The meaning of service

Concert to benefit new Tanzania service program at Saint Martin’s University

By Teresa Meek

After earning a biology degree in 2010, Ashley Badua knew she wanted to help people. But her job as a nursing assistant at a nursing home and rehab center left her feeling unfulfilled and frustrated.

Tanzanian women cooking
Village women prepare chicken for a feast on Ashley Badua’s last day in Tanzania. Photo: Ashley Badua

Then Badua got a call from Susan Leyster, director of the Service Immersion Program at her alma mater, Saint Martin’s University, and her life changed forever.

Leyster arranged for Badua to go to Tanzania and help the Benedictine nuns of St. Agnes there run a dispensary, as well as occasionally teach English, help with the cooking, and do whatever else was needed.

A new program starting this summer will send current students to the African nation for one month, but Badua stayed for six.

At the dispensary — which often served as a clinic — she saw adults with AIDS and children with dehydration and malaria. “It was heartbreaking,” Badua recalled.

She also saw accident victims. Few people owned a car, and six or seven would pile onto a motorcycle. Accidents were common. The rural area had a hospital, but it was overcrowded and patients had to wait, so sometimes they came to the dispensary instead.

Badua was influenced by the dispensary’s Tanzanian doctor, who relied on instinct instead of equipment to solve problems. “He was a very good clinician. Without proper lab testing, you have to be able to use your eyes, hands and senses to diagnose people.”

The village also had a witch doctor, and the dispensary treated teenage patients who contracted infections after the witch doctor’s unsterilized circumcisions. “It’s not a good sight to see,” Badua said.

Today, Badua is a nursing student at the University of Washington, but she plans to go back to Tanzania. “I want to be more educated and help them in a different way, to use the knowledge I went to school for and spread it. I think it is a Catholic way,” she said.

Ashley Badua and a Sr. Agnes
Ashley Badua and a St. Agnes nun-in-training cook ugali, a Tanzanian staple based on cassava and corn flour. Photo: Courtesy Ashley Badua

The seeds of the Saint Martin’s program were planted in 2001, when the university sent Leyster to Tanzania to set up a formal relationship between the school and St. Agnes, which had been sending students to Saint Martin’s since the late 1990s. Over the next 10 years, Leyster arranged for eight Saint Martin’s alumni to make a service trip — not sponsored by the university — as she worked to develop a school-sponsored program for students.

“It has been a dream of mine to send our current students to build a bridge between us and St. Agnes,” Leyster said.

This summer, the program will send its first seven students to Tanzania, including Niya Tawachi-Torfin, a 19-year-old scholarship student. “I’m beyond excited,” she said. “It fits everything I want to do with my life.”

Tawachi-Torfin wants to be a writer with a purpose: giving a voice to oppressed people. Whether by coincidence or divine intervention, the program suits her to a T.

“‘Niya’ is Swahili for ‘purpose,’” she said.


2014 Hope Concert

Saint Martin’s University is hosting a concert — featuring the school’s chorale, band and jazz combo — to help students raise money for their service trip to Tanzania this summer.

When: Wednesday, Feb. 26, 7 p.m.

Where: Marcus Pavilion, Saint Martin’s University, 5300 Pacific Ave. S.E., Lacey

Cost: Free, but donations accepted

Information: Susan Leyster, 360-789-6701


February 21, 2014