Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Left Behind Group

Zambia Medical Mission 2011 ended with a transportation nightmare when 18 of the team members missed their flight got left behind in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Read Ellie Hamby's description of it here:

Overall the Zambia Medical Mission 2011 went exceptionally well. We had two major is sues (one at the beginning and one at the end) but other than that it was great. We saw thousands of people, our group stayed basically healthy, we had plenty of medicine, and the kitchen crew did a suburb job of feeding everyone. A big thanks to Josh Judkins and his kitchen crew for stepping up when Nadara could not come. They did an excellent job and Leonard Sichimwa, head cook, said it was 100%.

Carole Buchholz, who suffered the broken wrist at the beginning of the medical mission, was sent to Nashville for medical treatment after she spent about a week in the hospital in Johannesburg. We understand she had surgery in Nashville and is doing much better.

Of course, many of you have heard about the “Stranded 18” in Zimbabwe. We had to send 33 people to Victoria Falls to fly out as there were not enough seats for the whole team on the flight out of Livingstone. Normally, it is not a problem to cross the border, but that day it took 3 ½ hours at immigration at the border and this caused 18 of our people to miss their flight. I went on the bus to the airport with the first group and even though the gate was closed for the flight I managed to get them to open it back up for our group. The ground crew agreed to delay the flight as long as possible to wait for the remaining 18 to come and did so until the captain said he was waiting no more and closed the door. The plane took off just as the group arrived at the airport. The 18 had to spend the night in V/Falls and we were able to find them accommodations at Russell Caldecott’s (Ultimate Africa) and they did get to go to the Boma for their evening meal.

The problem we were facing is that a group ticket cannot be changed without huge penalties. The agent at V/Falls agreed to send the group on to South Africa at absolutely no charge and even upgraded the group to Business Class. I decided to fly with the group as we were facing monumental problems upon arrival in South Africa. I had awaken our travel agent at 1:00 am in the morning and also I called KB and told him the worse case scenario was that we were facing a cost of at least $3000 for each person to reissue a ticket. Our travel agent worked on the issue but told me all I could do was plead our case to the international ticket agency in J/Burg airport. On the flight there I spent all my time in prayer and rehearsing the speech I was going to give. I planned to tell them that we were loyal customers of South African Airways and that our group was all volunteers doing humanitarian work in Zambia. When I arrived at the counter and started my speech to the supervisor, he quickly stopped me and said, “If you are with the 18 coming from V/Falls do not worry as all has been taken care of and all they need to do is go check in.” I asked him to repeat it twice to make certain that is what he said. The group quickly went to check in and got boarding passes for their trip back to the USA. All this was done with no cost to Zambia Medical Mission. I do not know who intervened (but I know prayers were answered). KB said in his email, “Those who are with us are greater than those who are against us.” The stranded 18 were real troopers and made the job of sorting things out much easier.

Special thanks to all who helped make ZMM 2011 a huge success. Many of you donated money to help individual team members and also for medicine, clean delivery kits, cataract surgery, containers, and wheelchairs. Your participation with us is greatly appreciated.

My notes: Ellie does an amazing job of coordinating this huge medical mission, handling crises like this with courageous grace. What a hero!

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