hutu and Tutsi, engaging in a vigorous program of reconciliation, and restoring public security and a stable government. Yet challenges remain for Rwanda’s health care system which lacks adequate medical equipment and supplies for its facilities, putting constraints on the delivery of patient care.
For Lewis, who spent part of his childhood growing up in Ghana, West Africa, this news spurred a call to action.
“Living where I did in Africa left me with a different perspective of poverty,” said Lewis, who serves as international chairman for the Scottsdale Sunrise Rotary Club. “Back in 2011, I worked with my Rotary club to donate $400,000 in medical supplies to a hospital in Ghana and I saw what an amazing impact that made. The more I read and heard about the struggles of the Rwandan people, the more I felt compelled to help them, too.”
According to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Prevention and Disease Control, the top causes of death in Rwanda are lower respiratory infections, neonatal disorders, tuberculosis, diarrhea, stroke, HIV/AIDS and malaria. AHNH collaborated with the Rwandan Ministry of Health to identify the area in greatest need of health care empowerment.
When compared to other provinces in Rwanda, the poverty in the Southern Province is the highest in the country with an estimated 56.5 percent of the population identified as poor. The area has two hospitals – the Munini District Hospital and Butare Teaching Hospital – along with 16 health centers.
The Munini Hospital was not originally a hospital but was created from agricultural buildings in order to bring health care to the underserved people of the area. The scope of care at Munini is limited. Currently, all operations are done without any anesthesia.
All critically ill patients are sent to the Butare Teaching Hospital – a two-hour trip on dirt roads. The district population is rural and the soils are poor, which has led to isolation and a lack of medical services.
“The diseases of poverty are leaving children orphaned, parents unable to work, and health care workers constantly struggling to keep people alive without basic tools,” Lewis explained. “People are sometimes losing their lives due to very preventable problems. For example, patients can dehydrate and pass away before being treated simply due to a lack of IV fluids. That’s something we can’t imagine happening here in the U.S.”
Since its foundation in 1987, Project C.U.R.E. has provided medical supplies, equipment, and services to more than 120 countries around the world, helping both large hospitals and small clinics.
Said Lewis, “Project C.U.R.E. is a non-profit organization that collects medical supplies and equipment from manufacturers, wholesale distributors, hospitals, and clinics across the country. These are stored in distribution centers and warehouses where they sit waiting for clubs and sponsors to fund delivery overseas. Once funding is provided, Project C.U.R.E. then manages the details required to make the deliveries.”
Cost for each shipment is approximately $24,500 in addition to costs for the containers, customs and clearance. Lewis has spent the past five years garnering support for the Rwandan project and leading a $63,500 Rotary global grant. Along with $10,000 pledged by the Scottsdale Sunrise Rotary Foundation, Lewis reached out to other Rotary clubs. Specifically, the Estrella, Phoenix 100, and Tempe South clubs contributed to the cause, along with the 5510 and 5490 clubs outside the district. Rotary members donated their time to help pack the shipping containers at the Project C.U.R.E. facility in Tempe.
The Kigali Rotary Club of Rwanda played an important role in receiving the containers in Rwanda and unloading them at the Butare Teaching Hospital for distribution. Rwanda’s Ministry of Health also participated in the container celebrations.
“The provision of medical supplies, equipment and related services not only provides the immediate benefit in enhancing delivery of care, but helps strengthen the long-term sustainability of the Rwandan healthcare system,” Lewis said. “In total, this global humanitarian project is estimated to provide hope and healing to more than 275,000 Rwandan men, women and children.”
Lewis noted that the Scottsdale Sunrise Rotary Club has a mission to complete one international project every year. In addition to Rwanda and Ghana, the club also provided an entire village in Uganda with medical supplies in 2009.
The Scottsdale Sunrise Rotary Club is one of the most award-winning and dynamic clubs in the country for its size with approximately 35 members. The club meets weekly every Thursday morning at the McCormick Ranch Golf Course Club House in Scottsdale at 7 a.m. and is always interested in adding new, civic-minded members. For more information, contact Lewis at 602-377-0491 or visit scottsdalesunriserotaryclub.org.