For a decade now, HealthPartners pediatric dentist Paul Musherure has collected hundreds of pounds of dental supplies in his suburban garage, organized a couple of dozen folks from around the country and trekked 8,000 miles to the country of his birth — Uganda — to treat toothaches and other dental problems for kids with HIV.
“We’ve seen such vast improvement over the 10 years,” he said. “In the early years, they were so sick, we were afraid to pull a tooth. But now we’ve seen orphans walking out of hospice.”
This time, the humble dentist from Cottage Grove found himself chuckling when Scott DeLisi, the U.S. ambassador to Uganda, walked into a reception at the clinic near Kampala to honor Musherure’s team for its 10 years of service.
“It was hilarious,” Musherure said. “He walked in and said, ‘I hear there are some Minnesotans around here today ...”
Turns out that DeLisi, a 31-year career diplomat with the State Department, grew up in St. Paul, attending Cretin-Derham Hall High School and the University Minnesota for undergraduate and law degrees.
The faraway Minnesota connection provided a light moment in an otherwise monklike period for Musherure, who emigrated from Africa in 1989 to go to college in Michigan. He moved to Minnesota 14 years ago, jumping at a chance to treat low-income kids at HealthPartners’ clinic across the Wabasha Bridge from downtown St. Paul.
Musherure and his wife, Shartsi, have four kids, ages 11, 9, 8 and 5.
“We wanted them to reconnect with their extended families and gain some grounding and understanding” of their Ugandan roots, he said.
So nine months ago, Shartsi and the kids moved back to Uganda to attend school for two years and live among their three living grandparents.
“They were young enough that we could still tell them what to do,” said Musherure, who Skypes with the kids twice a day from his temporary bachelor’s pad. “When I go to bed around 10:30 p.m., it’s morning the next day so we talk on their way to school.”
At first, the kids fretted about missing their friends and their American way of life.
“Now they’re telling me I should just get a job over there,” he said.
Musherure was busy cleaning up last week because his wife is back with the youngest, David, for a three-week holiday.
“His older siblings are jealous,” their dad said.
The mission trips to Uganda are organized by a group called the African Christian Fellowship of Minnesota. Crossroads Church of Woodbury donates little bikes for the kids and pays for supplies and shipping costs, while various dental organizations contribute everything from filling material to cotton swabs to drills and tools. To check out his team’s blog and a video from a previous trip, go to dentalcamp.blogspot.com and here.