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Vision 2009 and Beyond

“A man is not a man until he is able and willing to accept his vision of the world, no matter how radically this vision departs from that of others.”

~James Baldwin

AHEAD has traveled far since that date in 1974, when Irving and Elvira Williams, a young pediatrician and his wife, and educator, decided to take their family of four young children and move to Tanzania, East Africa, to live and work. These two decided, soon after this experience, to begin a journey on a path less traveled. This journey, initially forged under the guise of altruism and the desire to make a difference in peoples’ lives, turned into a life long endeavor based on a simple mantra – saving lives today, building sustainable communities for tomorrow. Dr. and Mrs. Williams could not have imagined where the path they charted then, would lead, nor the countless lives they would influence and change because of it.

Now we have the vision to see the change effected by the work and efforts of this organization. Founded in 1981, through the implementation of grass-root organizing, people-to-people interaction, and communication, this organization has ventured on a journey that would change the face of health care delivery~~~ by working with communities suffering from extreme poverty in developing countries, to improve their quality of life. In so doing, AHEAD has improved the lives and effected positive change with over a million of people, health care providers, and volunteers throughout the world.

AHEAD started with a commonly coined philosophy, that has been successfully manifested~~ the institution of programming that effectively addresses health care access, quality and delivery; disease eradication; optimal nutrition; environmental conservation; and education; that leads to self-sufficiency and self-reliance. AHEAD (Adventures in Health, Education, and Agricultural Development) has taken this multi-centered framework and with the vision of the founders, a dedicated Board of Directors, countless “Friends” of AHEAD throughout the world, we have dramatically improved the survival, productivity, and growth of rural communities throughout Tanzania and The Gambia.

This report looks back at the path less traveled by “Baba” and “Mama” Williams and AHEAD. It reflects on some of the key lessons AHEAD has learned, the results we have accomplished together over the last 27 years, the annual report for 2008, and the vision for 2009 and beyond. This journey has identified a few simple revelations that have helped to give AHEAD a vision for the immediate future and for the next 27 years. These few simple revelations are principle to our mission and forge clarity to our vision for 2009 and for the future.

• Healthy living requires sustainable systems of support.
• Respecting and investing in the communal fabric insures the best outcomes.
• Partnerships lend for efficiency and productivity.
• Growth demands competence and new ideas.
• Leadership that is effective and visionary makes organizations successful.
• Individual efforts within a group can effect dramatic results.

Where will our journey take us over the next 27 years? Our vision allows us to see that our mission is far from over. New revelations will be learned as we impact the lives and new communities we work with, together. With clarity in vision and commitment to the founding tenants of AHEAD, we move ahead with AHEAD …SAVING LIVES TODAY, … BUILDING SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES FOR TOMORROW.

Healthy living requires sustainable systems of support.

“Health is a human right.”

~~Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm

Hillary Clinton, the current United States Secretary of State, once said, “The human rights issue is the woman’s’ rights issue…and the woman’s’ rights issue is the human rights issue.” Well before Mrs. Clinton coined this profound testament, in the early day of AHEAD, its founders, Mama and Baba Williams, had readily conceptualized this fact. They realized that to correct the catastrophic health disparities and mortality rate in rural and impovished communities in Africa, focus must be placed on improving the health, and reducing the morbidity that affects the daughters, sisters, mothers, and grandmothers on the continent of Africa. You see, the entire family dynamic relies on the capability and success of the woman to provide, nurture, and develop the family and the local community. AHEAD recognizes that the mother’s survival and development as an empowered participant in the community, insures the health and productivity of the collective. AHEAD has established viable and reliable support systems that address this understanding; that if the rights and productivity of the mother are developed and insured, that all will prosper. Systems that address the health care access and delivery demands, the educational demands, and the nutritional and environmental demands on the community are core to the success of AHEAD. Through this network, AHEAD lends evidence that mortality can be reduced by broad-scale delivery of evidence-based interventions.

