MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Iraq may dominate the headlines, but Afghanistan is very much on the hearts of one group seeking to help Afghans create a new future for their country.
For two weeks in August and September, a team of medical volunteers from Memphis, Tenn., plans to teach in hospitals in Kabul and Herat and hold a clinic in a village without medical and dental care, reported Cindy Taylor, a neonatal ICU nurse at Memphis' Methodist University Hospital and a team member.
The project is part of an ongoing partnership between medical, education, business, government and church leaders in Memphis and Afghanistan. The partnership was forged in October 2002, when seven officials of Afghanistan's interim government participated in meetings that focused on the country's post-war development needs.
The "Memphis-Afghan Friendship Summit" (MAFS) resulted in a list of specific ways the Americans plan to help the people of Afghanistan start rebuilding their lives.
"One of the greatest needs is for people who are willing to offer their expertise, skills and resources to come and invest in the lives of Afghans," said Mark Morris, chairman of International Friendship Summits, the nonprofit organization in Memphis that organized the meeting.
The MAFS group has sent medical equipment, textbooks and 2,000 birthing kits to Afghanistan, and an 11-member medical team visited the country in March.
'PEACE BE UNTO YOU'
Handing out food, clothing, quilts and mats to more than 300 families at a village called Tangi Saidan, team members greeted the villagers with the traditional greeting: "A Salaam ale kum" -- "Peace be unto you."
The team conducted seminars for physicians at the Malali Woman's Hospital, a facility in which the nursery had no electricity most of the day and no running water at all. Premature babies struggled to survive because the compressor that pumps oxygen to them required electricity to operate.
Another doctor lectured and worked at the Ali Abad and Jamhvrit hospitals. The dentist and dental assistant on the team lectured and worked at the Stomatology Hospital.
On a visit to Herat, three of the team members visited the only hospital in that city, a facility designed for 250 patients that serves between 800 and 1,000 people per day.
St. Francis Hospital in Memphis sponsored three doctors from its family medicine program with a gift of $5,000. But instead of using that money for their own expenses, each doctor worked extra shifts before leaving so the St. Francis funds could be used to purchase infant formula, bottles, a generator and fuel for the nursery at the Malali Women's Hospital.
The St. Francis funds also were used to buy a generator for a community complex at Istalif, a village destroyed by the Taliban. The generator provides electricity, water filtration and heat for a clinic there.
The Memphis-Afghanistan partnership runs the other direction as well. An Afghan physician is making plans to travel to Memphis for training in his specialty. Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health is hoping to send another physician for training as well.
"We really want to build relationships over there," said Taylor, who was a member of the March team. "We want the project to be a people-to-people effort, not country-to-country. We're helping them in tangible ways."
The group needs financial help from organizations and individuals to purchase medicine and continuing education material for the August project, as well as sponsorships for volunteers and funds to bring Afghan doctors, educators and other leaders to Memphis for training. They also are looking for a facility to store hospital beds, physical therapy machines and other equipment donated for Afghan hospitals.
People interested in assisting can contact the Memphis-Afghan Friendship Summit via e-mail at email@example.com or telephone at (901) 921-6118. More information is available on their website, http://www.mafsummit.org.