Moving to Ethiopia in 1972 with wife Margaret (my second cousin) and children William, Susan, and Winston, Dr. Van Joffrion initially worked at the Haile Selassie Foundation Hospital in Addis Ababa, the capital city. He was sponsored by the International Eye Foundation in Washington, D.C. Describing the experience at a Lions Club meeting in Franklinton in 1976, he stated, "It seemed as if I were on a treadmill. The lines to the clinic kept getting longer, more and more patients kept coming to the clinic and it became increasingly difficult to measure any progress." One memorable patient was Emperor Haile Selassie's son, which experience led to Dr. Van meeting his Imperial Majesty (of note, the Emperor was assassinated in his palace in August of 1975).
After the first two years, Dr. Van began working for the Christoffel-Blindenmission Christian Blind Mission, headquartered in Germany. Focusing on eye defects caused by leprosy, he established and directed the Ophthalmology Clinic at ALERT Centre (Leprosy Hospital) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. More than thirty-five percent of the hospital leprosy patients had impaired vision. Saddled with a shortage of equipment and supplies, the staff still managed to care for a large patient population. Dr. Van completed seven or eight cataract surgeries every morning and saw between eighty and ninety patients each afternoon - an efficient operation.
Travelling within Ethiopia - an area of about 450,000 square miles, the size of Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma combined - for his work, Dr. Van saw firsthand how diverse the terrain and people were, making the country's political issues and war (the Marxist Revolution) more understandable. The people ranged from dark skinned natives to light skinned Arabs. And their religion was divided between Christianity and Muslim. Poverty was a real problem as evidenced by the Ethiopians' inability to buy a new pair of shoes. Donations of old eyeglasses, distributed at the clinic, were especially welcome. The Franklinton Lion's Club responded to the call for glasses; cataract glasses were desperately needed in Ethiopia.
And while Dr. Van was seeing to the medical needs of the people there, his wife Margaret conducted her own mission work, rehabilitating leprosy patients after they were cured by teaching them to sew and weave. This project, which produced beautiful wool rugs and handicrafts, expanded exponentially - becoming a Cottage Industry, with a cottage on the grounds allocated to them for the selling of their wares. They also took custom orders. With the help of a Peace Corps volunteer, they even published a book about the valuable project, "Guidelines for the Development of a Home Industry---The Story of a Project in Ethiopia," which has been used as a model in the developing world. And the embroiderers, at the suggestion of Cousin Margaret, signed their work with their initials in Amharic (in which the Joffrions took lessons), which work I imagine resembled my 19th century samplers.
Cousin Margaret spoke fondly in her letters home of the Dallas Bateman (wife Margie) family from Franklinton who were among the Southern Baptist missionaries living in Kenya. It came as no surprise when Cousin Margaret reported, after a visit with them in Kenya, that he had a dairy there, producing delicious milk and even ice cream. The Batemans' daughter attended the Good Shepherd School, the mission school in Ethiopia, where the Joffrion children were schooled. My research revealed that Dallas Bateman (1929-1976) was born in 1929 to Ezekiel Ellis Bateman and wife Lucile Hazel Smith Bateman. The sibling of Faye Ellen Bateman (Simpson), Ellis Ezekiel Bateman, and Burlon Wayne Bateman, Dallas married Marjorie "Margie" Crowe who was born in 1936.
In 1976, following four years of valuable work in Ethiopia, the Joffrions returned home to the United States with plans to return and toil some more. However, with the Marxist revolution and ensuing turmoil, their plans were put on hold. Though tragic for Ethiopia, it was fortunate for Franklinton as the Joffrions moved here, where Dr. Van set up a private practice in ophthalmology. The family lived on Heyward Green Drive, and children William, Susan, and Winston attended Bowling Green. William was my classmate, and Susan and I were on the Buccanette dance team. Winston was a bit younger. It was a wonderful time for us cousins to be together. I well remember thinking how cosmopolitan they were. As a youth, my world didn't extend far outside Franklinton.
Dr. Van and wife Margaret were active in our community - he was in the Lion's Club and she was in Waverly. And they were members of Centenary Methodist Church where she sang in the Choir. Dr. Van was also Cub Scout Packmaster, and Cousin Margaret led the Scouts (Pack 104) in singing. But resolute in continuing their humanitarian work, the Joffrions soon departed on another mission.
•Stay tuned for the continuation of this series in August as we follow Dr. Van and Margaret Joffrion, together with their family, to Madagascar.