MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) — For retired hematologist Barbara Fields, helping people is in the blood.
"I am a person who likes to get involved in seeing people helped," said the 76-year-old Fields. "Every person ought to be involved in a community situation, and I chose a community outside the United States."
That "community" is in Tanzania, where Fields did mission work at a Baptist hospital for eight years. She also worked with kids.
"We had a soccer field by the hospital and a track," she said. "We had tons of little kids at the time who loved soccer and would kick anything that would roll. So I got them soccer balls and eventually shirts and we had a team."
After returning to the United States, Fields worked at Children's Medical Center in Dallas. However, she kept in touch with a doctor from Tanzania. She is helping him renovate a medical clinic.
Fields helps through donations and constant contact through the digital phone service Skype.
She also has found time to paint.
Barbara Fields first went to Tanzania in the late 1960s. She worked at the Baptist hospital there from 1968 to 1976.
"When Baptists went into Tanzania, they agreed with the government that they would build a hospital and run it for so long, then they would turn it over to the Tanzanian government," she said. "I was part of the last group that went."
The Muskogee Phoenix (http://bit.ly/1TOw57Y ) reports that Fields said her goal at the time was to set up and run a laboratory.
"Setting it up was an experience because there was nothing in the country, everything had to be brought from here," she said. "On my second trip over there, I worked a lot with the Tanzanian government and the WHO (World Health Organization) every time they had a situation that was difficult for them, like typhoid."
During that time, she met a young lab technician, Whitson Mwaipola. Fields recalled seeing Mwaipola's potential. She helped him secure a medical scholarship in the United States.
She said she remained friends with Mwaipola over the next decades.
In 1995, Mwaipola helped establish the UHAI Baptist Health Services. He became the executive director for UHAI medical facilities and outlying clinics. UHAI means "alive" in Swahili.
In 2014, Fields found a new way to work with Mwaipola.
Ebola swept across Africa in 2014. Fields recalled watching TV and seeing women at one of the UHAI clinics scrubbing laundry.
"I called Dr. Whitson and he said, 'Yeah, we have three women doing our laundry.' And I said, 'I'm going to buy you a washer and dryer'," Fields said. "That was my first endeavor to fix the hospital."
Before the washer and dryer could be installed, the clinic had to make sure it had adequate water pressure, so Fields helped pay for that.
She said she was able to help the UHAI clinic through the nonprofit group Together for Tanzania, which supports the clinic.
Through the group, Fields helped UHAI renovate its clinic to include a surgical storage room, a waiting room, a scrub room, a surgical theater and a recovery room. Improvements also include an operating table and overhead lighting.
Fields said she has kept in touch with Mwaipola through Skype.
"We talked about everything he bought, everything he did, how to put the scrub room so it could be available to both surgery rooms," she said. "Everything he did, we talked about first."
Fields developed her flair for art when she was overseas.
Even when supplies were scarce, she found ways to express herself.
"I did do a stained glass window for a Christmas program with plastic and colored pencils," she said.
She used pastel pencils to create portraits on sandpaper. She painted murals in missionaries' homes.
"Canvas, watercolor paper, stuff like that, were not a commodity anywhere in Tanzania," she said. "You could find some if you went to Nairobi (Kenya). I only did that once or twice a year at most. I did do some drawing over there. Always wanted to do it."
She said her job in Africa, and later at the Dallas Children's Hospital, didn't give her much time for art.
Fields found the time when she retired in 1995.
"I saw they had free drawing classes at the Irving Art Center, so I made my way to the drawing classes," she said. "They actually were very good classes, but they lasted only a few weeks. Then, they went into watercolor."
She was the president of the Irving Arts Association for five years.
"It was a small job, but we had a wonderful facility provided by the studio at Irving," she said. "We had workshops for pastels, watercolors, oil paintings, drawing, calligraphy. You name it, we did it, if it was a visual art."
HOW DID YOU COME TO BE AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
"My mother (who lived in Muskogee) was older at that particular time. Then we got a call that my auntie, who lived in Anaheim, California at the time, had Alzheimer's, so she came to live with my mother. Then I had to care for her. My husband was terminal; he tried to put me in a position where I had family around me."
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
"Probably the charm of its oldness and its uniqueness and its culture. Sometimes it's delightful. Here people all know each other. They all went to school together. If they didn't go to school together, then their brother or their cousin went to school. That's the way it is. It's like Muskogee is one big family."
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
"To have a place where you don't just go to eat, but go out to dine. By dine, I mean have all the time you want. You can have a glass of wine if you want. You have a really nice meal, and it's pleasant. I go quite a bit to Miss Addie's."
WHAT OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?
"A couple named Ken and Norma. They were so interested and dedicated to my mother, and they kind of pass that on to me. They look after me. They make sure I'm comfortable. They make sure my Thanksgiving is taken care of, my Christmas is taken care of. Another couple who were just like them were Mary and Charlie Barber."
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?
"Probably the support Southeast Baptist Church gave to my mother. They were her family."
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
"Read, do word searches, crosswords, I watch some television. I have a little dog, Munchkin. I talk on the telephone. I have some friends, we get together on the telephone."
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR FEWER?
"Quaint. It's an individual place with its own personality, its own temperament, its own character."
Information from: Muskogee Phoenix, http://www.muskogeephoenix.com
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