In 1987, AHEAD began working in Shinyanga Rural District of Shinyanga Region in north western Tanzania and moved its programs to Meatu District in 1992. It was here, in these rural, sorely impoverished villages, were AHEAD identified an urgent cry for the delivery of community based primary health care. AHEAD put forth a systematic effort to optimize health care in this region, identifiying major areas of need: (a) Childhood Immunization, (b) Malnutrition, (c) Family Planning, and (d) Maternal Health Care. With profound success, AHEAD raised the immunization rates in the pediatric population for 27% to 98%! Malnutrition in this population was reduced from 20% to less than 2%. Family Planning services which included provisions of child spacing education and contraception increased from 4% to 35%. Pre-, peri-, and post-natal maternal care increased from 30% to 70% with a dramatic reduction in maternal and infant mortality in Meatu District.

AHEAD’s focus on women and girls is played out with the more recent programming that AHEAD has developed. Since expanding into the Kisarawe District, Coast Region, AHEAD is investing in providing access to education for orphans and other vulnerable children, especially girls. We have established a vocational education program, where we provide curricula that focus on carpentry, computer systems, electrical wiring/ electronics and agri-business. Further, AHEAD continues to construct dormitories for girls, educational scholarships and support for hundreds of students, predominantly young women, as they advance through their secondary education. Lillian Muhoza, the first AHEAD secondary school scholarship graduate lauded the opportunity that AHEAD has afforded her. “My parent could not afford to pay my secondary school tuition. AHEAD came forward with their secondary school scholarship program and rescued me. They paid my tuition and other fees, and provided my books and supplies. AHEAD gave me the opportunity to successfully complete secondary school, something that I was not expected to do.” Miss Muhoza shares her appreciation and tells us, “I will always love AHEAD.” These are prime examples of programming based on the establishment of fundamental systems that support sustainable healthy living via primary health care delivery and education, which flourish under the AHEAD banner.

Respecting and investing in the communal fabric insures the best outcome.

In making a home in Tanzania and The Gambia, Dr. and Mrs. Williams and AHEAD have become a viable contributing members of the communities where we work. A simple lesson learned early in the development of AHEAD was the importance of culture as a foundation for effective health and human services. With that, AHEAD has invested in the communities that we partner with, enlisting and employing the talent of the indigenous populations and developing specific strategies that are culturally appropriate and competent. We maintain, in Tanzania and the Gambia, a consciousness and respect for the cultural mores of these communities. Further, we enlist many of these cultural mores and communal understanding through our program implementation.

We explore new possibilities for services that are deeply embedded in, build on and that leverage traditional cultural foundations and community strengths, institutions, and resources. Where change is required, AHEAD proactively establishes educational training via serial communal workshops that address a preventative approach to change. We engage the young people through our youth-based advocacy-education program incorporating heath education, art, sports, theatre, small group workshops and community service, and implement these activities via our vocational and secondary school tracts and community youth organizations with positively affect outcomes.

One prime example of this is evident in our Teen Action Program (TAP). This is an innovative youth initiative which educates young people and guides them towards becoming responsible, productive citizens, while encouraging then to adopt behaviors that will lead to healthy, wholesome, and responsible lives. AHEAD’s Teen Action Program (TAP), implemented in primary schools in Meatu District in the Shinyanga Region in 1997 and now extended to Kisarawe District in the Coast Region, is designed to empower young people with the knowledge and skills to avoid negative behaviors that may potentially lead to unplanned sexual activities, pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, school drop-outs, and substance abuse. TAP helps youth to navigate successfully through the stages from adolescence to adulthood. The primary focus of TAP is “prevention.” AHEAD recognizes the challenge of changing common social constructs in the communities we work in, and by tapping the local skills, passion, and intellect of the communities’ youth through the TAP program, we forges a natural mechanism for improved access to educational opportunities, healthy life style advocacy and changing values and attitudes towards sexuality and reproduction, proper nutrition and hygiene, education, and participation in community-building activities. In investing in the communal fabric, its people and institutions, AHEAD insures the community will prosper.

