Esther’s Story: From the Heart of Africa to Israel

Just before Rosh Hashanah last year I returned from East Africa having spent almost two weeks with a team of medical personal and climbers from Israel’s “Save a Child’s Heart”(SACH) young leadership team (  I was honoured to witness first-hand the ability of Israel to affect the world for good. The challenge of Tikkun Olam is our own responsibility for others and for our world.  Our Jewish state knows how to rally around now and always.  Today more than ever before we have among us worldwide circles of aid and assistance.  It does not matter where you are or what language you speak, we all grew up on a set of common values.  When we open our hearts to the world and give of ourselves to others we become part of a long tradition of charity and righteousness and leading by personal example part of the Jewish culture of Tikkun Olam.  The State of Israel is totally dedicated to the idea that every person deserves the best medical treatment available; regardless of their nationality, religion, colour or gender.

Back in 2009 Esther, an eight-year-old Christian orphan from the Massai tribe in Tanzania, became the twenty five hundredth patient of Save a Child’s Heart. Dr Lior Sasson, one of the cardiologists at Wolfson Medical Centre, described Esther’s condition.

Dr. Sagi and Esther

Rheumatic fever had damaged her heart and as a result her heart was huge.  She was very limited in even the simplest tasks.  Even walking was difficult from her.

Sister Angelika Wohlenberg, the German born director of the “Little Africa” orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania, where Esther was living, heard about the SACH program from a volunteer who just happened to be riding the same bus as her from Kenya to Tanzania.  Angelika contacted SACH and discovered that a team was actually heading to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro two days later.  One of the medical crew was Dr Godwin Godfrey, who is Tanzanian, and was being trained in Israel for five years to return to his country as a paediatric cardiologist.  They met Esther and saw she needed urgent life saving surgery.  Two months later she was in Israel.  Dr Lior Sasson and his team, including Dr Godwin Godfrey and Dr Sagi Assa operated for hours and reconstructed her damaged heart valve.  Now she can live a normal life.  A popular Swahili saying states, ‘Ni shauri ya Mungu’ (‘It is the will of God.’)

Six years later I was privileged to be on a SACH team that returned to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise awareness and over $60,000 for SACH to save the lives of children in developing countries by bringing them to Israel, at no cost to the families, for life saving heart surgery.  We pushed our collective physical and mental boundaries in order to be part of the effort to raise cognisance and appreciation outside Israel for all the good that Israel does for the world.

The day before our assent we visited the “Little Africa” orphanage in Arusha. Dr Assa, one of the cardiologists who had operated on Esther, was among our SACH team who visited the orphanage and had a chance to reconnect with Esther six years after her successful surgery in Israel.

We spent many happy hours at the orphanage amongst special people whose poverty is not of the spirit.  The children treated us to a lovely concert.  In one of the songs, “Halleluyah,” sung in both Swahili and English, Esther was the smiling soloist.  In conversation with Dr Assa Esther mentioned how she is motivated to pursue a career in medicine and specialise in paediatrics in order to help other children in need.  Sister Angelika confirmed that Esther is an outstanding student and SACH donours have committed to funding Esther’s education.

SACH Child 

This is one more example of how Israel, with all of its imperfections, sees as part of its purpose looking out for other people.  As Prime Minister Netanyahu stated:

Israel is operating under two principals:  Israel must help its own and that it has a responsibility to offer humanitarian assistance to other countries around the world.

Many of my friends, both Jewish and non-Jewish, were deeply moved my stories of the SACH mission to Tanzania, and by the images of the Israeli field hospitals and search and rescue teams after any natural disaster in the world, and ask why there is so little awareness and appreciation in the outside world for all the good that Israel does for the world.  Israel will continue to provide aid and assistance to all those who need help, because it is the right thing to do.  It’s in our genes. Together, we will overcome the darkness, and rebuild for a brighter future.

Article written by Dr. Tuvia Book, an ‘oleh Vatik’ form South Africa and a liscenced Ministry of Tourism guide ([email protected])