80-year-old Gains New Family In Africa

Westminster Man Adopted Whilevisiting Tribe

October 23, 1991|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff writer

Richard Frye Diggs will come out of Africa with a title and a few more relatives.

The 80-year-old man returns to his Westminster home this weekend, as an honorary member of the Masai, a tribal people living in East Africa.

Diggs said he doesn't know in which country his African ancestorslived originally. The Rev. Paul Maxey, who traveled to Kenya with Diggs and Phillip Hooks on a mission of mercy, decided to help his friend acquire some roots.

At Maxey's request, a Masai chief installedDiggs as a member of his village, situated in Amboselli National Park along the border of Kenya and Ethiopia.

In an ceremony, which took place in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, the chief welcomed Diggsinto the tribe.

"I was honored they accepted me and I accepted them," he said. "And I've got the pictures to prove it."

Six Masai tribesman, resplendent in brilliant red and blue robes, surround theirnew kinsman in a photo, shot by Maxey. That photo soon will take itsplace in the Diggs' family album.

Maxey, 57, a United Church of Christ minister and founder of Allied Medical Ministries, has made several trips to Africa and has years of experience supplying medicines to underdeveloped countries. He organized the trip to deliver medicalsupplies to needy people.

"We would like to supply health-care programs," he said. "We also need to define which special needs our organization can meet for people in Kenya."

Hooks and Diggs, Maxey's weekly golfing companions, asked to tag along on this trip.

The countians got quite a few surprises, said Maxey, recalling their visit to a hospital where they were escorted through a surgical suite during an operation.

In between visits to mission hospitals and clinics, the threesome squeezed in a little adventure African-style. The mennever lost sight of their mission, but a few side trips added some spice to the 17-day tour.

In addition to visits with the Masai, thetour has included a safari to the habitats of elephants, hippos and wildebeests. The men even ventured into a real lions' den Tuesday.

All three said they were impressed with the natural beauty of the country and distressed at the impoverished conditions in which many people live.

"Thornbush circles the Masai village, which is a group of huts covered with cow dung roofs," Maxey said. "The subsistence is as barren as anyone could see. They live on milk from their cows and the meat from goats they occasionally slaughter."

In a typical African city, he said, visitors see enormous affluence, homes on compounds with pools, and dire poverty, including women with short-handled hoes chopping soil for subsistence gardens.

In the cities, many people live in huts made of corrugated metal and lack access to basic medical care, Hooks said. The Finksburg resident helped organize a funddrive at Westminster Baptist Church, where he is a member.

Maxey used the $350 raised through the drive to purchase supplies through Interchurch Medical Assistance, a non-profit agency based in New Windsor.

"Paul was able to buy thousands of dollars' worth of vitamins,antibiotics and other drugs," said Hooks, 55. "There's terrible poverty here and a great need for medicine and medical equipment."

In Nairobi, the men visited the University of Kenya Hospital, the only cancer treatment center in the country. Maxey said most of the patients cannot afford the drugs available to cancer victims in the United States. He hopes to remedy that situation too, he said.

"Most of these people are barely getting by, living in terrible poverty," said Hooks, who is on the board of Allied Medical Ministries. "We want to continue doing all we can to help them."

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