When dermatologist Ron Harris was a kid growing up in San Francisco, he spent a lot of time with his nose in National Geographic magazine, dreaming of the day he could travel to exotic lands and have adventures, like diving in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. But that wasn’t all: “The other thing I always thought was – and I know this sounds trite, but it is true – what could I do to benefit the world? Not save the world – I wasn’t that grandiose.”
Harris indeed grew up to be the kind of man who not only experienced the Great Barrier Reef (“It was amazing”) but who does more than his share to see that the world becomes a better place, especially for the poor of sub-Saharan Africa. These efforts have garnered him several humanitarian awards, among them for providing care for HIV/AIDS patients in Nakuru, Kenya. A clinical professor of dermatology at UC Irvine’s School of Medicine, he also balances a private practice in Arizona with running the Malama Global Health Fund in Kenya (themalamaglobalhealthfund.org).
Among the many projects of the Malama program – which include renovating a dilapidated hospital in Nakuru and updating the maternity ward – Harris (and his co-manager in Africa, Dr. Beatrice Etemesi) are now trying to secure a 10-acre farm that will allow them to grow nutritious, fresh food for HIV/AIDS patients, provide income for the program through produce sales and even create jobs for some of the patients. “There are so many things there that need to get done,” he says. “My goal is to keep expanding what we’re doing.”
My neighborhood: Laguna Beach
Why I Live Here: Are you kidding me? Laguna’s gorgeous! Laguna started as an artist colony in the ’20s, and that artist mentality has continued almost a hundred years. The art festivals, Art Walk, the museums … just all the culture here is amazing. And the other thing that’s cool is that not often do you realize that your city’s government is really good. But it’s really good in Laguna. It’s a lot less pretentious than Newport! And there’s the ocean. It’s spiritual energy every day. It really is.
Favorite Local Restaurant: Starfish. Their citrus drinks! It’s an Asian fusion place and the food is amazing. They have lobster spring rolls that are just to die for. They have spicy Thai halibut that’s cooked in a banana leaf, with coconut rice. Oh my goodness. It’s just ridiculously good. I’ve taken family there, we’ve had New Year’s Eve dinner there, we’ve talked to the owners … it’s just a really nice place to go. The other place would be Sapphire. The owner there loves my daughter – nobody cares about me!
Angels or Giants: Giants for sure. Giants nation, man! As a kid I grew up watching the 49ers and the Giants. Then, when I was in med school – when we were supposed to be in class – sometimes we’d go and kick back on the bleachers and watch a game. Let me tell you, it was one of the best things to do.
Red or White: Light red. Pinot noir, pinotage, my two favorites.
On My Nightstand: A picture that my daughter made for me for Father’s Day about three years ago. It’s a picture of
her with her two dogs, surrounded by hearts, and it says ‘Happy Father’s Day,
I love you.’
My Sanctuary: There are a few. One would be the beach right down from my house, Brooks Beach. Number two would be Zion National Park, and number three would be Kauai.
First Memory of Africa: The first time I went I was with Rotary International on a medical mission trip at a deaf school in Nakuru. As we crossed the Rift Valley the first thing you start noticing are the acacia trees, also known as umbrella trees. To this day, I have been to Kenya now at least 20 times, every time we pop over the mountains into the valley, it hits me, ‘Here is the savannah again.’ I just love it. The first time I saw it I had this déjà vu, ‘I’ve been here before.’ And it still enthralls me. My daughter and I are going back in July.
Travel Tip: Travel light, even for long trips. I never check anything. For a 12-day trip I bring five days worth of clothes and then do laundry. Not checking luggage has saved me so many times. The second thing: Global Entry [a U.S. Customs programs for pre-approved clearance for low-risk travelers]. If you have to get to another flight on arrival into the States, the line to get through immigration sometimes is ridiculous. With Global Entry you can get back in the country in 30 seconds.
One Thing I Wish I’d Known Earlier: Your knees won’t last as long as you think they will. I’m still a runner, but …
What My Daughter Has Taught Me: Humility. Patience. Agape love – unconditional love.