Monday, September 19, 2011

An African Urban Pilgrimage

Our fall East Africa Campaign is over, and all our great volunteers are off on safaris or heading home. It's been so heartwarming and thrilling to watch our 3 continuing sites grow and become independent! The biggest thrill, though, was going out to a small rural hospital on the lower slopes of Mt. Elgon, in far western Kenya, to start a training of health workers from 5 very rural sites. This group was recruited by three of our trainees in Kitale and Kapenguria, They have gone out to these sites, doing one-day screenings and bringing women with abnormal results in for treatment. The doctors, nurses, and clinical officers were very excited about the techniques, and asked to be trained. We had 12 new people begin training, and 3 observers from other programs, as well as 4 of our graduates there to help start the new ones out. They came from many miles away, traveling since dawn in small buses called matatus. All had read the material sent, and were most enthusiastic students. The word had spread among the communities as well, and every day the waiting room filled to overflowing in the morning. We could only see about half the women; but the others were booked to come back to our centers during the next weeks. We left screening kits for the 5 hospitals and dispensaries to continue screening women during the 6 months until our return, when we will see and treat any positive cases. The wonderful outreach team is organizing a non-profit to continue spreading this work over the entire area, and we are assisting them to find funding and equipment, and donating much of it ourselves. We'll be showing a map of how much of the country is now getting care at our Walkathon on Sept. 24, and will then have it on the website. Watch for more great pictures as well! Today, Monday Sept. 12, Pat Sax and I (Kay Taylor) took a walking pilgrimage towards fulfilling a dream held since 2006, when we first came to Kenya. Ever since our first visit to the Kibera slums, second largest slum in the world, we have wanted to establish a cervical cancer screening and treatment site for these women who struggle daily for the bare essentials of life. One million people live in 700 acres here, on unimproved dirt in squalid mud rooms with tin roofs. Each little cubicle holds a family of 2, 3, 4 or more, with an open window and door covered by a piece of cloth. There is no water, electricity, or sewers; the rutted paths are strewn with garbage and plastic bags used as toilets. Small fires burn between structures and along the fronts, for heat, cooking and trash destruction. In a misting rain, we carefully picked our way through the mud and rocks for about half a mile from the dirt road which ended at defunct railroad tracks, along with hundreds of other people carrying food, water, bags, pushing wheelbarrows, or just kids going to and from school in uniform. We kept our eyes mostly on the path to keep from slipping into the streaming gutters of oily filth. At last, we reached our goal: Shining Hope School and Clinic, on the far side of the slum from the road. This will be our third clinic in Kibera to attempt a permanent program. The previous ones failed to stay in business. The enthusiastic group of Kenyans and Americans who built this 2-story clinic of cement, rock and wood greeted us happily. We were shown around the facility, meeting teachers, nurses, lab workers, a clinical officer and Dr. Henry, who tend to men, women and children from this desperate camp every day. They proudly tell us of their HIV screening program and the soon-to-be-established ARV treatment program; the 400 women they have in prenatal and family planning; and the immunization program for the babies and children. It only costs 150 shillings (about $1.60) for a person to receive all health care services for a week, including lab tests, procedures and medicines. We discussed our cervical cancer screening and treatment training program with Dr. Henry and two administrators from the USA, explaining our goal of helping them to have a cervical screening and treatment program independently functioning and fully equipped within 2 years. We all knew there would be problems to overcome, but felt they could be worked through, and left with the intent to start training in February of 2012. We were waved off by some of the 64 primary schoolgirls who attend school here. As we walked back across the crowded, slippery paths, I thought about bringing our team of American doctors, nurses and other volunteers along this walk twice a day, and moving in our equipment suitcases on the carts and wheelbarrows navigating the trails around us. Would they tolerate it? It reminded me of the famous pilgrimage in Spain through the Pyrenees to the sea in Portugal: self-denial and deprivation of our comfortable, clean way of life for the week of work, if not the months that journey requires. We will need to prepare our team carefully. But when I see a mother welcome her neatly uniformed children back from school with a smile, I'm awed by the amount of planning, work and love that this daily routine requires. I think our group will thrive on the challenge, and be invigorated by the hope and healing our training will bring. These are mothers and grandmothers motivated not only to survive, but to help their children to rise to better things. Surely we can spend a few uncomfortable days to give them the chance to avoid this silent killer, and live to see the children graduate and thrive. The gratitude we receive is certainly its own reward!

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