Categories: Life & Arts
Newlywed life can be hectic.
But the story of Niskayuna native Rachael Yoder and her husband, Michael Herman, might take the cake.
“We left for Tanzania less than a month after [our wedding],” Yoder said.
And no, it wasn’t for their honeymoon. They went to build a labor clinic in Mloka, a village where the closest clinic is several hours away.
Throughout the construction process, they connected with villagers in Mloka, and created a documentary about the rich culture of the village and the process of constructing the first of many buildings to better serve the villagers.
“The Humanity Project: A Devised Documentary,” will be shown at Proctors on Sept. 8.
“We knew we wanted to document the experience as it was happening. Michael and I are artists by trade, so that’s really more what we’re comfortable doing,” Yoder said.
“The Humanity Project” is a part of their nonprofit theater company, The Outer Loop Theater Experience, which strives to help cultivate and build creative plays and stories.
Collecting stories was what got the couple involved in Tanzania in 2015.
On a trip to the country to gather stories for a play on Tanzanian culture, Herman heard one story he couldn’t let go of.
A woman named Asha told him how one of her children didn’t survive childbirth because the nearest labor clinic was several hours away. Unfortunately, she’s not alone. Other women also came forward to talk about their struggles with access to doctors and medical practitioners. Although there are midwives in the Mloka village, many are not equipped to handle complications that may arise during delivery.
Herman left Tanzania with much more than an idea for a play: He left with a promise to return and build a labor clinic. He and Yoder worked for well over a year to raise the $11,000 needed to build the clinic and to find a team to help construct it.
Asha’s husband, Patrick, is an engineer and was able to manage the project. After the couple arrived in Mloka in 2017, construction began immediately and was completed in a little less than three months.
“As you can imagine, construction in Tanzania goes quite differently than it does here,” Yoder said, “There were no power tools used at all in the construction of the clinic.”
Cement had to be mixed by hand, which proved challenging when there wasn’t water available in the village. Yoder and Herman hired workers to motorcycle to the nearest river to bring water into the village to mix the cement.
“[There were] lots of unexpected challenges along the way. Sometimes we couldn’t work because some of the guys had to be on their farm, because there were elephants there that day and they had to protect their crops from getting eaten by elephants. … Just things we could never have predicted,” Yoder said.
Now that construction is complete, the clinic is going through the registration process. Once it’s registered with the Tanzanian government, the labor clinic will be up and running.
“We could be looking at babies born there by late fall, which is pretty exciting,” Yoder said.
It’s the first of several projects the couple is working on.
“While we were there, we realized that the needs of this village extend beyond the labor clinic. This is just the beginning,” Yoder said.
The next phase of their project includes building an outpatient dispensary building, which provides vaccinations for children, lab testing and family planning services, among others. The Outer Loop hopes to raise $30,000 for the project.
Of course, they’re also including a theatrical element as well.
“We met with five different schools in the village and we’re planning to develop a theater and drama curriculum with the schools for the next time we come back,” Yoder said.
They’ve already run a few workshops and drama sessions with students in Mloka, but this time they’re hoping to work with teachers to help them incorporate those skills in the classroom.
On Friday, beyond the screening of “The Humanity Project,” the couple will be discussing their experiences in talking with villagers and in Mloka, and their next steps in what’s become a long-term project.
“It just felt very important for us to bring the experience back home,” Yoder said, “We had a screening of it in Rochester and we felt it was a really powerful way to let people in on the process.”