Feb 22

by Katryna Starks

“When I grow up, I’m going to start a hospital.” For many, this would be a childhood dream that faded away to something more practical. For Godwin Onyema, the dream has held for over 40 years, and it is about to become a reality.

Godwin grew up in Nigeria, where he worked in his High School dispensary. He was very close with his History instructor and his wife, who was a missionary. They inspired him to realize that he, too, could make a difference. He completed medical school there, but moved to the United States shortly after. He made Chicago his home, where he practices as an OB/Gyn. Godwin’s life progressed. He married. He had children. But he never lost sight of his goal for Nigeria. He researched. He asked questions. He monitored the political and social situation in his homeland. And, when the time was right, he founded GEANCO.

GEANCO is the non-profit that Godwin is using to fund and carry out his hospital project. As the years have gone by, Godwin incorporated his family into his dream, even into the name of the organization. GEANCO is an acronym for the family: Godwin, Ebele, Afam, Nche/Nma, Chukwogozie, and Onyema. These names are the wife (Nma) and children in Godwin’s family, along with Godwin himself.

The need for a new hospital in Nigeria is great. Currently, the WHO ranks Nigerian healthcare 187 of 190. The bottom 3 in the world. Over a million children in Nigeria die each year from preventable diseases. The problem is two-fold. The first is that there is no health insurance or national health system in Nigeria. All health services cost a fee at the time the service is provided. Inpatient services include charges for the doctors and nurses as well as food, room, and supplies. Although Nigeria represents 1/5 of the population of Africa, 70% of them live below the poverty line ($1 U.S./day), meaning that when and where care is available, most cannot afford it.

The other problem is that, for even those who can afford it, adequate care is simply not available. According to Afam Onyema, COO of GEANCO and Godwin’s son, there are only 2 or 3 hospitals in Nigeria that are on par with western facilities. As a result, Nigeria’s elite, who can afford the best care, go to other countries to get it. Nigerians spend over 200 million dollars a year on medical tourism.

Augustine Memorial Hospital, GEANCO’s current project (named for Godwin’s father), will assist Nigerians on several fronts. It will be a state-of-the-art facility, which will draw some of the wealth from medical tourism back into Nigeria. It will also be a pay-for-service facility, but poor patients can apply for charity and receive care as well. Patients who are too poor to pay and cannot receive charity will also benefit from Augustine Memorial’s presence. Augustine will be a teaching hospital with a community focus. Not only will it provide exemplary care at its own facility, it will hold trainings for local doctors to take back to their facilities, improving care throughout Nigeria. Augustine Memorial’s initial focus will be on HIV and Malaria prevention and treatment, as well as prenatal and birthing care. Expansions will include surgical, laboratory, and pharmaceutical services as well as cancer care and burn units. Although Augustine Memorial will have the newest technology to provide care, they will also stay abreast of the low-tech ways to treat and prevent disease in order to raise the level of care provided by local doctors and by the community itself. Education regarding malaria prevention, vaccinations and prenatal care will greatly reduce the incidence of disease in local communities.

The entire GEANCO project will require 25 million dollars, which is just 1/6 of the cost of building a hospital in America. The first phase will only require 5-6 million dollars to complete. Land, equipment and supplies have been donated already, but more help is needed to see this dream come to fruition.

“Anyone who chooses to labor with us is now part of our Family. We welcome you!” – Godwin Onyema

For more information about GEANCO and how to help, visit the website: http://www.geanco.org/

Aug 10

Have you ever been through a bad experience and then decided that you will make it better for everyone else?  Ryan Sharpe did.  He’s the founder of the Get Well Gamers foundation in Huntington Beach, CA.

As a child, Ryan spent a lot of time in the hospital. The reasons were different but the experience was the same: it was boring.  One day, someone put a gaming system in a lounge near his room, and his whole experience changed.  Now, he supplies children’s wards in hospitals in the US and Canada with gaming systems so that hospitalized children will have something to take their minds off of their illness.

Ryan sat down with KS of Social Change Network and had a chat about the foundation:

KS: To start, what does Get Well Gamers do?

Ryan Sharpe:  The Get-Well Gamers Foundation brings videogames and electronic entertainment to over a hundred and twenty Children’s hospitals and healthcare facilities across the United States and Canada. We provide an outlet for children to escape the confines of their sterile, white, stake hospital rooms and become whatever they want, from a hard-bitten detective to a professional athlete to their favorite cartoon superheroes.

KS:  Do you supply PC and Mac games or do you use consoles?

Ryan Sharpe: I just finished answering an e-mail regarding exactly that, funny enough. Though I should state for the record that I’ve been a PC gamer since the original Commander Keen games, PCs are by their nature a finicky and particular platform. If you don’t have the right operating system, if you don’t have enough memory, if your CPU is underclocked or your video card is incompatible, your PC games become decorative coasters in an instant. Contrast that to any major console, where you insert the game disc and it plays, every time, and you can see why we regretfully refuse PC and Macintosh games.

KS:  And how do you get the consoles?  Do people donate cash and you go buy them or do you get the consoles themselves as donations?

Ryan Sharpe: I’m proud to say that the Foundation has never actually had to buy a console to donate it. We get our supplies through the donations of concerned and generous Games from across the country and even around the globe- I remember our first intenational donation was an Atari Jaguar from Norway- and almost always with a nice stack of games for us to sort into our inventory and dole out as needed. We do get the occasional corporate donation, but the foundation wouldn’t be a tenth its size if not for the dusty PlayStations and cherished Nintendo 64s and every other piece of old gaming equipment caring gamers have decided to pass on to us. Now, the cords and controllers and memory cards, those we’ve had to go out and get, but for the consoles and games at least I can say we’ve never bought one.

KS: That’s pretty amazing!  What inspired you to start the Get Well Gamers foundation – and how long have you been around?

Ryan Sharpe: The Foundation began in late 2001, Just before 9/11 struck in fact, and at the time I was working out of a one-bedroom apartment in the Seattle suburbs, holding the Foundation’s meager inventory in my closet while I went to college and serviced an equally meager network- only two hospitals, the Seattle Children’s near where I went to school and the Children’s Hospital of Orange County near my hometown. The inspiration itself came from my many hospital stays in the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, shortened to CHOC amongst the patients there.

Between Bronchitis, Pneumonia, Septicemia, and a host of other maladies that struck in my formative years, I spent a lot of time in the hospital, and during one such stay the hospital transitioned from only having TV reruns and a handful of toys to play with while recovering to actually having video games- A pair of arcade cabinets in a break room set to free play- and the difference in how I passed my free time was remarkable. What used to be long hours of just trying not to think of how hard it was to breathe evaporated in round after round of Donkey Kong Jr. and Zaxxon, all my earthly troubles forgotten as I focused on the games between tests, feedings, and injections.

KS: Do you ever get any feedback from the kids who benefit from the games you donate?  Have the doctors and medical staff seen a difference?

Ryan Sharpe: Oh, tremendously. Even hospitals we’ve had for nearly a decade will still send us letters just gushing about the difference video games make in their patients’ stays. I’ve heard tales of young children looking forward to coming in to chemotherapy because it’s the only place they can progress on their favorite RPGs, or how fussy and frightened children were able to take their shots without so much as a peep thanks to the calming and distracting capabilities of a Game Boy.

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According to Sharpe, there isn’t much published research regarding outcomes when games are introduced into the healing environment, but hopefully there will be in the future.

To learn more about the Get Well Gamers foundation, and to donate, visit http://www.get-well-gamers.org