Sarah Rejman, The Plaster House Director
I sit straight-backed and stiff in my KLM economy seat watching The Intern. Movie number three. When I tried to recline hours ago, the man behind me yelped, “Ahh.” His blue-jean-covered knees wedged against my seat back.
Robert De Niro, the intern, is saying to Ann Hathaway, “My favorite quote is ‘It’s never wrong to do the right thing — Mark Twain.’” Hmm. Catchy. Cute. Too cute?
But it’s Day 5 in Tanzania and I can’t shake that line. Is coming here the right thing? My mind has danced with the doubting monkey these past months; flirted with the same questions raised by family and friends. Is The Plaster House legitimate? Will the money reach the kids? Do you trust these people? This trip isn’t just about volunteering and shepherding filmmakers for a capital campaign. I needed to come and put my toe back into the water.
And when I do, there’s the entire Plaster House team doing exactly the right thing.
Our Colorado medical team, off that same KLM flight at 11 p.m., is up early the next morning (suffering a ten-hour time change) evaluating 40 children for surgery. And Sarah Rejman, director of The Plaster House, is there — orchestrating, smiling, nudging; along with local pediatricians, nurses, therapists, administrators and volunteers. All affecting one child’s life at a time.
It’s Day 6. We’re at the home of Dr. Wendy Willmore, a general surgeon at Arusha Lutheran Medical Center (ALMC). I’m cutting mangoes in her kitchen while Layla is entertaining by popping Thinking Putty bubbles. We’ve been invited for Spaghetti Bolognese with twenty-five medical types from the U.S., Tanzania, Nigeria and Kenya. Our Colorado team, Bill Brown, Jim Lessig, Royal Gerrow, Dave Thiel, Cheree Jubin and Chris Shama, is there; as well as the director of ALMC, Dr. Mark Jacobsen and his wife Linda, and local surgical residents eager to scrub in with their American counter parts. Dr. Lemi sits down next to me and asks my connection to Dr. Wendy? What is my connection? How did I get here? I have to pinch myself.
Day 7. Meet with architect John Craft, long-time resident, originally from Chicago. He designed the current Plaster House (and Kimemo, where we live, and my friend Carolynn’s house, and the international school where Anna and Layla went to school, and on and on). We review the plans for the new dormitory and volunteer housing. Discuss cost. Build trust.
Day 8. Meet with Tim Jones our website guru. Discuss the new page presenting expansion – pick one of our new drone photos, write copy. Get donation link up; highlight partnership with African Mission Healthcare Foundation, the 501(c)(3) founded by American Jon Fielder, M.D. Expand the About Us page. Who is Sarah Rejman anyway and be sure to upload the 2015 Annual Report. Build trust.
But sticking my toe back in the water also means checking in with me. Do I still feel the magic? The love, gratitude? Is my bond with the Plaster House kids still strong?
After leaving Tim, Layla and I drive to Selian Hospital with a bag filled with coloring books, crayons, markers, colored pencils and stickers. I sit on the edge of the bed of a two-year old boy post-op. Elesante’s burn scar contractures on his feet have been surgically released with the goal that he will walk again. He eyes the goodies. His tears dry up. His crying quiets. He peals back a Hello Kitty sticker, hands it to me and I place it on his new plaster. He looks up at me, and smiles.
Feels good to be doing the right thing. Always does.
Photographs by Tom Attwater and Lane Brown