Harrison TownshipOctober 2, 2013
Local attorney helps those who can’t help themselves
By Julie Snyder
C & G Staff Writer
HARRISON TOWNSHIP — Through her work fighting for Ugandans who were injured or became sick while working at U.S. bases providing security and other services as military contractor employees, Harrison Township attorney Tara Coughlin’s eyes were opened to another issue plaguing the East African country: the tens of thousands of orphans and the poor going untreated for severe birth defects or traumatic injuries.
In response, Coughlin formed and now heads Malayka International, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that relies solely on donations, and an upcoming inaugural fundraiser dinner, to provide much-needed medical treatment.
“Malayka is ‘angel’ in several African languages,” said Coughlin, 35. “The work we do is like sending an angel their way.”
Based in Harrison Township, Malayka International provides funding for often life-saving surgical procedures at medical facilities and hospitals around the world. The organization also provides, through donations, clothing and other infant and children’s needs.
“We provide surgeries and medical treatment to an average of 12 children each month,” said Coughlin, who works with a large team of volunteers. “We mostly deal with extreme cases: extreme burns, extreme birth deformities and extreme tumors.”
A recent case involves a young Ugandan girl who fell into a fire during a seizure. The girl sustained severe burns to the right side of her body and face. After learning about the accident, Malayka International stepped up and funded the girl’s $3,800 flight to the United States, where she underwent surgery to help repair some of the damage. Because the girl will need ongoing care, donations are still being accepted to aid the family.
Hundreds of children, those born with a cleft palate, a club foot and other deformities to their extremities, have been helped through the organization over the years. Malayka also helps cover transportation and additional burial expenses for families who have lost a child because of an injury or birth defect.
“We really want to continue to help at least 12 children each month, but it takes money to do that,” said Coughlin. “Many of the children would not survive without Malayka’s funds. These children deserve to live a healthy and happy life.”
To garner additional help for Malayka, Coughlin and her American volunteers have organized a banquet fundraiser that will be held at the San Marino Club, 1685 E. Big Beaver, in Troy on Oct. 11.
Fighting the insurance companies
Coughlin began working with and for Ugandans in 2007.
“These individuals from Uganda would provide security work as contractors for security companies, even though they are not American. But unfortunately when they get injured, they often got sent back home with no disability benefits or medical coverage.”
So today, she’s also fighting insurance companies to collect that medical coverage and disability benefits for workers or loved ones of workers who have died. She said the Ugandan workers are covered for medical care and disability through workers’ compensation under the federal Defense Base Act, but at a much lower rate than American citizen workers.
“When I started investigating what these insurance companies were doing, I quickly became the go-to person for Ugandans,” said Coughlin, who attended Wheaton College in Illinois and graduated from law school at the University of Colorado before moving back home to Michigan.
She said tens of thousands of Ugandans represent a large percentage of the private contract workers that numbered up to 70,000 in Iraq in 2007 and more than 100,000 in Afghanistan in 2012. They often work in security at American bases and are reportedly placed in the most vulnerable positions, like base entrances and guard towers, where they are exposed to explosions and gun fire. Some of Coughlin’s clients have lost limbs or even their eyesight.
The cases are disputed through a federal administrative law division within the U.S. Department of Labor.
“Many don’t realize they’re serving our country; they’re protecting our men and women, protecting our bases and our troops,” Coughlin said.
Turning back to the children
“We want to help more Ugandan children, and right now, there are roughly 300 children waiting for help,” said Coughlin.
Locally, Coughlin has been getting vital support from the Ugandan population in Metro Detroit. She said there are between 100 and 200 Ugandans currently living and working in the area.
“The Ugandan community here is very excited about what we are doing and that we are doing something to help their people,” Coughlin said.
One of those is Sam Kawesa, a pharmacist who met Coughlin when she visited a bi-weekly church group meeting three years ago.
“She (Coughlin) has attended almost every one of those meetings since then,” said Kawesa, a Farmington Hills resident. “We call her a Ugandan in disguise.”
As it turned out, Kawesa and Coughlin already had a connection. During one of Coughlin’s first trips to Uganda to meet some of the people she has helped and would eventually help, she met a Ugandan veterinarian who had decided to change careers and begin providing medical treatment to humans. That man was the nephew of Kawesa’s boyhood mentor.
Kawesa said Coughlin has helped his people see that a child born with a severe deformity is not the product of “witchcraft,” rather an individual born with a medical condition who requires medical aid.
“She always amazes me,” he said, adding that he likes that because Malayka International is run strictly by volunteers, there are no administrative costs, so all money that is raised goes directly to whom it’s intended.
“She’s a very compassionate woman, and she’s willing to put action into that compassion. She does something.”
Tickets to the Oct. 11 Malayka International fundraiser banquet are $25 per person. The cost includes appetizers, dinner, dessert and soft drinks, coffee and tea. Tickets must be purchased before Oct. 3. The evening also includes a silent auction, premium cash bar, music, DJ and dancing. There will also be a celebration and education of Ugandan traditions. Silent auction items include sports tickets, sports memorabilia, dinner packages, hand-crafted items and art. Tickets can be purchased online at www.malayka.org or by sending a check made out to Malayka International to P.O. Box 264, Mount Clemens, MI 48046.
For more information about who the organization has helped, go to their Facebook page at www. Facebook.com/MalaykaInternational.