Whitewater effort helps man deliver ambulance to Africa

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Anna Marie Lux
Monday, June 23, 2014

WHITEWATER—Hassimi Traore has longed a lifetime for one dream to come true.

The Whitewater man wants to give his African hometown an ambulance.

In the United States, we take for granted that an emergency vehicle will respond when we call.

In Hassimi's native Burkina Faso, more than 40,000 people live in the city of Dedougou without a modern ambulance.

With the support of many in Whitewater and beyond, Traore is about to deliver an ambulance from the United States to his landlocked country in August.

“The ambulance will save lives,” he said. “It will be used almost daily.”

Traore is an associate professor of chemistry at UW-Whitewater.

His story began in the summer of 1972.

A 10-year-old Traore was returning from the market in Dedougou when he saw his best friend going the other way on a moped. Hassimi waved and smiled. His friend returned the greeting.

Moments later, Traore heard the crash. He turned around to see his friend dying in the road after being hit by a car.

Traore believes an ambulance could have made a difference. But in one of the poorest countries on Earth, emergency services do not exist.

“I was powerless,” Traore said. “My friend was like a brother to me.”

Fast forward to a few years ago. Traore was driving near Stoughton, where he saw his dream with a “For Sale” sign on it.

The owner reduced the price when he heard Traore's story.

Once Traore bought the ambulance, he was faced with the high cost of shipping it by sea.  He shared his story with Kim Adams, assistant director of the University Center and an adviser to the UW-Whitewater Student Optimist Club. The club was independently planning a service trip to deliver medical and educational supplies to Africa.

Adams decided to combine the projects and involve the community.

“I made a pledge to Traore that we would figure out a way to ship the ambulance and work it into our trip,” Adams said.

For about a year, hundreds of people, businesses and groups have contributed to a fund-raising campaign to equip, prepare and ship the ambulance. In addition, the community effort raised money to buy, gather and ship about 140 boxes, including everything from medical supplies to soccer balls.

“We raised about $40,000 and need more money for shipping,” Adams said.

Earlier this month, Traore and Scott Sippel of Whitewater drove the ambulance to Baltimore, where the vehicle was loaded onto a shipping container. In early August, Traore will drive the ambulance from a shipyard in Ghana more than 600 miles to Dedougou.

Joining him in Burkina Faso will be UW-Whitewater students Kayla Engmann, Mika Kennedy, Mary Marren and Megan Stevens. Also going are Candace Chenoweth, director of the Center for Global Education at UW-Whitewater, and Dawn Kiernan, a Whitewater EMT.

Kiernan will teach basic emergency medical skills to a small group in Dedougou.

“This story has really touched me,” she said. “I'm starting my own nonprofit and am going back to Burkina Faso in 2016 to stay longer to teach EMS skills. Next time, Hassimi and I will bring paramedics and EMTs with us.”

A welcoming committee in Dedougou is planning a party when the Whitewater group arrives.

Traore said the ambulance will be the best in all of Burkina Faso.

“After more than 40 years, my dream is coming true,” Traore said. “But I did not do it myself. I did it with the help of a community, the university and everyone who cares so much. Only in America could I realize my dream.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.





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