2 min readOct 18, 2016


Behind the friendship that lead to the L’Chaim Prize

Guest post

When, in the fall of 1990, two new students met in their freshman dorms at Williams College, nobody could have said what this friendship would look like 26 years later. A shared commitment to selflessness inspired the evolution of this friendship into a powerful partnership that would land here in Africa. Jon Fielder and Mark Gerson eventually became President and Chair, respectively, of a healthcare delivery organization: African Mission Healthcare Foundation (AMHF).

Just a few weeks ago Mark visited some of the healthcare centers that he helped to transform within AMHF’s mission hospital network. As Mark and Jon toured the facilities over the course of a week, a range of emotions could be felt in every handshake and story shared.

Revisiting patients from the birth of the first HIV program fourteen years ago left us all with different emotions to process. Unanimous amongst us was the lasting impression of the impact that mission hospitals have had on so many. These institutions provide one-third of all healthcare provided in Africa.

In the minds of those who have dedicated their lives to providing healthcare for those who cannot access it otherwise, there is nothing special to be acknowledged. If there was one constant among all the healthcare professionals I met throughout the week, it was that they don’t view themselves as exceptional. Their commitment is beyond question and their rest will only come when the work is done. The simplicity with which they view the importance of their work, the matter-of-factness of it all, is perhaps what impressed me most.

The work of these physicians and others like Dr. Tom Catena in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan (featured in this New York Times piece), often goes unnoticed; they ask for no recognition and they love the work. On their behalf, we happily sing their praises and hope to bring light to their dedication.

With the hopes of accomplishing just that, Rabbi Erica and Mark Gerson have announced the launch of the $500,000 L’Chaim Prize for Outstanding Christian Medical Missionary Service, the largest ever in clinical patient care. The idea is simple as Mark explains the, “spectacular return on investment, in terms of lives saved and pain ameliorated.”

My role for the week was as a lucky little fly on the wall, witnessing an inspirational dedication to the revival of hope and longevity in others.

For powerful stories from patients who have survived and thrived from participating in Jon and Mark’s first collaboration fourteen years ago, stay tuned for more posts from this mini-series. To get more information on the Gerson L’Chaim prize, visit

Maya Murao is a visiting Watsi fellow working alongside African Mission Healthcare Foundation and Hospital Support Organization in Kenya.




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