Honoring a Father’s Dream: Sons of Lwala

It is late at night and cries of distress are heard from a woman giving birth in a remote village in Kenya. Although her baby is safely delivered, she is bleeding to death and in need of critical medical care. Although the hospital is very far way, villagers make an attempt to take her. Before she even reaches the road, however, the woman dies. In a community where everyone is seen as part of a large family, the loss is profound. The tragedy deeply impacts a young boy in the village and he resolves right then and there to become a doctor so he can help his people. Flash forward many years later – that young boy and his younger brother are medical students at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Honoring a Father’s Dream: Sons of Lwala is a documentary about the journey these two brothers undertook to become doctors and fulfill their father’s legacy of opening up the first clinic in their remote village of Lwala. Not only is their story an inspiring tale of their dedication and perseverance but it is also a lesson on what it means to be responsible to a community. At the end of the film an amazing turn of events test the brothers and all they have worked towards. Now that it is in their hands to change the outcome, will they be able to overcome and give their people a hope for the future?

Milton and Fred Ochieng grew up as the sons of school teachers in a remote farming village in Kenya. Their parents invested their meager savings to send their children to boarding school. After high school, Milton was offered a scholarship to Dartmouth College in the United States. Not able to afford the plane fare to send him to America, the villagers came together to sell their chickens and cows in order to raise the $900 needed for his plane ticket. “Represent us well,” they told him, “don’t forget us.” Their generosity may be surprising for such a poor people, but in Lwala the mindset is that you do not belong to your parents, you belong to your village. That is why the brothers refer to themselves as “sons of Lwala.” Upon his shoulders, Milton carried their hope. Not a day went by that his thoughts were not of home, his people and how to provide the means to break ground on the clinic. Although both his parents did not live to see their dreams become a reality, the villagers came together to start the construction of the clinic in 2005. Through the humble means of oxen and cart, they dredged out sand from the nearby river. Gathering stones and working in unison, one of the villagers proudly proclaimed that this will be “where their kids are treated.”

As cameras follow Milton and Fred on a visit to the village, the severity of the situation becomes evident. Fridays are funeral days and a multitude of caskets are made ready for use.  The business of people dying is growing because there is a need for it.  “That is what it looks like,” states Milton, “when there is not adequate health care.” Preventable diseases and AIDS continue to ravage this region at an alarming rate. The wailing of another loved one in distress is heard close by another reminder of how death is a constant reality here.

Back in the states, the brothers are faced with the daunting task of raising $90,000 to finish construction, drill a clean water well, hire staff and purchase medicine. Their story draws support from thousands of generous people around the United States including Christian rock band Jars of Clay and former Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist. The inauguration of the clinic is a joyous occasion for all and there is dancing and rejoicing as the brothers dedicate it to the memory of their father.

Even though the dream is at hand, fear and self-doubt begin to weigh in on Milton. The need is great and the villagers are depending on them.  One of the most poignant scenes in the film is the line of people at the clinic on the very first day.

Overwhelmed, Milton stares at the emptiness of his medicine shelves and becomes fearful of how he can treat so many with such few resources. “He knows they are not fully equipped yet,” states a friend, “even though they can’t do it perfectly, the people have access to some kind of care they haven’t had before.”

Two years later, after continuing to share their story all over America, the brothers are amazed at the support they have received. They now have a staff of two dozen and care for 1,200 patients a month.  They hope to have a hospital up and running in the next five years. In an amazing circle of events, the brothers came to the distress of a woman enduring a dangerous breech labor. Not only was it the same scenario that inspired Milton to become a doctor when he was a child, but the baby was the actual granddaughter of that very woman that died that fateful night. With Fred holding a textbook in one hand and an assistant holding a telephone to his ear (with an obstetrician in Tampa, Florida on the line) the brothers delivered the baby successfully and saved the mother’s life. Valerie became the first breech baby delivered at the clinic. Through her, the cycle of death was broken and replaced by life. “This is why we built the clinic,” smiles Milton, “and this is why we became doctors.  There is a lot of suffering in Africa but this clinic, born from death, is bringing life to our people and a future for our children.”

For more information on purchasing the DVD and making a contribution to the nonprofit, Lwala Community Alliance, go to Sonsoflwala.com. Lisette Frevola can be contacted at [email protected]

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