A group of Utah medical professionals recently spent two weeks in Mali, one of the four or five poorest nations on earth, to assess health needs and provide care to village children.

One of the doctors traveling with the group was Phillip N. Hale of Huntsville, an opthalmologist who maintains a private practice in Ogden.The conditions he found there were disturbing. Leprosy, blindness, malaria and malnutrition are common. Nearly all of the children are infested with parasites.

The country, in the sub-Saharan region of Africa, is in the throes of a 20-year drought and water is a precious commodity.

Hale is a son of Ruth and Nathan Hale, who co-own and operate the Hale Center Theaters in Salt Lake City and Orem. (For those familiar with the Hales' theatrical work, Phillip could be considered something of a "black sheep" in the family - going into medicine instead of a career on the stage.)

When Hale returned from a recent trip to Mali, and told his parents of the suffering and struggles he found there, they decided to do something about it.

On Thursday, Dec. 6, the Hale Center Theater in Orem will hold a special benefit performance of Ruth and Nathan's comedy, "The Babysitters," with all proceeds going to aid the Utah/Ouelessebougou Alliance, a charitable group focusing its efforts on the Ouelessebougou region of the West African country.

The organization's main work has been digging wells, teaching principles of gardening and providing basic health care.

Hale said women in one village have had to walk five miles with pottery jugs balanced on their heads, making the trip several times a day to obtain enough water for their families to drink.

Wells within the village itself are dried up and livestock is dying.

The alliance, according to Hale, helped dig a new, deep cement-lined well in the village.

Shipments of crucial drugs and medical supplies are being sent to Mali to help in the continuous battle with health problems. Villagers are being trained in simple health care and sanitation techniques in an effort to slow the cycle of disease and death.

"Nearly every day, requests pour in to the alliance from villages in trouble," said Hale. "Sadly, only a few can be helped. The needs are great and the resources are few."

Hale is one of about half a dozen physicians providing hands-on assistance during the trips to Mali.

Other members of the alliance focus on village development.

A black African physician has been hired by the organization to work in the Ouelessebougou region and supplies were contributed to equip an operating room.

Hale first went to Mali for two weeks in Feburary of 1989 and returned again this past April for another two-week visit. A couple of native Malians travel with the group to act as interpreters.

"These people are so grateful for everything they get because they have nothing," said Hale, commenting on the villagers' poverty. "Coming back home, I sometimes feel guilty because we have so much."

- BENEFIT PERFORMANCE: "The Babysitters" is a comedy by Ruth and Nathan Hale. Reservations are required for the one-night benefit performance.

Admission will be $5 or more donation to the Utah/Ouelessebougou Alliance.

The performance will be at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 6. For reservations, call the theater at 226-8600.

Those unable to attend the benefit show, but who would like to contribute to the alliance anyway, may write a check to the Ouelessebougou Alliance and send it to:

Hale Center Theater

225 W. 400 North

Orem, UT 84057.