Partnerships lend for efficiency and productivity.

The work of many cannot be done alone!

~~African (Bemba) Proverb

In identifying mechanisms by which AHEAD can broaden its reach and widen is scope, Ruby Burgess, AHEAD Chairwoman of the Board of Directors posed this question, ‘Who does what we do, and who does it better?’ as she opened the AHEAD board of directors meeting in the Spring of 2006. AHEAD has consciously sought to bring people from different organizations, backgrounds and settings together, that have a shared mission, working for common goals, optimizing our individual and collective power, forging friendships and alliances in a team approach. This mutual sharing, teaching and learning from one another has allowed AHEAD to grow in scope, in context, and in programming.

Since expanding our program to the Coast Region in 2002, AHEAD, SWAAT (Society of Women Against AIDS in Tanzania), BAMITA and IGN (Intergender Network) have joined in partnership to provide education and health services in Kisarawe District. Another example of such alliances is AHEADs’ relationship with Family Health International (FHI) of North Carolina. In 2007, AHEAD partnered with this not-for-profit whose focus is family health delivery in distressed third world communities. Together, these two organizations recognized a common ground in advancing HIV/AIDS education in villages in Morogoro, Iringa and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Together, we constructed a youth based HIV/AIDS education and awareness program, training youth in peer counseling, home care and as education facilitators for HIV education, care deliver, and prevention. AHEAD Executive Director, Elvira Williams appreciates that “this partnership has been extremely successful. In working with FHI, we were able to educate adolescents and others with a broad based approach, offering many their first education experience regarding HIV and AIDS prevention. Together, AHEAD and FHI organized sustainable educational systems for these communities, providing youth and others much needed information regarding disease prevention and healthy lifestyles.”

Another exciting example is the relationship established between AHEAD, Project Change (a not-for-profit organization founded by Dr. Christopher Johnson, a Plastic Surgeon, to provide reconstructive surgery in developing countries) and the Comprehensive Community Based and Rehabilitation Hospital in Tanzania (CCBRT). In 2007, Dr. Deborah Tuzo, Orthodontic Surgeon and Coordinator of AHEAD-Bermuda established a partnership between these three entities to establish this life enhancing program which identifies patients in need a facial reconstructive surgery to correct the disfigurement caused by congenital cleft palates and cleft lips. With this construct, we have established a mechanism where the patients and their families could be brought to Dar es Salam from remote villages under the sponsorship of AHEAD, to undergoing this dramatic and necessary surgical intervention. Dr. Tuzo has found this partnership to be “an extraordinary experience, where by working together, we are able to witness firsthand, the dramatic improvements that our work accomplishes in the lives of these patients and their families.” She recognizes that the team approach and partnership between AHEAD and the magnificent doctors and nurses at the CCBRT made our program a profound success.

In 2008, AHEAD was able to significantly expand this program to the repair of 20 cleft palates and lips, in addition to the repair of multiple skin wounds and the resection of multiple tumors. One beneficiary of the wonderful work of Drs. Johnson, Tuzo and our partners at CCBRT, is Paulo Julius, a brave 12 year old youth, who notes profound satisfaction and appreciation for the generosity and expertise that was afforded him. “Dr. Johnson performed a miracle on me”, says Paulo after 3 hours of surgery and his post operative recovery. He added, after he saw his “new” face, “I can smile for the first time in my life!” Paulo’s parents could not thank enough the AHEAD Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Team and our partners at CCBRT for giving Paulo a normal face! Dr. Tuzo appreciates that, “commitment and mutual cooperation is vital to the sustenance to any long term program, and AHEAD believes our investment and delivery of these programs insures healthy productive citizens and future leaders.” Partnership leads to efficiency and productivity in AHEAD.

Growth demands competence and new ideas.

