The wild bush country of East Africa may be a world away from the wine country of Napa Valley, but a group of committed winery owners have forged a link between the two regions that is helping to benefit thousands of rural Tanzanians.
FAME Napa Valley was formed three years ago to raise funds for the Foundation of African Medicine and Education, an organization that brings medical care to underserved villagers in northeastern Tanzania. FAME Napa Valley will hold its third annual fundraiser Sunday, May 6 at Charles Krug Winery.
“It’s unusual to get an African event in Napa Valley,” said Katie Mondavi, referring to the African band and dance troupe that will highlight the wine auction and food event. “You don’t normally see this type of entertainment anywhere in the valley.”
Mondavi and her husband Peter of Charles Krug are one of three Napa Valley winery couples behind the fundraiser, which supports the project in Tanzania. Along with the Mondavis, Chris and Christina Madrigal of Madrigal Estate Winery, and Rudy and Rita von Strasser of von Strasser Winery created the local group in 2010 after the Madrigals visited the foundation’s founders Dr. Frank Artress and his wife Susan Gustafson in Tanzania.
“(The Madrigals) came back with this great feeling for the organization and what Frank and Susan were doing,” Mondavi said. “I helped with that first fundraiser and actually met Frank and Susan, then committed to go over and work there.”
A physician and medical educator, Mondavi has worked two volunteer stints in the foundation’s bush clinic, which brings medical care to remote regions of Tanzania.
The Foundation of African Medicine and Education is the result of a near-death, life-changing experience for Artress and Gustafson on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro. A successful physician from Modesto, Artress was celebrating his 50th birthday with a six-day climb of the famous peak. Well into the expedition, Artress developed pulmonary edema caused by the high altitude and, after a frightening night, was carried down the mountain while unconscious. He ended up in a nearby clinic where he was successfully treated for the serious condition. As Artress recovered, he and his wife reflected on their lavish lifestyle back home. They also got an earful from the western-trained doctor who had treated Artress.
“He told Frank ‘We need doctors here much more than you need them in California, so why don’t you come here?’” Mondavi said. “Then, 24 hours later they (Artress and Gustafson) decided they were going to do it. They came home, sold everything, moved there and they’ve been there ever since.”
Artress initially worked at the clinic where he had been treated. After two years he teamed with another clinic doctor to start a roving bush clinic operating out of a van that took the physicians to remote locations unfamiliar with modern medical care.
“They just drove out to the bush and set up a clinic,” Mondavi said. “People came from all over. These were people who had never had any medical care at all. They got a very successful program going with that.”
Since then, Artress and Gustafson founded Fame and have purchased land in Tanzania, built a permanent clinic and will soon open a hospital at the location while continuing the remote bush clinics once a month. Staffed by a rotating group of volunteer doctors and other medical providers from the U.S. and Europe, the clinic also helps train Tanzanian doctors and health care providers.
Mondavi said that she first learned of Artress through acquaintances at Pacific Union College Elementary School in Angwin, where her children were students, along with the Madrigal and the von Strasser kids. On a family trip to the region, the Madrigals decided to check out the operation in Tanzania. The Madrigals returned home committed to help support the organization, launching the first fundraiser in 2010. Last year, the FAME Napa Valley event raised funds that covered 75 percent of the medications used in the Tanzania clinic.
Mondavi said that the Foundation of African Medicine and Education has made a tremendous impact in the clearly “third-world” region that it serves.
“Certainly the healthiest people in the area are visiting that clinic,” she smiled. “Everybody pays something but if you can’t pay, something is arranged. No one is ever turned away.”
The remoteness of the bush villages makes obtaining even basic medical treatment a tremendous challenge, Mondavi continued.
“There is such poor infrastructure,” she said. “There are basically just two paved roads in northeastern Tanzania. Everything else is rutted, dirt roads and in the rainy season they get really slick and almost impassible. Most people live in mud and grass huts and have no running water or electricity.”
Mondavi said that she has developed a true connection with the region during her two trips to work in the clinic.
“One thing I found about Tanzanians,” she said, “is that they have so little yet they are the most gracious people you would ever wish to meet. Whenever I talk to people who have been to Tanzania, they tell me they went to see the animals but absolutely fell in love with the people. I think that’s probably ultimately why all of us have gotten so committed to this.”
Those attending the May 6 fundraiser will have the chance to meet Artress and Gustafson, who will be honored guests at the event. Music will be provided by the Nigerian group Baba Ken Okulolo and the Nigerian Brothers. The Diamono Coura West African Dance Company will also perform. Guests will be treated to African-style barbecue, samplings from local restaurants and local wines at the outdoor event. Tickets for the event are $50 in advance – available at famenapavalley.org — and $75 at the door.