BY INDIANA NASH
NEW YORK- Michael Herman went to Tanzania in 2015 in search of stories.
He came away with a play to direct and the promise to come back and build a birthing clinic.
“When he came back and told me the story, I immediately said ‘we have to do this,’” said fiance Rachael Yoder, a Niskayuna class of 2007 graduate.
Yoder and Herman run The Outer Loop Theater Experience, a non-profit organization that strives to help artists/actors/creators to become confident and encouraged in their field.
Herman was invited by Dramatic Adventure Theater (a New York based theater company) to go to Tanzania to create and direct a play focusing on the problems and passions of the local people.
“We went to a town hall meeting and heard Asha’s story,” Herman said.
Asha is a resident of Mloka, a village in Tanzania, and had been going to the town hall meetings and sharing her story for eight years when Herman finally heard it.
In 2007, she went into labor in Mloka and a local midwife delivered her healthy baby girl.
A few minutes later, however, labor pains started again.
“There was another baby coming . . . she hadn’t known she was pregnant with twins,” Herman said.
This led to complications which the midwife did not know how treat, so Asha was sent to a health clinic several villages away (a total of four hours). When she finally got there, the clinic couldn’t treat her either and sent her another four hours away to another clinic.
Asha was in labor the entire eight hour journey and the baby did not survive.
Thus, Asha went to all the town meetings to tell her story and to plead for the completion of a birthing clinic in Mloka.
“We’re theater artists first and I’m a director, we were going over there to find stories to tell . . .” Herman said, “Something about it touched me.”
Thus he wrote and directed “Ubinadamu” (which is Swahili for ‘humanity’), that tells the story of Asha and the needs of other women living in Mloka.
But even after the play was performed at the International Theater Arts Institute Theater in New York, Herman knew he wasn’t going to be able to leave the story behind.
So he kept in contact with Asha, her husband Patrick and a few of the leaders in Mloka about building the health clinic that the village needed.
“People didn’t take me seriously at first because they thought it was just about the theater,” Herman said.
Through steady persistence, he and Rachael began to build a team of people that would help them to bring in the construction materials needed and build the clinic.
The estimated cost of the project comes in at a whopping $11,000. According to their estimates, it can serve around 6,000 people from Mloka and the surrounding villages.
In November 2016, the couple began a fundraising campaign on Generosity, an online donation platform.
While the campaign has been going well (over 60% of their overall goal has been met) the couple wanted to take it a step further.
In lieu of having a wedding celebration, the couple asked friends and family to donate to the labor clinic.
“Don’t get us a towel,” Yoder said.
“Or a blender,” chimed in Herman.
They would have gone without a ceremony at all, but their families would not allow that.
“So we’re having a very small ceremony in Albany. I think there will be 15 or 20 people there,” Herman said. The wedding will be in mid-December.
Then they’ll be departing for Tanzania and getting started on building the clinic in January.
“We have to get it done before the high rains come in March,” Herman said.
While it’s estimated to take a month to a month and a half to construct, the couple is prepared to stay as long as it takes.
“We want to show that we really do want to see it through,” Herman said, that way people will feel more invested in the clinic themselves.
Once the clinic is built, the District Health Council will inspect it.
“Then the Tanzanian government will supply the equipment and the doctors,” Herman said.
With the project ahead of them, it’s difficult for Yoder and Herman to say whether or not they will pursue similar ones in the future.
“What we’re starting to think about is this could really become a template for us,” Herman said.
Their goal with the Generosity campaign is to raise all the necessary funds for the clinic.
However, in the true spirit of theater, the couple already has a second act planned.
If the amount raised reaches over the necessary $11,000, they will be donating the rest to an arts school in Bagamoyo, Tanzania.
“Our talented Tanzanian friend, artist and teacher, Jacqueline Kafipha, . . . is starting an arts school for young children . . . We’ve been working with her to help find a suitable space, teachers and the necessary supplies,” reads their campaign statement.
They’re hoping clinic (and the school) will be one of many stories they will be able to play a role in, both off-stage and on.
To learn more about the project, visit: https://www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/let-s-help-asha-build-a-labor-clinic-in-tanzania–2