In 2008, a challenge was made to AHEAD. The Tanzanian Ministry of Health, in concert with the Millennium Development Goals set forth by the United Nations and the World Health Organization in 1998, asked that AHEAD assist the government of Tanzania in establishing a comprehensive center for Obstetric and Newborn Care services at Masaki Hospital in the Coast Region of Tanzania. This request demanded a multi-layered approach to make this undertaking a success. First and foremost, this new idea mandated that AHEAD expand one of its current programs, hospital upgrading. Since 1998, AHEAD has developed and constructed independent community based health centers in five rural villages in Shinyanga Region. We have also purchased and installed “eco-friendly’ photo-voltaic energy sources in regional and district health facilities, and we installed a 50 thousand gallon ‘water catchment system’ providing a safe, clean, water source to insure sound health care delivery to these communities.

With this precedence in place, an organized multilayered approach was developed that would:
• Identify resources for basic equipment and supply donations i.e. hospital beds and gurneys, operating room equipment, birthing tables, incubators, drapes, gowns, gloves, and other disposables;
• Identify resources for laboratory and radiology equipment i.e. microscopes, blood analysis devices,
X-ray and ultrasound equipment;
• Secure mechanisms to ship supplies to Tanzania and for their distribution to the identified facility.
• Identify and employ AHEAD-based nurses and staff, implement capacity building workshops for staff, and provide on going system development and education at Masaki Hospital.

The idea of how AHEAD was to meet this current initiative posed numerous challenges. Our medical director, Irving Williams, MD, made a request of the Board of Directors of AHEAD “beat the bushes’ and “leave no stone unturned” in identifying donor sources. The Board of Directors answered the call with our 5-year fund raising capital campaign, initiated with a wonderfully successful and well attended fundraiser in Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, sponsored by Board members Karen Gear, DDS and Donna Williams, DDS. They also sponsored a second, equally successful fundraiser in New York City featuring as Keynote Speaker His Excellency Mr. Ombeni Sefue, Tanzanian Ambassador to the US. Furthermore, AHEAD has identified hospital systems that would commit new and used functional equipment and supplies to the Masaki effort. This drive has taken hold and with our efforts, AHEAD has secured and/or sent well over $500,000 worth of medical equipment and supplies to Masaki Hospital to date. The first phase of the multilayered project is successfully well on its way. With new ideas, AHEAD continues to grow to meet the healthcare needs and challenges of the communities we serve.

Leadership that is effective and visionary makes organizations successful.

“If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.”

~~Barack Obama

“We used to point to a few leadership stars,” says Burgess, “and now the number is exploding.” A culture of growth and development requires that all members of the team be active and contribute their talents, identify areas of success and potential growth, and reveal system defects. Board member Kathy Trigg has done just that! As a well recognized and respected former news anchorwoman and a CEO of media development agency, Kathy tapped her skills as a media expert to help tell the story of AHEAD. “I saw where my skills could be best utilized and had a vision on how to help express, in media form, the magnificent story that Baba and Mama Williams have written through AHEAD,” says Trigg. She identified a need for leadership as it related to her expertise, and had the vision to successfully implement it.

It is up to our leaders to establish that type of culture through a visible commitment to the mission of the organization as a personal and organizational priority. But commitment doesn’t automatically make CEOs and board members effective leaders. “Governing boards, mostly laypersons, traditionally have not seen themselves as qualified to oversee quality,” says Ruby Burgess. That’s why in recent years AHEAD has implemented several initiatives to develop and hone the skills and knowledge of their board and staff in effort to lead system-level improvement.

Board development workshops geared to insuring a full breath of knowledge of AHEAD activities, fundamentals in board recruitment, board leadership, cultural competence training, and fundraising have been essential to insuring the success of this entity. Our in-country workshops and support by board members in the villages where we work in Tanzania and The Gambia is one mechanism of our leadership development. This serves as probably the most informative and personally gratifying experience for our leadership, and has been a fixture in insuring our Board’s understanding of AHEAD’s accomplishments and challenges, the people we serve, as well as giving insight to the future direction of our organization.

Individual efforts within a group can affect dramatic results.

“Having been given…I must give.”

