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Christopher Lewis believes it takes a village to raise a child. But for him, the community isn’t just around the corner, it’s global. “If I can save even one life, I will have made a difference,” he says.
And there are a lot of lives that need saving, especially in the three poverty-stricken villages in northern Tanzania that he’s adopted as his home away from home. A family physician in Cincinnati, Lewis, 32, started the nonprofit Village Life Outreach Project in 2004, exemplifying his commitment to Declaration of Financial Empowerment principle No. 10: I will use a portion of my wealth to strengthen my community.
Lewis has long had an international sense of community. But it was his experience working in a Tanzanian hospital in May 2003 that forever changed his life. “I saw, up close, children and mothers dying from poverty and disease,” says Lewis. “My eyes were opened; it was hard to walk away.” In the end, he decided that to really help the situation, he needed to do more than just make a return trip. Instead, he vowed to recruit others to join his efforts.
In three years Lewis has gathered an army of 100 volunteers, nearly 70 of whom have made an annual sojourn to the villages. The group brings medical, nursing, engineering, and other much-needed expertise. Village Life has focused on cleaning up the water in the villages, which are home to about 10,000 people, many of whom live without electricity in mud huts. Lewis’ venture has grown to have an operational budget of about $100,000 a year, which is funded through donations.
In Tanzania, Lewis says malaria, which is spread by mosquitoes, is an even bigger problem than HIV or AIDS. Sleeping under a chemically treated mosquito net can prevent someone from being bitten. To help out, Village Life launched its Mosquito Net Project and self-published Room to Love, a coffee-table book on the group’s effort to improve education, living, and health conditions. Within 10 months, the project has raised $13,000, enabling Village Life to purchase nets for 4,200 families.
Coordinating such an effort requires a substantial time commitment. Lewis dedicates four days a week to his medical practice and devotes one day a week to Village Life. In addition to those commitments, he manages to find time to coach wrestling at his former high school and give talks to students about sexual health and responsibility. “My parents instilled this in me,” he says. “I remember as a kid, the first thing my mom and I did on Thanksgiving was drop off a turkey at a homeless center.”
Lewis, who studied biology at Harvard and attended the University of Cincinnati medical school, admits that starting Village Life has been challenging. Plus, the commitment has had an impact on his finances. He estimates that he has spent $10,000 of his own money for immunizations, medical supplies, and travel to Africa for himself, as well as pitching in to help volunteers pay their fares. He earns $166,000 as a doctor and