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Westshore Primary Care Physicians Extend Their Caring to Africa

The care provided by two Westshore Primary Care physicians – Monique Richardson, MD, and her husband, Stan Richardson, MD – extends from Cleveland’s West Side to Northern Uganda, where the couple has traveled and offered their support and caring for the past six years.

“We just couldn’t turn our backs on them,” says Monique, a family practice physician based at Westshore Primary Care’s Avon Lake office, who cited 20 years of rebel insurgency, warfare and HIV that resulted in grim conditions and extreme poverty. “Hundreds of thousands were driven from their homes, and tens of thousands were left orphaned. Half of the population is less than 15 years old.”

Their mission began in 2008, when Monique and Stan, an internal medicine physician based at Westshore Primary Care’s Avon office, traveled to Uganda to assess the medical needs of orphaned children. There, they developed a friendship with Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, Director of St. Monica’s Girls’ Tailoring Centre, and winner of the 2007 CNN Heroes Award.

In September 2009 Monique and Stan introduced “Tree of Wisdom,” which began a sponsorship program for the “distant adoption" of children who didn’t have the basic necessities of life. With the help of Sr. Rosemary and others, children were identified who were unable to attend school due to a lack of resources. Today, for an annual donation of $175, a specific child is provided with basic necessities including tuition, uniform, shoes, food, healthcare and any other items needed to help give them a future. The Richardsons have helped secure more than 150 sponsors, who receive the name of the child, a photograph, and at least one written communication from the child during the year.

In response to the starvation caused by a four-year drought in Northern Uganda, Tree of Wisdom began a feeding program in September 2010. More than 200 hungry children are currently being fed every week. The children call it “Happy Sunday”.

The mission of St. Monica Girls’ Tailoring Centre is to give vocational training to young Ugandan women victimized by the war. As part of this effort, the Richardsons helped begin the Wisdom Bead program, which supports these women through the sale of their handicrafts. The wisdom beads are rolled from small strips of discarded paper, varnished, dried, and then made into beautiful jewelry.

“The beads are giving women who otherwise have no support the ability to become self-reliant,” says Monique. “We currently have a beautiful selection of necklaces, bracelets, rosaries and fabric bags.” With prices ranging from $5 to $20, the Wisdom Beads are sold at local arts festivals throughout the year. All proceeds go directly to the women making the beads and the Tree of Wisdom orphans.

“There are so few resources and so much need,” says Stan, of the medical care available to the children. “We gave them some medicine and packaged up some food for them, but it’s only a temporary solution. As doctors we are trained to try to fix things. It’s heartbreaking to be faced with basic problems that have no apparent solution—at least for now.”

“Our deepest thanks go out to all our family, friends, and colleagues who have given us tremendous support and have blessed us with their prayers,” says Monique, who is planning a return to Uganda in 2013.

Tree of Wisdom has an annual benefit held in the fall. For more information about the program, go to treeofwisdom.org.