For David Joseph, the summer of 2012 started and ended the way most adventures do: without any plans, but with an amazing story to tell. When he joined the American Jewish World Service for a trip to northern Uganda, he was excited to help build a radio station — for just one summer. What he found, however, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save lives.
While in Uganda, Joseph met Oyoo “Ben” Benson, a former child soldier and practicing clinician in a small, under-resourced clinic. Joseph formed a relationship with Benson, shadowing him in a clinic filled with toddlers facing life-threatening malaria and needy patients without the financial means for treatment. Benson was Joseph’s inspiration, an individual dedicated to giving without any expectations of return. Joseph was taken aback by the love the community members had for one another. And Joseph was devastated to see the hardships they faced. “The thing that hit me most,” he says, “was watching Ben sew up a patient’s wound with only a candle to light the way.” These are the conditions that the clinicians of Pader face. These are the conditions that Pader community members suffer.
Joseph took in the sights of Pader — the rusty bed frames, the dark rooms, the dying children — and resolved to make his experience more than just a summertime cultural exposure. “I couldn’t just leave Uganda without feeling like I was doing something wrong,” he says. “The people were not happy with their situation. That is where it’s my obligation to come in, to be as useful as I can be.”
Determined to make tangible changes, Joseph joined Benson and four other clinicians with the goal of providing affordable healthcare to the residents of Pader. By the end of 2012, he had become the co-founder and overseas director of NUMEM, the Northern Uganda Medical Mission. Back at UCLA, Joseph reached out to numerous groups and organizations seeking economic aid, guidance, and partnerships. He recalls that, at first, “[i]t was failure after failure. Nobody took me seriously. I reached out and nobody reached back.”
But Joseph knew better than to get disheartened. When asked how he dealt with the numerous let-downs, he explains, “I grew up in a religious home. Judaism has taught me that you’re never done achieving; there are no ceilings for growth. Failing didn’t mean anything and it couldn’t mean anything…because what I was fighting for was too important. You give to people who don’t have, period.”
Joseph recalls how instrumental the Jewish community was in establishing NUMEM. “The rabbis at Hillel gave me so much guidance and my CEI internship really taught me how to network and create something from nothing.” When asked where all the funds for the project came from, Joseph laughed and said, “To start out, a lot of it came straight from the Jewish community…my family, my friends.”
Today, Pader’s new health center has acquired new technologies and improved sanitary conditions and maintains low costs to ensure widespread healthcare access to the town’s community members. The clinic is fully solar-powered and houses a dual-viewer microscope, hands-free washing stations, and Pader’s only working ultrasound machine. The NUMEM health center is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and has seen over 2500 patients since its opening in May of 2013. It is currently working on establishing a maternity ward.
A famous verse in the Torah (Deuteronomy 30:19) states, “I [God] have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. And you shall choose life…” Rabbi Pinchas Winston of Project Genesis explains that a mere physical existence is not equivalent to life. Life is more than continuous breathing; it is a commitment to higher meaning and personal growth. For Joseph, a spiritual life means self-actualization, giving life and hope to those in need. “You always have something to give to others, but it’s different for everyone,” he says.
There are too many of us that end up living life as it happens, not as we want. Joseph is an inspiration to us all, to grow and aspire to reach our potential. The remarkable part of his story is that it is not a story…he made it the real thing.
For more information on David Joseph and his awe-inspiring project, visit: