Monday, 7 September 2009


United Methodist missionary Jerri Savuto wishes she could somehow transport one typical North Texas grocery store to Kenya.
"One grocery store from here would feed a million people in Kenya," Mrs. Savuto told a gathering of about 70 United Methodists Sept. 4. "Thousands and thousands of people in Kenya are hungry, and America is full of food.
"And Kenya could use it, because Kenya is dying," she said.
Prolonged drought has reduced the ability of Kenyan farmers – most of whom are women – to grow crops to feed their families, said Mrs. Savuto, who serves as the quality improvement officer for Maua Methodist Hospital. The North Texas Annual Conference, the regional United Methodist unit, sponsors Mrs. Savuto and her husband, Bill. The Methodist Church of Kenya and The United Methodist Church support the hospital jointly.
The Savutos explained that the town of Maua sits at a mile above sea level, almost in the exact center of Kenya, an East African country about the size of Texas. One million people live within a 30-mile radius of Maua. Most of them live on one-acre farms that grow barely enough food to feed them in good times, and the drought has severely reduced their food output.
The lack of food has exacerbated Kenya's public health problems, where thousands of people die daily of malaria, HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, malnutrition, typhoid, and cholera, Mrs. Savuto said. Christian hospitals are providing 30 to 40 percent of the health care in Kenya, where corruption runs rampant through public medical facilities, said her husband.
Overall, the continent of Africa suffered 1.8 million deaths from malaria alone last year, Mr. Savuto said during a luncheon program at the North Texas Ministry Center in Plano.

In addition to these public health issues, Maua Methodist Hospital has begun a program of care for AIDS orphans, he added.
"In Africa, 30,000 people die every day from AIDS," he said while showing a series of photos about the hospital programs. "AIDS orphans are often sent to live with their grandmothers, but the grandmothers don't have enough food to feed them. Kenya law prohibits women from owning land, so when the grandmothers are too old to work, they have no way to feed their grandchildren."
The "Giving Hope" AIDS orphans program at Maua Methodist Hospital now has 1,750 families enrolled. Each month the families are given sacks of beans and cornmeal along with other staples. In addition, the program pays for the children's school uniforms so they can gain the primary-school education that will help lift them out of poverty, Mr. Savuto said. (At left, Mr. Savuto plays with a child during a picnic for AIDS orphans).
As the children become teen-agers, they often assume responsibility for their younger, orphaned siblings, the missionary added. Because of this, Maua Methodist Hospital also has begun a program for orphaned teen-agers, to give them spiritual training in personal responsibility and ethics, along with business skills and a small start-up grant so they can begin their own businesses.
Some become tailors, truck farmers or small merchants, but the most successful student of the teens' program is a young man named Dickens, said Mr. Savuto.
"All along the roads in Kenya you see small piles of stones known as 'cocoto'," Mr. Savuto explained. "These stones are used to make concrete for buildings."
After completing his training, Dickens decided he wanted to break up rocks to make cocoto, the missionary continued. Although others didn't see much future in breaking rocks, Dickens began to sell his cocoto to local builders and contractors. Then he realized he could make more money if he hired an employee to help him. Soon, Dickens had a thriving business employing several local workers who make the cocoto that Dickens sells to builders and contractors in the Maua region.
"Dickens has become a very successful businessman by breaking up rocks," Mr. Savuto said, laughing along with his audience.
Mr. Savuto started out as the hospital's computer systems administrator, a job that became unnecessary as the Kenyan staff learned computer skills and networked the hospital's 70 donated computers. Today he serves as the liaison for volunteer mission teams and supervises hospital construction projects. He and his wife have worked at Maua Methodist Hospital for 10 years, assigned there by the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, the denomination's missions agency based in New York City.
The Methodist Hospital at which the Savutos work has 280 beds, with a staff of 350 people, on a 19-acre compound. Each day at the hospital begins with worship services in every ward to give the patients spiritual encouragement. The Kenya National Hospital Insurance Fund recently honored the hospital as the country's number-one facility for patient care and cleanliness – an achievement that came primarily because of Mrs. Savuto and her co-workers.
Despite being officially supported by the North Texas Annual Conference, Mr. and Mrs. Savuto have welcomed only one volunteer mission team from this area. A team from Grace Avenue United Methodist Church in Frisco went to Maua in June this year and helped construct housing for the hospital staff.
United Methodists from North Texas who go to Maua also would help build staff apartments and perform building maintenance such as painting for the hospital, which must direct all its funds to staff salaries and medical supplies and equipment.
"On-site housing for hospital staff is crucial in Kenya," Mr. Savuto said. "Housing is part of their pay."
North Texas United Methodists unable to travel to Kenya can help Maua Methodist Hospital through The Advance mission giving program, the missionaries said. One hundred percent of every contribution to The Advance goes to the chosen mission project, because the Global Ministries board pays for the program's administration.
"We've seen the face of suffering in Maua, but among the faces of suffering there's always hope," Mrs. Savuto said. "We need your help to help the children who have no one else to help them."