A Medicine of Oneness



Katie Hamilton Shaffer

It’s not every day that the Dalai Lama presents an award for compassion to an American dentist.

Then again, it’s not an everyday event for a Northern California couple–in this case, Rob Hampton, DDS, and his wife, Claudia Sansone–to travel to Malawi, Africa to provide a new dental clinic, an educational center for nurses, a first-ever pre-school, solar cooking kits, and so much more.

So in January of 2014, my company, Feast It Forward, announced that it would send its film crew to Malawi this spring to shoot a documentary (another “first-ever”) to showcase the incredible transformation taking place in remote villages–all as a result of the intensive developmental efforts provided by this amazing California couple.

This June will be the fourth annual trip that Rob and Claudia take to Malawi.  Well planned philanthropy is more contagious than any disease, and this year they will travel with a small tribe of doctors, dentists, and an agronomist to further enrich their offerings.

Previously, the couple worked in collaboration with local resources to establish a much needed dental clinic located in Daeyang Luke Hospital in Lilongwe, along with ongoing training for nurses and dentists.  They recently engaged Solar Cookers Intl to provide solar cooking kits as a safe alternative to traditional wood-burning methods.  “Smoke inhalation from cooking over an open fire can be a serious health issue,” explains Claudia.  “Also, women must leave the village to collect firewood which also puts them in harm’s way.  We want to keep the women and children safe.”

This year is especially monumental because, along with everything else, there will be groundbreaking on Dothi Village’s first pre-school, paving the way for an early childhood education program, which celebrates more than another classroom–it signals a major social transformation in Malawi.  So we –who came up with the simple company motto, “Inspiring Stories.  Philanthropic Living.” — wanted to be there to film this continuing act of cross-cultural generosity and engagement.

As Rob and Claudia’s Napa neighbor and Founder of Feast It Forward, I’m excited to be documenting the incredible social shifts that their work has facilitated over the last several years.  Our project follows on the coattails of the Dalai Lama presenting Rob Hampton with the “Unsung Hero of Compassion” award for his philanthropic endeavors a few months ago.

When we join Rob’s team in Malawi, we’ll have a crew of award-winning film makers, along with rising star Madeline Zima, formerly of the TV shows, “Californication” and “Heroes,” and actor/director Jeff Grace (Shh, don’t tell anyone!).  But as for the real hero and star here, Rob Hampton, this is not the first time he has been engaged in good works abroad.  Only six years after graduating dental school, he took advantage of an opening to go to Kwajalein Island in Micronesia, working in a dental clinic that served the American research community there.

Years later, in 2010, when an opportunity arose for Rob to set up a dental clinic in the Daeyang Luke Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi, he welcomed the challenge. “After going to Mexico on dental mission trips, I was well versed on what to take with me to Malawi,” he explains. “I maintain a strong relationship with the clinic, returning to Daeyang Luke Hospital every year to work for two weeks.”

His time there has deepened his understanding of the country’s needs and inspired his most recent endeavor: working with nursing schools.  Because nurses run the country’s rural health clinics and are the only health professionals that most people see, Rob helped establish an educational program that he hopes will reach Malawi’s 18 nursing schools. “By educating the nurses about oral health, prevention, diagnosis, and basic treatment, there will be a far greater impact on the overall health of the people,” he says.

As for the root of his commitment to people so far away, he sees dentistry not only as a practical form of personal hygiene, but as a healing art, something positive not just for the body, but for the mind and soul as well.  Rob’s faith plays a big part in his compassionate activism.  He has a long and meaningful relationship with his church.

As for his own personal sense of “oneness,” or unity, Rob Hampton has seen first-hand that while people around the globe have some cultural differences, they have far more in common.  Having lived and worked throughout the world, Rob realizes that what matters most is engagement with the people, not the sightseeing.  “My observation is that all people’s hopes, dreams, and needs are universal,” he says. “There is so much despair and hopelessness worldwide that I encourage others to look at their God-given talents, experiences, and education and see how they can be used to make a difference.”

Feast It Forward’s mission is to encourage people to live a philanthropic lifestyle.  And Rob and Claudia, while very special in their commitment, are also everyday people who serve as a prime example of how we can live beyond our own backyard and make a real global impact.

As you can imagine, there’s quite a bit of excitement around The Malawi Project, and we of course want to place this documentary in front of as many eyeballs as we can. If you’d like to learn more, or find out how you can support this project and Rob and Claudia’s work, please go to our website, and reach out.  We’d love to hear from you.

The former contributing vintner to Cooking Wild Magazine, Katie Hamilton Shaffer was named one of the “Magnificent 7” leading entrepreneurs in Bay Area Food & Wine in 2011. She launched her own wine label in 2009 with a mission to craft affordable, quality wines (while giving a portion of proceeds to Habitat for Humanity). In 2011 she founded Feast it Forward. Learn more at: www.feastitforward.com.