It isn’t often that I worry about actually surviving a journey, but I was secretly worried during our visit to Safari Doctors and Umra Omar, a potential new leader for the M. Night Foundation. Maybe my protective instinct was triggered as two of my children were with me.
Umra later told me rainy season is May and June, and it’s considered a miracle if it rains in July. Well, it’s August, and we just passed through a wild rainstorm as we returned from a day of visiting villages located on the archipelago of Lamu, Kenya. We sped our way through dark grey clouds for 45 minutes, though it could have been an eternity. We used our life vests as shields against pelts of rain that felt like a thousand little rocks being hurled at us. Every few seconds, the front of the boat launched off a wave and hit the water’s surface again with such force I couldn’t imagine it wouldn’t just break. We learned later that evening that a boat we remembered passing earlier in the day capsized. It was overloaded with people and cargo, and unable to withstand the storm. Only one of ten passengers survived. Sad and sobering news.
Maybe it was the universe’s way of showing us the risks the Safari Doctors team takes in doing the work they do to provide basic medical care to isolated island communities that have nothing; no operating schools, no options for livelihood, and no medicines other than what Safari Doctors provides. These communities are close to the border of Somalia, and thus have been further isolated due to fear of violence from the jihadist fundamentalist group, Al Shabaab. Teachers and other service workers have fled, and military occupation meant to protect these villages has caused a drain on their already negligible resources. The circumstances are incredibly challenging with no sign of significant relief any time soon. It was difficult for us to visit only a few villages over the course of a single day. Umra and her team sail out to visit many more villages once every month, spending 3-6 days living on a boat each time.
Umra, in her tiny frame, is making a huge difference. Under her leadership, Safari Doctors is a true dream team. Not only are they providing critical health services that have improved outcomes in the communities they treat, they are also planning to generate livelihood opportunities for women and create a series of community centers to provide basic education programs for kids. Umra and her team represent hope for these otherwise forgotten people. For me, this visit was worth the pelting rain and the anxiety over surviving the boat ride home. It was a genuine pleasure to see the work of Umra and her Safari Doctors in action.