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.

Photo: Milton and Freds clinic
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"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.

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