 ~~Paul Robeson

The Economic Commission for Africa recognizes water and its’ prudent management as a key to improving the human condition in Africa. AHEAD has been an ardent advocate for safe, clean water. Dysentery and other diarrheal diseases are primary culprits of pestilence and disease in third world countries. AHEAD has developed a Water Initiative which entails (a) water catchment and sustainable storage systems, (b) water testing, (c) water pasteurization and dysentery elimination, and (d) water irrigation systems for farming. With this, AHEAD has also developed positive policies that empower women to participate in all level of our water program, which is designed to reduce disease and death caused by contaminated water. AHEAD understands that with optimal implementation of this program, disease is substantially reduced.

Malcolm Gee, a biochemist by training, and education director of AHEAD, has found his passion with the implementation and expansion of the AHEAD water treatment program in The Gambia. Malcolm notes, “We must recognize the connection with clean water, sustained eco-systems, and the necessity to preserve and expand the natural flora in our communities. Programs that educate people regarding a “health” utilization of the natural resources allow preservation and conservation of our vital commodity, “the environment.” AHEAD has developed a multi-layered approach to addressing these challenges. Under the direction of Malcolm, we have advanced our solar pasteurization of water program with the construction, training and distribution of solar pasteurizers. Malcolm has gone further, in developing the AHEAD solar cooking program. By simply utilizing keen ingenuity and taking advantage of a reliable and renewable energy source…the sun…AHEAD is serving to preserve and curb the use of the natural flora and other resources. With this approach, we are improving the environment and health of families and communities, one village at a time.

Carl Mayfield (AHEAD Volunteer)

“My 1992 experience as an AHEAD volunteer was a turning point in my career and in my life. At the time, I was a young Civil Engineer working for a top 100 Civil Engineering firm, trying to figure out if my boss’s plight was to be mine. His plight seemed neither exciting nor fulfilling. As fate would have it, I was introduced to the “AHEAD family”, and with being so fascinated by the organization’s mission and track record of service, I immediately volunteered. Although skeptical, I had my families support. This was a big step for me being the eldest son, a first generation college graduate, and the first person in my family to travel more than 300 miles away from my hometown (Philadelphia). I took a six months sabbatical from work, cashed in my 401k retirement and embarked on a journey that would forever change my life.

My parents packed food and clothes for me, and my employer provided me with engineering equipment to assist with my “adventure.” Upon my arrival in Tanzania, I learned the most valuable lesson of my life…I arrived in with my passport, anti malaria medicine, engineering equipment and no packed food or clothes, lost in route.

Lesson #1: “what you need in life you already have!”

As I fell in love with the people and the indomitable spirit of the Africans, I also learned a second most valuable lesson. We prepared a complete civil engineering assessment, complete with surveying, costing, environmental assessment, regulatory assessment and local municipality coordination for a rural hospital project. We also installed a solar cell back up system for the local health center and installed a cistern system to capture rainwater. As I marveled at the beautiful African night sky and our accomplishments, it struck me that at my domestic firm; I would only be allowed to complete one of the five tasks that I just completed.

Lesson #2: “The only limits you have are the ones you place on yourself!”

This trip touched my life so much that when I returned to the States, I immediately quit my job and returned to Africa and worked in several countries as a business person. The third most important lesson that I learned in Africa was “Life is short, do no waste a second!”

I was fortunate to travel with Dr. Williams and meet Africans who spanned the spectrum from local dignitaries to national leaders. I will never forget the people, the culture, food, desire to connect, and the time spent in Africa. As a young person, AHEAD, allowed me to stretch towards my potential and provided infrastructure that has guided me to the pinnacle to my industry, while continuously seeking ways to volunteer to share life’s blessings with others.”

Today, Carl is a seasoned real estate professional who brings 23 years of varied professional experience to RLJ Development LLC (RLJ). RLJ is a top 30 privately held REIT (real estate investment trust) which currently has $2.2 Billion under management and owns 126 hotels (Marriott/Hilton) around the world. He is the Senior Vice President for the design and construction team and responsible for providing leadership to the project management team and supervising all phases of capital projects. Carl holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Delaware and a M.S. in Real Estate Development from Johns Hopkins University. He remains involved with a variety of civic and sociopolitical organizations locally, and internationally.

