Friends of Africa International Chairman, Bonnie Bishop and Her Excellency, Margaret Kenyatta, First Lady of the Republic of Kenya were among an esteemed group of honorees and speakers who addressed more than 1000 guests at Project CURE’s First Ladies Initiative event in Phoenix on March 18. Other speakers included Arizona First Lady Angela Ducey, wife of Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and Cindy McCain, wife of Senator John McCain. Project CURE, a Denver-based nonprofit organization that receives and distributes medical supplies and equipment to developing nations, hosts First Ladies Initiative events annually in partnership with nonprofits working in the beneficiary countries. Proceeds from Friday’s event will provide millions of dollars in provisions for hospitals and clinics identified collaboratively by Bishop and Her Excellency as facilities most in need throughout Kenya.
Friends of Africa International, which began as a conservation organization, has supported a number of high profile wildlife conservancies such as Save the Elephants, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Rhino Arc, Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots, the Mount Kenya Trust and other conservancies. Today, Friends of Africa International co-founder Bonnie Bishop is furthering FOAI’s conservation legacy by addressing health security issues via her Kenya Medical Project under the auspices of the Friends of Africa International NGO, an affiliated but distinctly separate entity she established and registered in Kenya as an international NGO in 2010. The NGO is Project C.U.R.E.’s official in-country partner and its Kenya Medical Project endeavors to improve medical infrastructure and support Her Excellency’s mobile clinic initiative, Beyond Zero, which delivers care in areas where clinics don’t exist.
“While the NGO will continue to facilitate conservation and cultural preservation, we realized we can’t expect indigenous people to get behind either of those efforts when their own survival is threatened,” said Bishop, who noted that the conspicuous absence of wild game in the area is due to the fact that most animals have been killed to provide food. Lack of education, clean water, medical care or other essentials, indigenous people are vulnerable to external forces such as religious extremists, new land encroachments that force nomadic people to settle and introduction of unsustainable farming practices, which contribute to deforestation, water contamination and drought. All of these issues adversely impact public health. “By helping to take care of basic medical needs, we hope to improve their quality of life, which will create a more hospitable climate for conservation in the area.”
In 2010, Bishop launched a humanitarian development program in East Pokot where territorial infighting between Pokot and Turkana tribes had become a way of life due to a lack of education and other critical infrastructure. The program originated when Board Trustee, Kire Godal, a National Geographic filmmaker, was granted permission to film sacred rituals of the Pokot Tribe under one condition: that she deliver a preschool to help the next generation to break the pattern of violence that has plagued their culture for decades. She immediately called Bishop and asked for assistance.
At that time, Bishop had been residing in Arizona and established a Scottsdale-based fundraising board to source funds for building and established the Friends of Africa International NGO and Trust in Kenya, which facilitated work permits required in order to operate on the ground there. One year later, the Pokot school was opened in a remote area known as Ng’aina. During construction, the NGO board became acutely aware of the dire need for medical infrastructure in the same area, where child and maternal mortality rates are high and too many people die of preventable or curable illness daily simply because they had no access to medical facilities or doctors. Since then, Bishop has been working with the NGO and Scottsdale boards to build, refurbish and provision medical facilities in underserved areas, working with local NGOs, universities, medical advisors and service providers to conduct inoculation and surgical clinics, provide training for midwives and clinicians, facilitate programs for visiting doctors and nurses and deliver much needed supplies.
Once the NGO commenced construction on a small clinic located near the school, Godal, Bishop and her daughter, Snowden Bishop, also raised in Aspen, toured some of the most remote areas of northwestern Kenya to research existing medical facilities. They found numerous clinics built by well-intentioned NGOs that had long since been abandoned. Of those clinics that were still open, most were devoid of any provisions, clean water, electricity or staff that would make them functional. The only hospital in the region is located in Chemolingot, a town approximately 100 miles from Ng’aina. As the only brick and mortar facility of its kind serving a vast territory of northwestern Kenya that is home to nearly 1,000,000 nomadic people, Chemolingot Hospital has no modern diagnostic, maternity or surgical equipment and practically no hygienic supplies.
Friends of Africa paid for an official Project C.U.R.E. assessment of five medical facilities including the FOAI clinic and Chemolingot Hospital to ascertain need and determine viability of receiving donated medical supplies and equipment. “While we were there with the Project C.U.R.E. assessor, a young man was brought in with a gunshot wound,” said Bishop. “Since they had no surgical supplies, they had to remove the bullet with a kitchen knife. That was heart-breaking, but exemplified the urgency of what we are doing there.”
Last month, Project C.U.R.E. announced that they had found a sponsor for the first shipment of more than $500,000 in medical supplies and equipment to Chemolingot Hospital, the NGO’s first designated facility. Last week, Project C.U.R.E.’s First Ladies Initiative events commenced with a celebration marking the departure of that first shipment. At that event, Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta assisted in loading the container.
In a speech giving thanks to Project C.U.R.E. and supporters, Mrs. Kenyatta acknowledged the efforts of Friends of Africa International NGO for making it happen. She said, “I wish to thank Friends of Africa and particularly Bonnie Bishop, whom have known her for nearly 30 years. Her passion and dedication are primary reasons we are here today.”
Friends of Africa International NGO is further preparing Chemolingot Hospital for delivery of cargo and arranging the ground transportation. Friends of Africa International NGO will continue to cooperate with the Office of the First Lady to determine other areas in need of improvement to medical infrastructure. Money raised at the First Ladies Initiative event on Friday will fund additional assessments and shipment of at least three more cargo containers of equipment and supplies to assessed facilities throughout Kenya. Bishop also plans to host a number of fundraising activities in Aspen, Los Angeles, Nairobi and Scottsdale to support Beyond Zero and build or refurbish additional clinics throughout Kenya.
“We are so grateful to Her Excellency for her friendship and support. Her presence here has made a huge impact on our efforts to raise funds and awareness about our development initiatives in Kenya,” said Bishop. “It also goes without saying how much we appreciate our partnership with Project C.U.R.E. The Kenya Medical Project is possible because of their incredible generosity. Together we are improving the quality of life for thousands of nomadic people in Kenya.”
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