Sons of Kenyan Village Build First Clinic

For Milton and Fred Ochieng', brothers from the remote village of Lwala in western Kenya, the shared dream of becoming doctors in America seemed like an impossible feat.

Growing up more than 7,000 miles away in a community with no doctors or health clinics, the brothers saw first-hand how the villagers struggled to receive care.

"You'd either have to get the person in the back of a bicycle or in a wheelbarrow if they're bleeding and literally push them on the wheelbarrow for 45 minutes or an hour to get to the nearest paved road -- then flag down a taxi," Milton Ochieng' said. "Sometimes, it would take two hours to get to the hospital."

Milton Ochieng's passion for medicine won him a full scholarship to Dartmouth College, but when he couldn't afford the $900 plane ticket, the community stepped in. The villagers put their faith and savings into one of their own, holding a "harambe," or fundraiser.


"The village sold their chickens, cows, goats," he said. "This was not just success for my parents, my family, it was success for the whole village. They saw it as a way of investing in one of their own."

Before he left, the elders told Milton Ochieng' to stay true to his community: "'Remember where you're from,'" he recalled hearing. "'When you go to America, remember us and make sure you come back and help our community.'"

Milton Ochieng' never realized how true those words would become. But they brought him back to the village to build the community's first clinic.

The voice of the elders stayed in Milton Ochieng's head throughout his junior year at Dartmouth, when he traveled with other students to a village in rural Nicaragua and helped build a clinic.

"I remember coming back from the trip really very excited," he said. "I talked to my dad. I said, 'Remember how you always talked about the need for a clinic? I think I just got an idea.'"

Brothers Pour Hearts Into Clinic Fundraising

Milton Ochieng's father, a high school chemistry teacher in Lwala, began drawing up plans for the village clinic.

His brother Fred Ochieng, who by then had earned his own scholarship to Dartmouth, set about raising money from teachers, fellow students, even kids.

"I remember receiving this letter from a little girl who was 8; her brother was 4," Fred Ochieng' recalled. "They emptied their piggybanks and put together $45 from their piggybanks."

Jared Friedland, 10, a son of a professor at Dartmouth, asked for donations to the clinic instead of birthday presents. He raised $240.

New Hampshire high school students even held a penny war, distributing cans to homerooms to see who could raise the most money. Little by little, the pennies added up to $2,000 -- all for a village on the other side of the world.

"And I thought, these little kids believe we can build this clinic ... and that really has been such a blessing to us," Fred Ochieng' said.

As the fundraising effort gained steam, the need for the clinic in the village became more dire each day.

AIDS, which had devastated the village, hit home for the brothers. Their mother, who suffered from malaria, typhoid and diabetes, passed away. The brothers learned shortly before she died that she had HIV/AIDS.

Just weeks before they were set to break ground for the clinic, word came that their father also had died of AIDS.

"My dad has been working on this project all this time and then he passes away a month before the groundbreaking ceremony, and it's just heartbreaking, you know," Fred Ochieng' said.

"It was at the funeral that we told the villagers, everyone, that we wanted to build the clinic in honor of my dad," Milton Ochieng said. "Finally, they were going to build their own clinic."

As the clinic took shape, pennies were no longer enough. Still in school, the brothers juggled medical school studies and fundraising, inching closer to fulfilling their father's vision.

"We are constantly thinking about the next step, what's around the corner, how are we going to make it work?" Milton Ochieng said. "We've had those times when I really had my doubts ... What did I get myself into?"

Ochieng's Honored for Commitment to Lwala

In 2005, Milton Ochieng', then a student at Vanderbilt University Medical School in Nashville, Tenn., met Barry Simmons, a local TV reporter looking for a story.

"We met at a local coffee shop in town, and as he told me about it and laid out the blueprint, I found myself mesmerized -- thinking this is something special," Simmons said.

Simmons was blown away by Lwala's sense of community -- and pride in identity he felt was missing in America. Within weeks, Simmons quit his job, joining the brothers on their journey to make a documentary film called "Sons of Lwala."

"I wanted to help Milton Ochieng' open the clinic, but it was also a statement of my own about how we live our lives, what we devote our time to," Simmons said.

Americans opened their hearts and their wallets, developing a network of students, politicians -- even a rock band. Through a college friend, the Christian rock group Jars of Clay put on a benefit concert at a stadium, raising $10,000 and bringing the brothers' goal to life.

"Every step of the way, it's been miracle after miracle, a tidal wave of hope, a tsunami," said Milton Ochieng'. "The floodgates opened from New Hampshire to California."

The brothers returned home to finish what their father had left off. With help from a nonprofit organization called the Lwala Community Alliance, the Lwala Community Memorial Health Center opened its doors in April 2007 and since then has seen more than 1,500 patients a month.

Lwala residents no longer have to make the treacherous hike for health care. Members of surrounding communities also are welcome. The brothers never turn anyone away.

Last month, Milton Ochieng' returned to the village in Kenya with filmmaker Barry Simmons for the premiere of the documentary. Hundreds of people showed up from neighboring villages to watch the film, which was projected onto the clinic wall.

"This is a village that doesn't have electricity. They've never seen a movie, they've certainly never seen themselves," said Simmons. "What we were saying by coming back was thank you for teaching us something we kind of missed. They taught us what community really means, what love looks like. They didn't have to send Milton to America. A lot of them weren't related to him. But they did it because when you're in Lwala, when you're born in Lwala, you're a son to everyone."

On Friday, Milton and Fred Ochieng' returned to Dartmouth, where they will receive the Martin Luther King, Jr. Social Justice Award at an honorary dinner. "This week five years ago our mother passed away," Milton Ochieng' told ABC News. "For us to be honored as ABC's Persons of the Week and also be getting an award this week at Dartmouth, it's like the spirit of our mom lives on and she's smiling down at us."

Milton Ochieng', 28, is currently a resident at Barnes Jewish Hospital at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Fred Ochieng', 27, is a third year medical student at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville. To learn more about the Lwala clinic, you can visit the Lwala Community Alliance. To learn more about the "Sons of Lwala" documentary click here.