Melissa Clarke, MD (AHEAD Volunteer)

“My 1994 experience as an AHEAD volunteer was a turning point in my career. Fresh from completing my medical residency training in Emergency Medicine, I had always wanted to go to Africa, but this, my first trip there, exceeded expectations. I was profoundly moved by the openness and generosity of the rural Tanzanian communities, who seemingly had so little. My AHEAD team’s focus was to provide medical care and do health promotion in several villages. This work with communities who needed it the most was an extremely rewarding experience; however, it also struck me with the magnitude of what remains to be done. AHEAD’s philosophy is to not only provide direct care, but build capacity locally for communities to be able to break the cycle of poor health and lack of resources. “Teaching a man to fish” is evident in all they do, and that lesson, reinforced early in my career by AHEAD, has served as my foundation for work I have continued to do over the years in Africa and at home.”

Melissa Clarke’s foundation in healthcare as a board certified academic Emergency Physician has been a springboard for leadership roles in academic medicine, practice management and the management of health information for health care professionals and consumers. She currently serves as a Medical Director for Active Health Management, a leading provider of health management services designed to empower consumers to actively care for their health. Previously, she functioned as a Senior Consultant with the Global Telehealth Group, she worked with clients to improve health outcomes through the implementation of appropriate health information technology. As the former Assistant Dean for Medical Education at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, DC, Dr. Clarke’s office was responsible for the retention, academic success and curriculum of 400 medical students. In this position she obtained and managed over $5 million in grant funding. Internationally, through USAID, she has educated healthcare providers in remote areas through developing and implementing applications such as the Emergency Medicine Internet Teaching Tool (EMITT), an Internet-based application in medical education. Dr Clarke has delivered numerous presentations on the use of the telemedicine and health information technology domestically and internationally, including serving on the USAID Policy Roundtable Higher Education Uses of Internet Technologies – New Applications for International Development. She has also published or presented in health disparities, cultural competency, telemedicine, medical education and emergency medicine. Dr Clarke is a graduate of University of California, San Francisco and Harvard College and now resides in Silver Spring, MD.

Gordon and Jacqui Cragg (AHEAD Volunteers)

“The AHEAD program is fulfilling a vital need in providing practical, vocational job training for young people who are either orphans or whose families are too poor to afford the costs of sending them to State run secondary schools. What impressed all of us is that these young people are not being given aid in the form of handouts; rather they are being taught the skills, responsibility and leadership qualities which are preparing them for careers which will not only help their families, but which will be of great value to their communities and country in expediting progress from poverty to middle class self-sufficiency.”

Gordon Cragg obtained his undergraduate training in chemistry at Rhodes University, South Africa, and his Doctorate of Philosophy (organic chemistry) from Oxford University in 1963. After two years of postdoctoral research at the University of California, Los Angeles, he returned to S. Africa to join the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. In 1966, he joined Chemistry Department at the University of South Africa, and transferred to the University of Cape Town in 1972. In 1979, he returned to the US to join the Cancer Research Institute at Arizona State University as Assistant Director to Professor G. R. Pettit. In 1985, he moved to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, and was appointed Chief of the NCI Natural Products Branch in 1989. He retired in December, 2004, and is currently serving as an NIH Special Volunteer. His major interests lie in the discovery of novel natural product agents for the treatment of cancer and AIDS, with an emphasis on multidisciplinary and international collaboration. He has given over 100 invited talks at conferences in many countries worldwide, and has been awarded NIH Merit Awards for his contributions to the development of the anticancer drug, Taxol® (1991), leadership in establishing international collaborative research in biodiversity and natural products drug discovery (2004), and contributions to developing and teaching NIH technology transfer courses (2004). In 1998-1999 he was President of the American Society of Pharmacognosy (discovery of drugs from natural sources), and was elected to Honorary Membership of the Society in 2003, and in October, 2008, was named as a Fellow of the Society. In November, 2006, he was awarded the “William L. Brown Award for Plant Genetic Resources” by Missouri Botanical Garden at a two day Symposium entitled “Realizing Nature’s Potential: The Once and Future King of Drug Discovery” held in his honor. Missouri Botanical Garden also named a recently discovered Madagascar plant in his honor, Ludia craggiana. He has established collaborations between the NCI and organizations in many countries promoting drug discovery from their natural resources. He has published over 150 papers related to these interests.

