Catholic Herald staff
It was, by all accounts, an elegant evening.
Donning Downton Abbey garb, guests mingled, sipped sparkling wine and nibbled hors d’oeuvres served by black-clad waiters.
But beneath the lighthearted glamour was a serious and selfless objective: to offer continued support for one family’s medical mission in East Africa.
The April 11 gala was an invitation-only fundraiser hosted by Dr. Mark Druffner and his wife, Molly Delaney Druffner, at the Lowell Inn in Stillwater, Minnesota.
An NFP-only doctor, Druffner lives and practices in Hudson. He and his family are members at the Church of St. Michael, Stillwater, Minnesota.
That’s where the Druffners first encountered a Tanzanian missionary priest who told them about the dearth of medical care in the country.
“We decided that we wanted to go,” Druffner said.
Bwambo is a village in Tanzania’s South Pare Mountains. The Druffners first visited the area in 2009 on a medical mission trip facilitated by the Mission Doctors Association.
A Catholic organization, MDA allows doctors to bring their families along for medical missions to Africa and Latin America. The MDA’s goal is to create sustainable medical care systems in underserved areas.
When the family arrived in Bwambo, Druffner was the first doctor to visit the hospital in six years. The 80-bed facility was serving 40,000 people.
“Imagine western Wisconsin with one hospital, and at that time, one doctor,” he said.
Besides the lack of staff, the hospital had no medical equipment, few medications, and the building needed renovating.
Druffner likens it to “trying to set up a clinic in the Boundary Waters and see patients.”
To achieve sustainable medical care, the facility needed trained staff, infrastructure improvements, housing for staff and medical supplies and equipment. Since 2009, the Druffners have been raising money for those necessities, as well as for projects at the Catholic Church in Bwambo.
Given the difficult conditions, finding doctors and nurses to work in the hospital is a challenge.
The bishop of the Diocese of Same has started asking new priests to become doctors, and Fr. Beda, one of the few priest-doctors in Tanzania, has been with the hospital four years.
“He’s 24/7, 365,” Druffner added.
Another priest, Fr. Josephat, is also in training to become a doctor, and they’ve recently welcomed two Bethany Sisters, both nurses in the medical order, from India.
“During the (Easter) Triduum, they had 10 deliveries (of babies),” he said.
The Druffners can only go to Bwambo once a year, so they spend the rest of the year raising money, partnering with local Catholic schools and churches and soliciting community support. Dr. Greg Young, a parishioner at St. Patrick, Hudson, who also practices medicine in Hudson, joined the Druffners in Bwambo last year. He and Druffner helped deliver 42 babies in July.
This year, the Druffners are raising money to rebuild staff houses, the operating room and the outpatient clinic building, and to fund more loans to locals.
Druffner credits his wife with starting the microloan program in the parish. Unemployment is high, so women who want to start their own businesses can meet with the priest, show him a business plan and get a $100 loan for start-up capital. Then, they repay 5 percent of the loan each month until it is paid off.
So far, 37 loans have been given out, and all of the businesses are still thriving.
“It’s really, really growing,” Druffner added. The parishes have become “almost like credit unions in a way.”
The Druffners hope to raise $10,000 to allocate to the program, which the bishop would like to expand throughout the diocese.
While the people of Bwambo have no doubt benefited from the Druffners’ mission trips, the family has also reaped the fruits of the spirit. Julian, their second-oldest son, “blew us away” when he announced he wanted to become a missionary priest, Druffner said. He’s now attending Holy Cross College at the University of Notre Dame and living in the undergraduate seminary. He intends to join the Holy Cross Fathers.
In general, Druffner said their children “are more accepting of difficult life decisions,” and they’ve learned to live, and travel, with less.
It’s “incredible,” he said, “the number of things that come out of this.”
To learn more about the Druffners’ mission to Tanzania, or to donate to the cause through the MDA, visit druffnermissiontotanzania.blogspot.com.