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Kenya native builds clinic to serve her people

Tuesday, January 30, 2007
BY MICHELE HOWE
Star-Ledger Staff

Margaret Kilibwa, standing left with nurses and a patient. She founded TropicalClinics Inc. in 2004 to build health centers in rural Africa.

Margaret Kilibwa has been living in the United States for the past 23 years, but she never forgets her African roots or the plight of her people.

The South Brunswick resident, who grew up in a small rural town in Kenya, is spearheading plans to build a clinic in Kakamega, approximately 250 miles northwest of Nairobi.

Kilibwa is a clinical nutritionist and research scientist. She is currently a clinical assistant professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Women's Health Clinic, where she conducts research on preventing the development of osteoporosis, diabetes and obesity in women.

She founded TropicalClinics Inc. in 2004 to build health centers in rural Africa and other developing areas, according to the non-profit corporation's Web site (www.tropicalclinics.org).

"My mission is to help children left homeless or destitute by the devastation of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and alleviate hunger, poverty and disease for hundreds of people in the rural areas of Kenya," said Kilibwa, 42.

Kilibwa's involvement in humanitarian efforts in Africa started while she was in graduate school at Cornell, where she received her Ph.D. She would buy clothing from Goodwill stores to distribute to the girls in her village when she visited during breaks from school, she said. Later, she began bringing medical supplies.

"When I was working at Pfizer, and later at Johnson & Johnson, I applied for medicines and medical supplies and donated them to Nyumbani Orphanage and Kenyatta Hospital, both in Nairobi. I made the trips to Nairobi once a year, carrying the medicines and medical supplies in my suitcases," she said.

Two years ago, a friend suggested she expand her mission by building a health center, she said.

She began by working on a health survey of Kenya. She shared that survey and business plan with churches, the Rotary Club in La Grangeville, N.Y., individuals and foundations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

TropicalClinics is now operating a small center that serves about 80 people a day, and a larger hospital is in the works that will offer ultrasound, MRI and dialysis machines.

"We are now building an 80-bed health center that will service approximately 160 inpatients and 400 outpatients per day....We expect to serve people from as far away as 100 miles. I am going back several times this year...to oversee the construction and the grand opening of the expanded health center," Kilibwa said.

She has obtained funding and in-kind donations for construction of the center, and is planning a fundraiser at a Manhattan restaurant in September.

"We have raised over $50,000 so far. Our goal is to raise $450,000 for construction and another $300,000 for operation.

"We are also expecting a grant of approximately $250,000 from the World Bank in February," she said.

Although there was no government resistance to her efforts, Kilibwa had problems when it came to purchasing land.

"I had a very difficult time purchasing the 10 1/2 acres of land where the center is being built. It is not common for women to purchase land in Africa. Although I was involved in the entire process of the land purchase, I had to pretend that our business manager in Kenya was the one purchasing the land.

"I earned the respect of the land surveyors and the community by asking a lot of questions, and now my leadership of this project is continually appreciated," she said.

© 2007  The Star Ledger

 

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TropicalClinics is a 501 (c) 3 U.S. Nonprofit Organization (and a Non-Governmental Organization in Kenya). The organization was founded by Margaret Kilibwa in 2004 to build one-of-a-kind health centers in rural areas of Africa and other developing nations.

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