Simple Acts, Great Impact
By Daniel Mamsaai, Focus on Tanzania
Posted October 27, 2022
It takes a bit of work to catch up with Dirk and Amy Leverant. When I reached out to them to ask if I could speak with them about their efforts at improving conditions for the Maasai villages in Tanzania they immediately agreed, with one condition; I had to meet them where they were currently taking a little “Down Time,” after months of travel and work across the country. That sounded reasonable, in fact it sounded better than reasonable, as they had chosen to spend some time relaxing at Gibb’s Farm, a working coffee plantation in the Ngorongoro Highlands. I informed my boss that I would make a great sacrifice for the paper, and spend a couple days with the Leverants at this magnificent location.
Getting to Gibb’s Farm was more work than I anticipated. After flying to Kilimanjaro Airport, a quick transfer is needed to catch another flight, this time on a plane so small that I can reach forward from my seat and help the pilot fly, should he need any assistance. (Thankfully, he did not need any assistance, since I have no idea how to fly an airplane.) After about an hour, we land at Lake Manyara, and I board a JEEP for the final 30 minutes of travel across small dirt roads to the Farm.
When I arrive, I see why the Leverants have chosen this location for their down time. It is stunning! Established in the 1920s, Gibb’s Farm is a still working coffee plantation, but has also developed into sanctuary for relaxation. From the farm you look across acres of coffee and gardens to the forested slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater. There is wildlife everywhere, and the sound of birds in the trees surrounds you. All you see and hear are the sights and sounds of nature.
When I am led to my room, I have to ask if I was upgraded. “No,” I am told. All of the rooms on the property are the same. Indoor and outdoor showers. Indoor and outdoor wood burning fireplaces. A balcony overlooking the rolling hills, all the way to the crater. If I did not have work to do, I might never leave this room. But I do have work to do, so I go wandering the property, looking for the Leverants.
I find them sitting on a small private lawn to the side of the main building, enjoying a cup of coffee, and gazing across the landscape. It is perfectly quiet, except for the sound of the birds in the trees, and they seem to be at peace just relaxing there. I feel guilty interrupting their tranquility. “Ahem…” They turn and look at me, and both break into wide smiles. “Daniel. So glad you were able to make it. Pull up a seat and joins us. Would you like a coffee? They grow it right over there.” Dirk says, pointing to rows of coffee plants. “I think it was roasted yesterday.”
As I pull up a seat, Dirk waves to a staff member for another cup of coffee, then turns to me for a more formal introduction. “Daniel, I’d like you to meet my amazing wife, Amy. She is the BEST HUMAN I have ever met,” he says with a smile, and I can see a little embarrassment on Amy’s face. (I learn later that he always introduces his wife that way, and he truly believes that she IS the best human he has ever met.) “Very nice to finally meet you,” she says. “So, you wanted to talk to us about our commitment to the Maasai villages?” She asks.
I tell them that I would, but first, I would like to learn a little about them, if that is OK. They agree, but before I can get out my pad and pen, my coffee arrives and I take a sip. It is sublime. I can tell that it is freshly grown, and freshly roasted. And the aroma is mesmerizing. I had no idea coffee could be so subtle and complex. Coupled with the remarkably relaxing location, I completely lose my focus until I hear “Daniel. Are you in there?” Dirk snaps me back to reality.
“Sorry about that. There is just something magical about that coffee, in this place.” Dirk and Amy exchange a quick glance, and a little smile flickers across each of their faces. Apparently, they understand what I just experienced. “That’s why we are here. We spent a few days here as a break on a safari years ago, and it was clear that this was a place where we could always come to seek solitude, and capture some serenity and reconnect with the glory of nature. Coming here fills our souls. So, what would you like to know about us? “
I learn that Dirk and Amy met in medical school in 1984. While they both feel a true sense of fulfilment and gratitude to be able to help people, Amy chose medical school as a calling. Dirk, on the other hand, went to medical school because it “was expected.” They dated through medical school, both receiving their MD degree in 1988. Then, while Amy continued her medical training in Ophthalmology in Los Angeles, Dirk chose another path, and went back to school, this time to become an attorney. They were married in 1991, and completed their training in Los Angeles in 1992. After their first son, Ryan, was born in 1993, they moved back to Phoenix, because they both had family there.
