How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It’s an old saying that puts in perspective how enormous some tasks can be. And reminds you how much perseverance it can take to do something really …
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How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
It’s an old saying that puts in perspective how enormous some tasks can be. And reminds you how much perseverance it can take to do something really big.
A hospital in Africa will receive a shipping container of much needed medical supplies thanks, in no small part, to the hard work and dedication of three strangers who took it upon themselves to help make it happen.
Jean Sebastien Dieme was born and raised in Senegal, studied in France and ultimately moved to the U.S. to work for the United Nations. Now, he’s made Colorado his home and works as a Finance and Accounting Manager for the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
Dieme said his background in finance and position at the hospital made him want to find a way to help people in the place he was born. And then, on a trip back to Africa, fate stepped in.
“I went to Senegal and fell ill while I was there,” he said.
“So, upon my visit to this hospital, I realized the great needs they had, as far as medical equipment and supplies goes.”
He said he left Africa determined to help fill that need. But once he got back to Colorado, the enormity of the task at hand was daunting.
“To be honest with you, I kind of put the project to the side because I didn’t think I had the resources or bandwidth to deal with it,” he said. “But again, my conscience — that voice in the back of your head — kept telling me ‘You’ve got to do it. You can’t run away from it.’”
So, he started telling his story to anyone who would listen, and soon the project was gaining traction.
One of the organizations who listened to Dieme’s story was Project Cure, an organization that procures and stores donated medical supplies for hospitals in developing countries.
Dieme was able to arrange for them to do an official needs assessment for the hospital, and it was determined that they could use six containers worth of equipment. The supplies and equipment inside a container are all donated — free of charge — which is great.
But there was a tricky bit — it costs $26000 to ship just one container to Senegal.
To Dieme, it was a tall mountain to climb.
But he wouldn’t have to do it alone. The folks at Project Cure put him in touch with people they thought might be able to help. That’s how he met Andy McKean, a member of the South Jeffco Rotary Club.
McKean has plenty of experience shipping supply containers to Africa. A few years ago he sent two containers to a hospital in Kenya, where he’d been a Peace Corps volunteer years ago. McKean says after the Kenya shipments, he was approached by Project Cure to see if he would help someone who was trying to send one to Cameroon, a place McKean also spent time during his Peace Corps days. He took that one on too.
So, when Dieme approached McKean, he had no intention of saying no. Now, the two of them have been working toward raising that shipping money since July 2020.
“Andy’s been tremendous at helping me make phone calls and doing presentations to places like Rotary,” Dieme said.
One of the ways McKean was able to help was by reaching out to the D’Evelyn High School Interact club. For those not in the know, Interact clubs are part of a Rotary program that’s been around for years. According to McKean, the goal is to get high school students to do community service “and something possibly international, to make a difference in the world.”
McKean asked the Interact teacher-sponsor at D’Evelyn if the club would want to help fundraise to ship the container to Senegal. And Dieme made a presentation to the Interact club.
Enter Megan Stein, D’Evelyn senior, and President of the Interact club. She said because of COVID-19, it’s been a difficult year for the club to get out and volunteer. So, when Dieme spoke about the Senegal project, it really hit home.
“I thought it would be such a great idea for our little club to do something that would have such a big impact,” she said. “Bringing joy to people in a time of such uncertainty — being able to help other people even though we’re under restrictions (from COVID) — that’s what this project brought our club.”
Stein and her club rolled up their sleeves and started selling boxes of tea that had been donated by a friend of McKean’s for $20 each. The owner of the tea company, Martin Kabaki, is a Kenyan who wanted to help the cause.
In total, Stein’s Interact club raised $1040 from selling the tea and chipped in an additional $1,000 from their club’s general account.
Dieme was overwhelmed by the students’ contribution. In particular, he had nothing but praise for Stein.
“She kind of surprised me. I made a presentation to her school, and she went home and started fundraising on her own. I find it fascinating for a high-schooler to take this on,” he said.
“To me, it’s huge because you don’t know the impact you’re making for people who are around the world. This is life changing equipment. It’s true we’re fighting a pandemic, but these folks (in Senegal) are fighting a pandemic on top of a pandemic. People like Megan, I can’t applaud enough — I can’t thank enough. Saying thank you is not the right word for someone who’s done so much but what else can you say?”
The remaining $24,000 in shipping fees has been donated by various other Rotary clubs, individuals (including members of Colorado’s African diaspora) and other charity groups. According to McKean, the shipment should be on its way to Senegal soon.
Stein, on her way to becoming a Baylor pre-med student after graduating from D’Evelyn, said she can’t wait to get to her next school and find another club to continue the good fight.
“It’s just such a big part of my life — helping others,” she said. “That’s why I want to go into the medical field, to be able to help others every single day.”
Dieme is continuing to look for ways to raise money for the next five shipments to Senegal.
McKean is already working on sending another container to a hospital in Kenya.
That’s how you eat an elephant — one bite at a time.
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