Where does AHEAD go for 2009 and beyond?

“Kazi pamoja – pamoja tutashinda.” (Swahili)
“Work together – together we shall win.” (English)

As we embark on a new chapter in the journey of AHEAD, we recognize the exciting new climate that surrounds us. Throughout the world community, the voices of the human condition demand to be heard. There exists an ardent cry for change. These voices move each of us to look at our individual and our collective humanity, and ask ourselves “what can we do to make a difference?”

This momentum “Work together – together we shall win.” (English)for change, invigorated by the current climate on the national and world stages, is the very energy and passion that has been fundamental in AHEAD and its’ collective supporters. With this passion, optimism, and determination, AHEAD has achieved so much, with so very little. AHEAD is well position to tap into this energy. The climate is optimal to advance this momentum and raise the bar for the immediate future and beyond.

We asked leaders Melissa Clarke, MD and Irving Williams, MD and board members, Donna Williams, DDS and Carl Mayfield their thoughts on tomorrows’ new revelations and future success for AHEAD.

Donna Williams, a successful dentist and Board member of AHEAD envisions a promising future for AHEAD. “Our grass roots programming is positioned to increase the number of lives that we touch and have a positive impact on each village we serve.” She sees the further development and growth in number of fully functional and well equipped healthcare facilities supported by AHEAD. “I envision our organization helping to facilitate and expand the training and staffing of state-of-the-art regional, district and rural health care centers,” notes Williams. AHEAD has long establish a conduit to bring health care experts to the challenged communities that we serve. Williams goes on to recognize that an expansion in this pipeline of personnel will broaden our promise and the effectiveness of training of health care providers and ancillary services within the reach of our programs. She envisions a mechanism where medical personnel from the international arena will join in our efforts, providing training and expanded services.

According to Williams, these hospitals will meet the challenges of an array of healthcare dilemmas. Further, in noting the challenge for the establishment of an emergency medical response system (EMS) to reach the most remote areas in rural Tanzania and The Gambia, Williams states, “AHEAD will establish the first ‘EMS’ system in rural areas served by AHEAD.” AHEAD understands that meeting our key goals: reducing the maternal and infant mortality rates in Tanzania and The Gambia is essential. These goals are in compliance with the UN Millennium Goals.

Board member Carl Mayfield, a successful engineer, identifies these themes as we look at the current economic climate and the global challenges we face for resources. He recognizes that there must be an effort to develop efficient and effective health care delivery systems that reduce waste and conserve resources. He notes that “the soaring costs and advancing technologies demand systems that can integrate new developments in underserved areas, while curtailing expenditures and insuring waste reduction.” He identifies that the wasteful practice of western medicine is the antithesis to the work that AHEAD does in challenged communities.

As a former volunteer for AHEAD, Mayfield recognized how the AHEAD capacity outpaced the resources it had at its disposal. With that, he notes, “I personally witnessed and participated in ‘herculean” projects including water reclamation, hospitalization modernization, solar installation, and first hand AIDS outreach work, that occurred with limited means and profound human compassion and sheer will.”

In our current economic climate, Mayfield envisions greater needs and lesser resources for Africa’s service providers. Mayfield goes on to appreciate that “in the face of the dramatic economic downturn, it appears that the 27 year experience of AHEAD has prepared us well to move forward in these challenging economic times.” “This organizations’ consistent integration of optimal health care delivery and systems and “green” environmental programming has position us for “greener thinking” in the future,” Mayfield says. He goes on to note that “the globalization of our shared health problems, urges inter-relatedness among like minded organizations and communities to collectively address these dynamics.” These themes are consistently played out in AHEAD, and with its’ partners, and bodes well for expanding future alliances.

