A group from Petoskey returns from Ethiopia with new perspective
COURTESY PHOTO Taylor DuBois, 20, helps children put on socks and shoes at a medical clinic in Ethiopia. DuBois and five other congregation members of New Life Anglican Church in Petoskey traveled to the clinic where they passed out 800 pairs of shoes and socks to children. The shoes will prevent a debilitating disease called mossy foot. (COURTESY PHOTO / November 9, 2012)
Zako and five other congregation members of the New Life Anglican Church in Petoskey returned Oct. 29, from a trip during which they distributed shoes and clothing to people afflicted by a disease called mossy foot.
The debilitating condition affects people who work barefoot in volcanic soil. Micro-particles of ash penetrate the skin of feet and cause inflammation and swelling in feet and legs.
The skin loses its resistance to bacteria and fungus and begins to develop warty bumps and large, fibrous lumps. The swelling and deformity of the feet become so severe that patients become unable to work and provide for their families and the infections caused by the condition often make them social outcasts.
The World Health Organization has declared mossy foot a disease of poverty. Wearing shoes can entirely prevent the disease, however, the majority of people afflicted cannot afford shoes and socks.
"They become both physically disabled and socially shunned like lepers," said Zako.
The group at New Life became aware of the disease after church member Kim Redman read a book about it. She shared the book and story with the congregation and they were so moved, they decided to take action.
At first, they thought they might send money or shoes to an organization called The Mossy Foot Project, but when they spoke with a representative, they learned that their presence could make a much bigger difference than money could.
They worked over the summer to raise money to go on the trip and deliver shoes to children to prevent the disease. They were able to raise enough for travel expenses and to donate $7,000 worth of shoes and other aid.
They purchased 800 pairs of children's shoes and brought them to the children, fitted them and gave them away.
"These children were just grinning and their parents were in tears," said Zako, "You can prevent the disease simply by wearing shoes."
The group also brought bandages, vitamin E lotion and children's clothes to help families affected by mossy foot.
There are children in Ethiopia wearing Camp Daggett and Cheboygan Memorial Hospital T-shirts, said Redman, laughing.
While there, the group also donated funds and helped build a house for a widow with mossy foot.
"She was crying and they were all dancing around us," said Redman of the experience.
"They were singing, a whole group of women dancing around us. You realize how little you have to do to change someone's life dramatically," said the Rev. Mike Bridge.
While they were able to do much good with the money they raised, it was difficult to see the extreme poverty around them, they reported.
"Every day we faced moral dilemmas," said Zako. People all around them were starving, there were children with bloated bellies. "Your heart goes out to them, but the need is limitless."
The group decided they would have to remain focused on why they came and donate what they had to families afflicted with mossy foot, even though there were others in need of shoes and food.
Redman would save bread from the restaurants where they ate and hand it out to mothers with children and the elderly, but, she said, there were many more she was unable to feed because there were so many hungry.
Despite difficulty and strife, the hope and faith of the people they saw was apparent, said Zako.
"Their honesty, joy and faith was inspiring," he said.
A presentation and photo slide show of the group's trip to Ethiopia will be at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, at New Life Anglican Church on Waukazoo Avenue in Petoskey. For more information, call the church at (231) 347-3448.
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