Lawrence native Mark Stover goes to Sudan, Mongolia with Doctors Without Borders in 2010
What do Sudan and Mongolia have in common? Other than both being more than 6,400 miles away from Lawrence, they’re the countries where Mark Stover spent most of 2010 while working with Doctors Without Borders.
Stover, a longtime Lawrence resident who attended Lawrence High School and graduated from Kansas University in 1996, has had the travel bug for quite a while, starting with a two-year trip to Nigeria after college to teach English. That trip was when he decided he didn’t want to use his chemical engineering degree and instead wanted to become a doctor.
“You can be helpful and make the world a better place,” he said. “You can’t be a doctor in America without thinking about costs, but most of the time you’re just trying to do the right thing for the person that’s in front of you, which is a nice feeling.”
But he also realized that traveling was something he wanted to work into his life.
“I went to Nigeria, and I really got the overseas bug. There’s something about traveling, especially in the off-the-beaten-path places, that is so much fun and such a life-enriching experience,” he said. “It makes you see your own country with big, wide new eyes, and I just got hooked.”
After Nigeria, Stover came back to the United States and went to medical school at Washington University in St. Louis. While there, he went to Malawi for a six-week program, which reminded him of his love for travel and helping others.
“It had almost been long enough since I got back from Nigeria that I had kind of forgotten what it was all about in the first place,” he said.
While in school, he also traveled to Botswana and Guatemala for classes.
Extended trips abroad
He returned to Malawi from July 2008 to June 2009 for Doctors Without Borders, which members call MSF for the French name of the organization, Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Southern Sudan came next, where he spent the first six months of 2010. After a short month back in Kansas, and he headed to Mongolia to distribute winter preparedness supplies.
“I go away for a long time, and then I come and I hang out with everyone all at once,” he said.
In Sudan, Stover was part of a program providing maternal and child care, with about 15 expatriates and about 200 local staff.
In Mongolia, he was one of two expatriates, accompanied by translators and a driver. The duo were distributing drugs to rural hospitals, as well as kits containing basic medical supplies to 3,000 families.
Mongolian winters see temperatures dropping to minus 40 degrees, and for people who largely live off their livestock, a particularly harsh winter can take away their livelihood. The kits full of Tylenol, Vaseline, bandages and other supplies were meant to help fight illnesses that come with the weather.
“We don’t know if it’s going to do any good at all,” he said.
Most of the kits went to rural families, many who were nomadic and moved four or five times per year. Despite having houses that could be completely dismantled, many had solar panels to power televisions for entertainment.
“There’s not a lot of entertainment out there,” Stover said. “They’re so excited to see you, especially if you’re a foreigner.”
Stover was also assessing the tuberculosis situation in Mongolia, where the disease is one of the top killers. He visited facilities and monitored how they contained infections, and rarely did he run into people who weren’t open to his training.
“Every place I’ve been, there are definitely some traditional beliefs and some traditional remedies for things, but at least the places I’ve worked with realize there’s a place for Western medicine in their mind,” he said.
Home for a while
Now that he’s back from Mongolia, he plans to stick around the country for a while and get some stability into his life. His training is in emergency medicine. He knows someday he will start traveling again and working to make the world a better place.
“It just doesn’t feel quite right to sit back here in the United States, where everything is really nice, and not do things in the rest of the world,” he said.
And he thinks Americans could learn a thing or two from the people he’s met on his travels, even though many of those people are very poor and have problems in their lives Americans might never experience.
“We don’t have it all figured out in the West in general, and the United States in particular. There are a lot of ways to do things and there are a lot of ways to live your life,” he said. “Being away for a long time makes me appreciate being home so much more, especially Lawrence.”