Thursday, November 26, 2009

"So much to be thankful for..."

What I’m thankful for..
1.My mom
2. Supportive friends and family
3. Food to eat
4. Roof over my head
5. Access to quality healthcare
6. Clean drinking water
7. Education
8. Non corrupt government
9. Thanksgiving traditions.. .my uncle John’s grilled turkey, my
aunt's stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie,
and of course Skyline Chili dip, and a competitive game of
Scattergories with my cousins that follows dinner.
Kristen, we’re going shopping at 5am tomorrow morning, right? I’ll
meet you in Eastgate.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dirt Poor

You’re about 16 years old. Not really sure what year you were born in. Your father died when you were an infant. You have never attended a day of school in your life. You cannot read or write- not even your name. You mix up the numbers counting to ten in Duhluo, your native language. Jiggers(pinhole sized bugs) burrow into your skin because you sleep on the dirt floor of your hut. Your brother is mentally handicap and doesn’t speak. Your mother is too weak to gather firewood to sell at the market. The straw roof of your house is falling apart so every time it rains you get soaked. You have no consistent food supply. In recent months your food supply has been the washed up omena (like sardines) dried up on the shore of the lake. This is the life of Gaston Omundi.

Two weeks ago Gaston and his family were brought to St. Camillus by a community health worker and fellow CMMB volunteer, Kayla. The first few days Mary, Gaston, and Michael just laid in bed so worn out by their living situation. Being admitted to the hospital was like checking into a five star hotel. They each had a bed, 3 meals a day, running water, electricity, didn’t have to worry about the impending afternoon thunderstorm and most importantly access to healthcare. We spent a week excising jiggers from their hands, feet, and butts. All the result of months of sleeping on a infested dirt floor. (Like bed bugs but more painful.) Hours were spent soaking and digging out the jiggers. Puss, blood, and larvae flowed out of the sores we opened. A painful process, but very much needed. I’ve seen lots of unpleasant things working in hospitals but this may be at the top of this list.

While all this was going on at the hospital, a new home was being constructed for the family. The old house needed to be burned down to prevent the spread of the bugs. Its kind of like Extreme Home Makeover..Kenya Edition. Instead of Ty Pennington flying you to Disney World, the white people take you to the hospital. To this family the hospital was Disney World!

Gaston and I became friends. He’d drop by x-ray always in a cheerful mood. I didn’t know weather to feel happiness or disgust that this child was so happy. He was always singing, dancing, and laughing which is great. At the same time, my four year old niece is more educated then this 16 year old. What does his future hold? He cant even become a fisherman or a farmer because he doesn’t know how to count. He’ll be cheated every time he tries to sell his goods. What is going to happen to him? It became my goal to teach him how to count to ten in Duhluo. Every morning he’d be waiting for me to arrive at work and we would count over and over and over. “Achiel, areiyo, adeick,…” He’d mix up 4 and 6 a lot and he’d just start laughing as I wanted to pull out my hair. How can I get this into his mind?! I have incredible respect for teachers! By the end of his stay he was almost counting to ten consistently. “Teach maber, Gaston!” (Good work!)

On Friday I had the privilege of taking them back home. They lit up as they saw their new house. With full bellies and no jiggers they started a new chapter in life. A social worker will continue to work with them to make sure they stay that way.

Welcome home, jigger family!

Friday, November 6, 2009


It doesn’t matter how long I have been here. There are some days that I am just dumbfounded by what I hear and see. Times that I find myself asking, “Why is this happening?!” Times when I just want to bang my head against the wall because it doesn’t make any sense. Let me share with you some of those frustrations.
-20 year old comes in for an obstetric ultrasound. This is her fourth pregnancy. She only has one living child, the other two dies as infants.
-A man is told he has cancer but we don’t have the drugs or resources to treat cancer at our hospital. He needs to travel to Nairobi, 8 hours away, to get proper treatment but he doesn’t have the money to travel there.
-A sick woman needs to be admitted to the hospital for further treatment but she doesn’t have the $12 for the admission fee. So she goes home and asks family and friends to borrow some money. Once she has collected enough money (which can take days or weeks) she then returns to the hospital. By this point she’s very weak. Shortly after arriving at the hospital she passes away. (Its not unusual to hear about patients dying on their way to the hospital or at our front door.)
-A man has a spiral fracture of his tibia. An hour after x-raying him I see him standing outside washing his clothes.-A teen finally gets tested for HIV. It comes back positive and he’s started on ARVs. After a few months he stops taking them because he can no longer afford to travel to the hospital to get the weekly/monthly supply of medication. (ARVs are completely free thanks to Catholic Relief Services)
-An HIV positive mother continues to breastfeed her baby beyond the recommended first 6 months and risks transmitting HIV because she has nothing else to feed him/her. The child ends up testing HIV positive by age 2.
-Students becoming pregnant is common, sometimes it is the result of teacher/student relationships.
-X-raying a toddler and an hour or two later I see the child being rolled away to the morgue.- A woman fractured her arm. She was beaten by a neighbor. The neighbor’s cow was on her property and eating her crops so she whipped it trying to get it to leave. The owner saw this and didn’t approve so he beat the woman.
-A newly admitted patient has never seen a toilet before today. All of her life she has squatted over a hole. She doesn’t know which way to sit on it, and she doesn’t know how to flush. Hand washing is a foreign concept. (Cholera outbreaks are a problem. No running water in the region=no flush toilets and little hand washing)
-Life expectancy is decreasing. Its now 47 years old, compared to 52 a few years ago. Anyone over 50 is considered elderly.
-Most of the community does not have health insurance. They cannot afford to pay 160 Shillings a month to cover their entire family. ($2 USD)
-HIV positive mother doesn’t want her newborn to be put on a HIV prophylaxis because then her husband will know that the wife is positive. Which means the woman has been unfaithful, or the husband is also positive and they aren’t revealing their status to each other.
-A woman doesn’t want oxygen placed on her ill husband because she had another sick relative who was given oxygen and he shortly died after that.
-Teen pregnancy is common. Oftentimes these girls are orphans and can barley support themselves. How are they going to support another life?
-Parents die of AIDS leaving the children to be looked after by the grandmother. The elderly grandmother can’t do it so the oldest child drops out of school to care for the siblings and the ailing grandparent.
-Single moms turn to prostitution in order to put food on the table for their children. They then get infected, die, and the children become orphans.