Once “home,” they had what they refer to as a very good life, and successful professional careers. They had a second son, Calen, in 1995. Amy’s medical practice grew dramatically, and she was able to help thousands of children with their vision. Dirk’s legal career also flourished. But as Amy states, “over time, Medicine became a big business, and lost the personal connection that I cherished with my patients.” Dirk also noticed a dramatic shift in the legal world. “The focus became less about doing what was right, and more about winning at any cost. I could not live like that.” So they made a joint decision that they would leave their professional careers, and seek other ways to give back and help other people.
“We have always felt blessed, and because of that, we have tried to give as much as possible. While we knew we could live the rest of our lives on what we had accumulated through our work, we also recognized that we would have to curtail our giving, if we did not find another source of funding.” They settled on Network Marketing as this source of funding. Dirk has an almost pained expression on his face when he says “Can you believe it? I mean really, I have two professional degrees, and here I am, a network marketer. Most of the people I knew in my professional world were stunned, and not particularly supportive of the move,” he says. “But the truth is, we found a company that produces health products that we both completely believe in, so we see this move as just a bigger step in our journey to help people. While Amy could help a few patients a day, and I could help a few clients each year, NOW we can help hundreds, if not thousands of people every year. And we can then turn around and use the income from our network to help fund projects that touch our hearts, like those here in Tanzania. An unexpected benefit for both of us has been the tremendous support and community we have received and developed since joining our company. I had no idea that there were “jobs” out there where people actively looked for ways to build you up and help you succeed. But that is exactly what we found in our company. Where before, it seemed that every day was a battle, now every day seems like a reason to celebrate.”
After taking this all in, I take a minute to think about what Dirk has told me. He is right. It seems a bit hard to picture two successful professionals leaving their careers to become network marketers. But seeing the happiness and contentment on their faces, it is clear that their words were reflected in their feelings.
“OK, so why Tanzania, and why the projects you have decided to fund?” “That’s actually pretty easy,” Dirk notes. “We came to Tanzania for a family trip about a decade ago, and for me, it was a life changing experience. I still remember my first morning waking up on the safari in the Serengeti. It was still dark when I got out of the tent. I strolled over to the kitchen tent. The guide there greeted me ‘Jambo!’ and poured me a cup of coffee, and I strolled to a seat at the edge of camp, sat down, and just looked across the dark, empty spaces. Nobody else was up yet, so I was sitting alone, just soaking it all in as the sky began to lighten. I could hear rustling in the brush in the distance, and as it got lighter, I could see the trees moving slightly. Slowly, I could begin to make out the animals moving around in the distance. There were wildebeest and zebra moving past me, and then a giraffe wandered right in front of me. I felt like I had been dropped into an alternate universe. It was so beautiful, and peaceful, and I felt like I had found my connection to the natural world.”
Later during the trip, we visited several Maasai villages, and saw the hardship they endure. There were two things they lacked which could make a tremendous difference in their lives, and these were two things Amy and I could help provide. The first was clean water. The villages were depending on stagnant surface water, and because of that, they were exposed to countless parasites and diseases. The other item was just basic healthcare. In one village, a clinic had been established to provide a clean environment for women to give birth. They had been giving birth on dirt floors in their huts. Once the clinic was open, the mortality among the mothers and the newborns dropped by about 90%. When we left Tanzania after that trip, I knew in my heart that we could make a real difference for a lot of people by helping provide clean water and funding the construction of small clinics.”
“We come back every year now, to see the progress being made. So far, we have funded five wells in five different villages. And we have partnered with local agencies to establish a second clinic. When we visit the villages, we feel great joy in seeing all of the people, particularly the children, living healthy lives. I get choked up even now when I think about that.”
Dirk stopped talking, and looked at Amy. Again, I saw a slight smile cross their faces, and I understood that they did not care if everyone knew about what they did, or if nobody knew. What mattered to them was that they were using the fruits of their efforts to improve the lives of many people, most of whom they didn’t even know. They seemed to be both sad and fulfilled at the same time. Sad that the need for their help even existed, and fulfilled in the knowledge that they were able to help fill that need.
I thanked the Leverants for their time, and took my leave to go find the dining room. Dirk assured me the experience there was almost as amazing as the experience trying the coffee. They also promised to take me to the next village on their trip, so I could see what a difference clean water makes. I told them I would love that, but needed to get permission from the paper. (I don’t want the boss to think I am on vacation, after all.) Even if I don’t get to see the difference in person, I can see it on the faces of Dirk and Amy, and I know that it has made a huge difference, for the villagers AND for the Leverants.