Diane Raleigh: on optimism and forging new paths
When water gushed from the new spigot outside the Olmoti Clinic in June 2015, a cheer went up from hundreds of Maasai who had trekked across the Tanzanian countryside to witness this milestone. Diane Raleigh looked around at a people she knew well: women with babies wrapped on their backs, men leaning on walking sticks, scruffy, smiling children. She registered emotions of elation, gratitude, pride and pinch-yourself amazement.
It had been more than year since Diane Raleigh began marshaling money, labor and local cooperation to build the pipeline with help from Engineers Without Borders. Now this remote, impoverished corner of Africa – home to 1,400 Maasai – had its first ready water supply. Hygiene and sanitation would transform lives. Women would be spared the day-long treks to the nearest water source.
For Diane, a clinical psychologist from Palo Alto, California, the pipeline was the latest dramatic step for the Olmoti community since she co-founded the Olmoti Clinic in 2009. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Somalia and in Nigeria – where she founded an orphanage in the early 1960s – Diane had returned to Africa five decades later. Again she was hoping to make a difference.
In Maasai country, she and a fellow American discovered a need that responded to that hope. They learned from a local midwife, Mama Yaya, that women were dying in childbirth and losing their children to primitive, unsanitary conditions and lack of medical care. From that discussion, the Olmoti Clinic was born.
The pipeline emerged as a clear need when Diane recognized that lack of water impeded health and sanitation, as well as women’s lives. Completion of the pipeline, which won the Maasai’s embrace and excitement from the start, has cemented the clinic’s stature as a vital part of the community.
This year, when the Maasai mothers told her their small children could not attend school because the walk was too long and precarious, Diane again sprang into action. Her latest project is a new primary school next to the Olmoti Clinic. For Woman ChangeMAKER, Diane recently shared with contributing writer Rita Beamish how she makes it all happen…and the path ahead.
WCM: What motivated you, at age 70, to begin such a project?
DR: Since my Peace Corps years, I have felt drawn to Africa. I felt there was one more thing I had to do. I went to Tanzania in search of that one thing, not knowing what it was.
WCM: Most people would never even try to launch a clinic like this, thinking the challenge too massive. What is the key to success?
DR: The foundation of the project lay with the village asking for our help. Successful projects can only be sustained if the idea and support from the outset come from the community, and from leadership at the community, government and spiritual level. Projects based on superimposed ideas from foreigners are destined to fail. The entire community contributed to the construction of the pipeline and the primary school. They continue to play an intricate role in operations, which ensures sustainability.
“I never think something cannot be done. We just must find the way!” ~Diane Raleigh
WCM: How did you gather the many resources you needed?
DR: Extensive networking was key to obtaining the materials, equipment, advisory and government resources. Thousands of hours of communication with hundreds of organizations resulted in positive outcomes from just a fraction. Yet those few ultimately supplied five years worth of vitamin A, $130K worth of medical equipment and two years of engineering – as well as paint, cement blocks, goats and money. Equally important are the partners with whom we now have long-standing relationships that will sustain this work.
WCM: What personal characteristics helped to accomplish this seemingly insurmountable feat?
DR: I think I was blessed with an overdose of perseverance and determination. I never think something cannot be done. We just must find the way! Optimism is essential as there are many bumps in the road that could force you to go back or give up. An attitude shaped by cultural understanding and respect allow you to view situations more realistically. The acknowledgement that our way is not the only way is a lesson well learned.
Brave beginnings, early inspirations: Originally, Diane Raleigh and her colleague scraped together $52K from small donors to construct a 10-room, 3,000-square-foot health facility: opened in 2010, the Olmoti Clinic offers basic healthcare, vaccinations, maternal and pre-natal care, and treatment for devastating trachoma and cataracts that cause blindness. Shepherding the clinic’s development, Diane networked extensively on the ground to ensure its sustainability. She has made friends in the community, and important allies in tourism, government and NGO circles.