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Columbus man helps build clinic, bonds in Africa


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A Columbus resident has lived in Kenya for the past year to help build a clinic to help provide services for people with chronic diseases such as AIDS.

While he and his family have had to adjust to water pollution, torrential rains and crazy traffic, he also has developed an appreciation for the beauty of the Great Rift Valley and the fortitude of the Kenyan people.

Michael Greven, his wife, Liz Nolan-Greven, and their son, Liam, live in Eldoret, in west-central Kenya, where Greven is overseeing construction of a chronic care center. Ninety percent of the project’s $5 million, concrete and steel, 110,000-square-foot structure is paid by private donors. Eldoret-based Moi University also contributed.

Greven said that crews have erected the building’s four floors, and the roof is expected to be finished in February. Construction is expected to be completed in early 2015, after which the building will be equipped and furnished.

“Progress on the site has been very, very good,” Greven said.

He said he has had great Kenyan help on architecture, design and contracting. He spends about half his time in an office, the remainder in the field.

Crews are making up for a lack of equipment by applying “elbow grease,” with about 100 workers on site daily.

“We do have many hands,” Greven said.

About Eldoret, Kenya

Three Columbus residents are spending two years in Eldoret, Kenya, to help build a chronic care center. A snapshot of Eldoret:

Location: West-central Kenya, just north of the equator.

Population: 300,000.

Elevation: 8,000 feet.

Origin of name: From Maasai word “eldore,” meaning “stony river.”

Average high temperature: About 70 degrees year-round.

Major industries: Textiles, wheat, corn. Also known for its cheese factory.

Sister cities: Four in the U.S., including Indianapolis.

More information about the connection to Indiana University: ampathkenya.org.

Sources: Michael Greven, Wikipedia, Google Maps.

Greven has been involved in similar projects before, including in the Midwest.

Handpicked for job

In Columbus, the couple own and operate EcoSource, a green building company and solar technology installer. Greven said the clinic in Kenya will be fully powered by a solar array on the roof.

Greven was hired for the project by the Indiana University/Kenya partnership. The university leads a consortium of academic health centers that are working in partnership with the Kenyan government and Moi University, the primary center for teaching doctors and medical professionals in Kenya. Together, they are tackling issues such as HIV/AIDS, health care, nutrition, jobs and education.

Greven said the clinic will aid with the treatment of chronic diseases, particularly for people of lesser means, for whom getting care has been difficult.

The project also helps students from universities in North America get hands-on training in areas including pharmacology (Purdue University), business (Notre Dame), cardiology (Duke) and oncology (University of Toronto).

Greven said that although he has lived in Africa before, adjusting to life in Eldoret — which is about 8,000 feet high and about 20 miles from the Great Rift Valley — has come with some unique challenges.

Challenging conditions

Rains can be torrential, Greven said, which makes maintaining a schedule more difficult.

“It’s dusty when it’s dry, and it’s muddy when it’s raining,” he said.

The city’s downtown, an area of perhaps 10 blocks square, usually is packed with people. Eldoret sits on a trade route between Kampala, Uganda, Tanzania in the south, and South Sudan in the north.

“It’s not what I’d call an attractive city,” Greven said, “but it’s OK.”

Thankfully, he said, the family has done some extensive traveling to look at Kenya’s more interesting sights, which include wildlife and a diverse topography, from mountains to coasts and deserts.

Kenya is stunningly beautiful, Greven said.

He plans to climb Mount Kenya as part of a team in January to raise money.

Food and water are plentiful, but much of the water is polluted from farming chemicals, he said, and the family boils and filters all its water.

Greven’s wife and son have struggled to get used to seeing the many orphans. Though many organizations have helped, AIDS has created and continues to create many orphans in Kenya.

“That really was a difficult thing,” Greven said.

Nolan-Greven spends a lot of time helping in orphanages, he said, and Liam has helped plant a big garden at the workshops where people with AIDS earn their livelihood.

Liam, 16, went to school for one semester in Kenya and is finishing his high school studies online. He also is learning Swahili and helping Greven take photos to capture the construction site’s progress.

Safety steps

He said the family does not go out at night, especially on trips to Nairobi, for safety reasons.

The U.S. Embassy and others have kept the family up to date on security issues, including the recent attack at the Nairobi mall that killed 72 people, but Greven said the family has not been exposed to any dangers.

“We feel generally safe, but we are generally cautious,” he said.

The family lives in a gated compound with a guard shack and a guard. The guard sleeps at night, Greven said, which is somewhat unnerving.

The general approach to security, including seeing armed guards in front of churches, being frisked at malls and having guards use mirrors to search the bottom of your car, takes some getting used to, he said.

“But the people are wonderful,” Greven said.

Visitors see impact

Two Columbus residents who recently visited the Grevens said the family’s work there boosted their Hoosier pride, while the project in general gave them hope for the Kenyan people, who are dealing with some tough circumstances.

Cynthia Chapman and Ann Jones were traveling to Zambia for their work with the nonprofit Granny Connection, which raises funds to help grandmothers who take care of orphaned children in Africa. They stopped in Eldoret for a few days to visit the Grevens, whom they know from Columbus.

The visitors stayed in the IU House, a compound that houses medical professionals, and got to interact with some of the students. They also had dinner with a group of pediatricians and visited orphanages.

Chapman said one story in particular has stuck with her: A 33-year-old woman who is HIV positive relayed how she was rejected by her family because of her illness. Her husband, who likely infected her because of his extramarital affairs, also left her.

“We hear this story over and over and over again,” Chapman said.

Yet the woman now takes care of seven children, including her sister’s, which shows that such difficult circumstances can elicit an incredible resilience, Chapman said.

She also said that, although working with people with chronic diseases can be very sad, she was impressed by the passion and vision displayed by the medical professionals.

The clinic Greven is building represents a dramatic turning point in the way that Kenyans look at dealing with AIDS, Chapman said. Eventually, the clinic will help the people in Kenya view AIDS as a chronic disease that can be managed.

“Made me so proud to be a Hoosier,” she said.

She also praised the Kenyan people for the strength and determination to keep going in difficult conditions.

Jones said she especially enjoyed witnessing the cooperation among the Kenyans, Greven and the medical professionals from U.S. universities.

“It was just beautiful to see the collaboration,” she said.

Greven is a good emissary for the U.S., Jones said, because of his focus, hard work and because he sets a good example for a productive employer-employee partnership.

Greven said the family plans to return to Columbus in 2015. The family has kept its home here and regularly checks on happenings in Columbus.

“I like it here, (but) I do love my family and friends back home,” Greven said.

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