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STCC Faculty Head to Africa for Medical Mission Trip

SPRINGFIELD — Faculty from Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) health programs recently departed for Gambia in West Africa as part of a medical mission trip to assist poor communities.

The three STCC faculty members are part of a team administering medication and medical supplies as well as providing health education to people living in the village of Tankular. The team also will distribute school items and clothing for children.

“We are excited to participate in this opportunity to help a population in need,” said Esther Perrelli Brookes, chair of the Respiratory Care Department at STCC. “We will be bringing supplies and caring for those in need as well as helping with a medical clinic that is being built.”

STCC President John Cook praised the faculty members for their efforts. “This medical mission trip to Africa illustrates our faculty’s passion for helping others. They are shining examples of how we can transform lives here on campus and far beyond our borders.”

Perrelli Brookes, Respiratory Care clinical instructor Nfamara “Fams” Taal, and Kathleen Sawtelle, a Surgical Technology instructor, planned to leave June 17 for the two-week-long medical mission. They will join other healthcare workers, from doctors and nurses to dental-care and eye-care professionals, to help people living in the village of Tankular.

“There is a desperate need for access to medical care services, especially in rural villages,” said Taal, a native of Tankular, where the medical clinic is under construction.

He created the Sam Taal Global Foundation, based in Chicopee, to raise money to provide access to medical care and promote education in developing nations such as Gambia. To prepare for their mission, Taal recently brought equipment and supplies to New York City to be shipped across the Atlantic. The clinic will have access to medical diagnostic equipment, including blood-pressure machines, paid for through fundraising efforts.

“Diabetes is common there,” Taal said. “Some of these folks don’t have a way to get prescriptions. They don’t have the ability to check their blood sugar.”

What’s more, villagers don’t have easy access to medications that many Americans might take for granted, like Tylenol or ibuprofen. “We’ll be bringing all these pain medications to help these folks,” Taal said. “They have nothing to take for a headache or migraine besides a local remedy.”

The STCC team, who paid for their own expenses, will put their expertise to work when they arrive in Gambia. Sawtelle will teach schoolchildren about nutrition. Perrelli Brookes will discuss smoking cessation and show them posters from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention illustrating heart and lung problems related to tobacco use. She also will educate people about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is a common problem.

As of 2016, the average life expectancy in Gambia was only 61, according to data from the World Bank. The villagers have no easy access to medical care. When they get sick, they often cannot receive proper treatment in a timely manner.

“We will give them some hope, because our presence will be known,” said Perrelli Brookes. “We will be there before the clinic is built, so maybe that will give them a sense of hope and faith that there will be medical people to one day fill the clinic.”

Sawtelle said ongoing fundraising efforts through the Sam Taal Global Foundation will make a significant impact on the village. “We’re still trying to finish the clinic. For months, we’ve been collecting items to hand out to the kids and the grownups: clothing, school supplies, dental-care items. After we get back home to our lives, it’s our hope that the supplies will continue to improve their lifestyle.”

Added Taal, “this is our first trip, and hopefully it’s not our last. At least we can leave them with something. We can leave them with some sort of education tool for their benefit.”

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