NBA legend Mutombo, Israelis team up to help Africa

A top US basketball player joins with Israel-based humanitarian group to bring light to places that need it most

Innovation Africa's founder and president Sivan Ya'ari and NBA all star Dikembe Mutombo visit Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital in Kinshasa. (Courtesy)
Innovation Africa's founder and president Sivan Ya'ari and NBA all star Dikembe Mutombo visit Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital in Kinshasa. (Courtesy)

On the basketball court, Dikembe Mutombo was an NBA hero to millions. Off the court, he’s a hero to tens of millions for his humanitarian work. Once he was blocking shots on professional basketball courts. Now, with the help of an Israeli group, he’s helping turn on lights and more at his home court in Africa.

Israel’s Innovation: Africa, which specializes in bringing solar power to the continent, is teaming up with Mutombo to bring electricity to a hospital in his hometown, enabling caregivers to provide help to tens of thousands who currently don’t have access to decent medical care.

Mutombo will travel this week to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) — where he was born and raised — to inaugurate a new solar powered electricity system at the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital in Kinshasa, Mutombo’s hometown. It will allow doctors to conduct nighttime surgeries and provide refrigeration for medicines and vaccines.

Accompanying them will be Sivan Ya’ari, head of Innovation: Africa (I:A), an Israeli organization that specializes in bringing power to parts of Africa that have no electricity. Since its founding in 2008, the organization has completed over 66 solar and agricultural projects in villages throughout Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda. Using Israeli solar technology, the group provides schools and medical clinics with solar power to offer evening study, adult education, drug refrigeration, nighttime surgery, and more.

All the technology is developed in Israel, said Ya’ari. “With similar climates and natural resources, Israeli solar, water and agricultural technologies are a natural fit for African villages,” she said. “Our mission is to share the knowledge and expertise developed in Israel with people and communities that need it.”

In one recent project, I:A installed a solar-powered electrical system in an Ethiopian clinic that is the only medical facility in a region of 23,522 people, run by a single nurse in an area that is difficult to reach. Until I:A came along, the clinic operated without electricity, with nighttime light provided only by candles and kerosene lamps. There was also no place for the nurse to recharge the cell phone given to her by the closest hospital — over 15 km away — to call for a restock of medical supplies. Now, said Ya’ari, “Nurse Lema can offer quality medical care by day and night. She uses her cell phone regularly to call for replacement medicines, vaccines and other medical needs.”

This is the second trip Mutombo and Ya’ari have taken to Africa on behalf of Innovation: Africa. Mutombo retired from professional basketball in 2009 after a stellar 18-year career highlighted by selection to the NBA All-Star game eight times. After leaving the NBA, he dedicated himself full-time to humanitarian work, for which he has won another slew of awards — including one for his efforts to eliminate polio in DRC, and for the innovative medical programs at the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and Research Center.

Innovation: Africa, meanwhile, has been busy providing light for the clinics and offices that Mutombo’s humanitarian organization has been establishing throughout Africa. And not just light. I:A projects also provide 20,000 liters of clean water a day using solar water pumps the organization has installed, and drip irrigation systems provide a source of food and income for farmers and their families. Solar energy units supply not only light for schools, but refrigeration for hospitals, which for the first time can store medicines safely. Thanks to the solar-powered refrigerators, over 300,000 people have been able to receive vaccines for diseases rampant in the African interior, where medical care is almost non-existent.

Mutombo and Ya’ari will also launch three other solar installations — one at an orphanage housing 150 kids, and another at a school housing 740 students. The third solar project will be completed at Bu Medical Clinic in Bu Village outside of Mutombo’s hometown, Kinshasa. Once this installation is completed in July, the clinic will be able to serve a community of 11,000 people from 21 villages. By the end of this trip in the DRC, Innovation: Africa will have developed 80 projects serving 677,880 people, Ya’ari said.

“Our mission is to bring to African villages innovative technologies developed and used in Israel,” Ya’ari said. “And we are not only helping Africa, but helping Israel by helping the Israeli economy and Israel’s image.”

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