During the winter of 2017, one of our co-founders Dr. Justin Thomas was on vacation in Kenya. While on a safari, he was fortunate to meet a group of native Kenyans in the rural Masai Mara of Western Kenya and learned that over half of all Kenyans lack access to some of the simplest forms of health care.
Dr. Thomas was very moved by how much someone could learn just by meeting a group of people and observing their access to modern medicine. During the summer of 2017 Dr. Thomas started a new charity organization with the joint effort of his colleague, Dr. Troy Dawley to help educate people about international health care. As a team of physicians currently completing their residency in neurological surgery, they wanted to put their “brains together” and combine what they knew about medicine with their passion for travel. Their goal was to create an organization to help people see what they have seen.
Their idea was to develop a new study abroad trip with Michigan State University, home to one of the largest study abroad programs in the world. Fast forward to today and you have the Neuroscience Foundation for Africa, a Michigan-based non-profit organization with 501(c)(3) tax exemption currently pending.
Over the last several years, Dr. Thomas and Dr. Dawley have been working at great lengths to develop a program called "Neurosciences and Health Care in Kenya”. Proposed to start in the fall of 2019, they set out to start a new type of sustainable study abroad programs in East Africa. Their first destination will be in Kenya where over half of their country lacks access to modern medicine.
Using their expertise in medicine and what they knew about traveling abroad, Dr. Thomas and Dr. Dawley set out with a goal for the first program: bring modern neurosurgical techniques, education, training and medical assistance to East Africa. To be successful the program had to pass certain milestones: it had to serve a purpose to a community in need and be sustainable. The NFA had a lot to consider and spent two reconnaissance trips to Kenya in 2018 to refine it.
Dr. Thomas and Dr. Dawley also needed some partners. They joined forces with an incredible group of educators at the Michigan State University Office of Education Abroad (East Lansing, MI, USA), they recruited the professional planning and logistic services of the Global Engagement Institute (Berlin, Germany), they met with the University of Nairobi (Nairobi, Kenya), and partnered with of the leaders in African neurosurgery. One of these leaders is Dr. Nimrod Juniah Mwang’ombe at the Kenyatta National Hospital (Nairobi, Kenya). They also recruited a wonderful team of philanthropy advisers including Jonathan Thomas (Beverly Hills, MI, USA), previously the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Festival of Trees, a non-profit organization supporting the Children's Hospital of Michigan, and Dr. Ratnesh Mehra, a neurosurgeon who recently joined the NFA Board of Directors.
This team was established to create the best combined study abroad-humanitarian program possible. You can find out more about each of them and their talents on our “Meet the Board” page.
Our first program will be Kenya 2019. We want to educate all participants about the needs that exist in health care throughout a different part of the world. The NFA has partnered with the largest hospital in East Africa, the Kenyatta National Hospital, to complement their current neurological surgery department. In addition to surgically treating patients, we plan to help educate local Kenyan medical care-givers on neurosurgical care, peri-operative treatment, physical therapy and long term rehabilitation for all of their patients.
Finally, we wanted to add a strong charitable component to this organization. The Kibera neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya is home to one of the largest slums in all of Africa, if not the world. Through some wonderful connections, Dr. Thomas and Dr. Dawley personally went to visit Kibera during the last site visit to Kenya and met some of the doctors working in one of the neighborhoods medical clinics. Simply put, Dr. Gilbert Makokha, a primary care physician in Kibera, has shown the NFA dedication to his patients that words cannot describe. He treats a group of people who live on less than $1 per day. The NFA plans to provide this community in dire need of health care access to comprehensive medical and neurosurgical services through our charitable donations so that they can go on to live a meaningful and productive life.