2007-04-12 / News

A life of service leads to adventures around the globe

By Michaela Kennedy

David Pomfret believes that most of us are born with a spirit of adventure. He tells his story in the recently published book, "Dispatches from Kilimanjaro." The nonfiction publication is a collection of e-mails from Africa to family and friends over a four-year period, describing a leap of faith into a remote and unfamiliar world.

Pomfret and his wife, Anna, are both high-achieving medical professionals. A retired cardiologist, Pomfret teaches at Tufts medical school. His wife, a retired specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, also teaches. The couple left their respective medical professions in 1996 to move, sight unseen, to Tanzania.

Their interest in Tanzania began vicariously through a long-time friend, Martha Collins, a Catholic nun of the Medical Missionaries of Mary and a classmate from medical school. Collins was assigned to a district hospital in Dareda, in the northern zone of Tanzania. She shared stories with them of a typical day at the hospital, from treating insect bites to performing amputations.

The stories of beauty, poverty and disease in Tanzania affected the couple to the point where they questioned their life goals. "Martha's descriptions of her life in Tanzania gave us the idea that perhaps we, too, could serve and help in some small way the people of this beautiful country," Pomfret writes on the back cover of the book.

The two doctors took numerous sabbaticals through the years before their African odyssey. They volunteered at medical schools in Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay and Ireland, to name a few.

Pomfret admits giving up comfortable and privileged ways was "frightening and upsetting," especially in their mid-fifties. The couple donated their $2 million home in Wellesley, Mass. to his alma mater, Stonehill College, disposed of most of their belongings and ventured into the African unknown. "It was the biggest thing I had ever given away," he says about the Wellesley home.

The Pomfrets planned to do hospital work in Dareda, Tanzania. Soon after they arrived, however, they learned of a new medical school, Kilimanjaro Christian Medical College, at Tumaini University in the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro. "We were asked to join," Pomfret recalls, adding that he became dean of post graduate medicine and director of research.

The Pomfrets say they had no preconceived agenda for their journey and did not expect their stay would affect the country one way or another. "I honestly say we were rewarded far more than we thought possible," the doctor notes in the book.

Their level of involvement in the medical progress of the country has been significant. Pomfret and his wife brought expert teaching methods and medical assistance to many remote areas of the country. The work Pomfret did in Tanzania helped him to earn the Outstanding Alumnus Award in 2003 from Stonehill College "in recognition of his dedication to the medical field as a renowned physician and as a medical missionary," according to the college's alumni association.

They flew home for one month every year during the four years from 1996 to 2000, but the brief visits did little to compensate for the fact they were strangers to their grandchildren. Ultimately, the new family generation lured the couple back to America.

As if destiny played a hand, a few months after coming home, a crisis hit the family. Their son lost his wife to a sudden death, leaving behind three children. The next few years were spent helping to raise the three grandkids. "It was fortuitous that we came back when we did," Pomfret reflects.

Pomfret never stops. He and his wife now have eight grandchildren, and are thrilled to have two homes where the door is always open for family and friends. They spend the winter months skiing in New Hampshire, and the other half of the year sailing in Jamestown.

This winter, however, Pomfret did a boat delivery through the Panama Canal. Both of them have captain's licenses. His wife did not go on this trip, and he missed her. "I'm getting old to be doing this kind of nonsense," he chuckles about the boat deliveries he does three or four times a year, adding that he will turn 70 in November.

All proceeds from "Dispatches from Kilimanjaro" will go towards defraying school tuition costs for Kilimanjaro Christian Medical College at Tumaini University. Pomfret's goal is to raise $50,000 in order to provide funding for at least one student a year to attend the medical school in Moshi, Tanzania. The book, released internationally, is available on Amazon. com and at most major bookstores.

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