Something called my heart
Barbara Briscoe helps Rwandas children recover from genocide era
Dr. Barbara Briscoe of West Linn wanted to adopt a whole bunch of Rwandan children on her medical mission trip last summer.
That wasnt possible. What is possible is for nurses to be placed in elementary schools throughout the area where she served. That would cover 3,000 children in the African nation, and such care would mean the difference between life and health or death at an early age.
Briscoe is determined to make such a difference. She plans to hold a special event on the plight of Rwandas children on the weekend of Nov. 8-9 from 7 to 8 p.m. both evenings at the 510 Museum & ARTspace, 510 First St. in Lake Oswego. She hopes her burning enthusiasm will inspire others.
Briscoes fire was ignited as she was living the good life in West Linn, with a successful career as an optometrist and a loving family. A native of Italy, she achieved the American dream by going to the optometry school at Pacific University, where she met her husband. They went on to achieve love and money, forming a husband-and-wife optometry team that started their own business and had two children. Yet she wanted more.
It started with Lake Oswego Reads, Briscoe said. I love to read, and I was really touched by the story in Running the Rift. I went to a lot of offerings of the program.
Running the Rift, by author Naomi Benaron, plunges readers into the coming fury between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes, with the nation eventually degenerating into genocide. However, hope is provided by the hero, Jean Patrick, a young long distance runner who keeps running toward his dream despite being surrounded by the fire of war.
Something called my heart, Briscoe said.
The call became stronger when Briscoes church, Willamette Christian Church, sponsored two children from Rwanda.
It made me want to see Rwanda and experience it, she said.
Soon, Briscoe was planning a two-week medical mission trip to Rwanda for the summer of 2013 on which she took her entire family husband Todd, daughter Johanna, son William with Africa New Life Ministries, a nonprofit organization based in Portland that has been providing food, shelter, education and medical necessities to children in Rwanda since 2001. The rewards she received and the memories she made were incredible.
It was a life-changing trip for all of us, Briscoe said. It was even better than I expected.
As soon as Briscoe arrived in a Rwandan village, children were reaching up to hold her hand, and they introduced her to a way of life that was so different from that in the U.S.
The Rwandan kids immediately connected with you, Briscoe said. Kids here are so distracted by so many things. In Rwanda they just like being around you, holding your hand, jumping rope or blowing soap bubbles. They were so happy to receive the 30 used soccer balls we brought them. Poverty is so greatly engrained in their country, and it struck me how they could be so content and warm and graceful in a certain way. They relied on each other and had a certain camaraderie and sense of connection.
You could feel the tension from the terrible genocide of 18 years ago, but the people have a lot of enthusiasm to move on.
Instead of being bored amidst poverty, the Rwandan children surprised Briscoe with their joy over the simplest things.
They wanted to be with us, hold our hands, touch us, Briscoe said. My daughter has really long hair and they went crazy over her. Theyve had to shave off all of their own hair because of epidemics.
Two weeks werent nearly enough for Briscoe and her comrades to bring adequate health care and long-lasting changes in the childrens lives. Briscoe gained of vision of something that could truly make a difference placing a nurse in five schools, each with about 600 students, so the childrens health needs could be met on an ongoing basis. That cost for this would be $5,000 a year and the fundraising starts Nov. 8.
Briscoe will share her experience with the community with a presentation featuring a recent history of Rwanda, a talk about her own experience this past summer and a slide show. Briscoe will be able to provide a vivid portrait of a nation of which previously she was only vaguely aware of.
I want to spread awareness of Rwanda, Briscoe said. Especially the needs of kids and families.
For more information, call Africa New Life Ministries at 503-906-1590, visit africanewlife.org or send an email to Briscoe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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