Donna Williams relays that our 27 years of experience and success has situated AHEAD well, and prepared our move forward in challenging times where the economic circumstances are in such flux and fundamental resources as being threatened. As a health care leader, she recognizes that technology is key in advancing the mission of sustaining health communities. In addition to the use of technological advances in the arenas of medical and dental care, Williams urges that it is imperative to identify systems for sustaining healthy and plentiful water sources, food sources and farming cooperatives for villages and townships, and improving the eco-environment for these communities. She makes a convincing argument that identifying and applying scientific and technological advances in these arenas, allow for the most efficient and effective means to improve lives and reach more communities.

Some of the people that will lead with new vision, and wider horizons, will be our future health care practitioners. Melissa Clarke, MD, a former Associate Dean of Medical Education at Howard University College of Medicine and former AHEAD volunteer recognizes that today’s health professional students have a renewed interest in international medical issues and service and are seeking to exercise their global responsibilities in health care delivery. According to Dr. Clarke, many of these future leaders intend to reach beyond their comfort zone and lend their intellect and expertise in communities that are stricken with dramatic health care challenges. Not only will these efforts enrich the communities they serve, but the experience will be instrumental in their maturation as individuals and as providers by facilitating an understanding of the human condition in underserved and impoverished communities. “AHEAD is uniquely positioned,” Dr. Clarke states, “to tap into the potential of future health professionals and provide a wonderful opportunity for these future leaders to serve and develop, as AHEAD expands it capacity and moves forward.”

Irving Williams, MD, MPH, the founder and current medical director of AHEAD, is moved by the need for patient education and advocacy. He feels that perhaps the greatest voice for improving outcomes and survival in rural Tanzania and the Gambia is that of the individual. How will that voice be heard? According to Dr. Williams, “education is essential in insuring and maintaining optimal healthy lifestyles. By insuring the community is literate, with universal access to primary, secondary, vocational, and post-secondary education opportunities, the overwhelming cycle of poverty, malnutrition, disease, and early death will be broken.” Dr. Williams goes on to remind us of the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Dr. Williams advocates for the empowerment of the people, particularly women. “Women are essential to the effectiveness, viability and productivity of the community and with sound education, they will be able to realize their value and fully contribute to society”, says Dr. Williams. He goes on to add, “Preventive health care, healthy life styles, and functional communal systems like farming and industry will become the rule, and sustainability, self actualization and communal enrichment will be inspired.”

All of our advocates agree that in this climate of change, AHEAD is in a position to continue to be a successful mechanism for improving the health and survival of communities in critical need. A tincture of time will be required to appreciate how or whether these forecasts play out. Each appreciates and agrees that AHEAD must continue to focus on the basics… providing hands-on, people-to-people assistance to underserved rural communities to combat malnutrition, disease, poverty, technological deprivation, environmental degradation, and other conditions that have befallen these communities and have an adverse impact on the health and welfare of people. In so doing, together, we will reduce the burden of disease, morbidity and mortality of these challenged communities by implement sustainable systems that are cost efficient, replicable and ecologically resourceful.

AHEAD recognizes that the struggle to improve the human condition is a necessary pursuit. Our vision for 2009 and beyond is keen and bright, grounded in a past that has been met with success. We humbly recognize that there is so much more that needs to be done. Medical scholar, surgeon, inventor and educator, the late Dr. Charles Drew reminds us, “that there must always be the continuing struggle to make the increasing knowledge of the world bear some fruit in increasing understanding and in the production of human happiness.” AHEAD mandates that the tenants of this happiness rest with optimal nutrition and health care access and delivery as well as education and opportunity. To accomplish these ends, we all must take a lesson from a page of Dr. Irving and Elvira Williams and continue their commitment to…. “Saving lives today… building sustainable communities for tomorrow.”