Kenya Trip Notes from the Field: Terry Blum

By Terry Blum, MedShare Board of Trustees

Monday, February 20, 2012

I am Terry Blum and I have the privilege to serve on MedShare’s board.  This is my second trip with MedShare, and it is a wonderful journey in terms of learning and sense-making.   Quite frankly, I am not sure I can construct meaning from all that I am sensing from my eyes, ears, mouth, fingers and nose.  I am also sensing from my heart, making this whole experience so difficult to justly describe.  As someone who is quite cerebral in everyday life, this adventure touches below my head into my heart and reaches into the region of feeling and intuition.  The incredibly rich tapestry of the lenses of the people with whom I am touring, all of whom awesome in their own way, is coupled with the wisdom of those we visit.  I know I will not be the same when I return as I was when I left Atlanta in that huge airplane.

Spotted in Kenya

After wonderful bonding and familiarizing ourselves with the agenda, we got into the reason for MedShare today by first visiting St. Mary’s Nairobi and then Partners for Care.   I will report on Partners for Care which is part of the mHealth alliance which engages in mobile health initiatives among other things.

The group transitioned from St. Mary’s to Partners for Care with lunch at the incredible Safari Park Hotel, where Sam (communications director) and Samuel (director in Kenya) from Partners for Care joined us.  The grounds of the Safari Park are quite elegant and could have been a movie scene from colonial times or an upscale suburb anywhere.   The food and the group’s camaraderie are awesome, but the contrast with the needs of so many is evident as one passes by the slums of Kibera (2nd largest in the world after Soweto with estimates of 1-2 million residents), near St. Mary’s, or the living in Mararui (estimates of 26-30,000 people).

En route to the clinic, we rode on a really bumpy road that went on for quite a while.  Somewhere in the middle of the road, we crossed a functional bridge, which may or may not be completed connecting segments of the bumpy road.  We passed banana trees, construction sites, snakes, local markets and lots of scenery.  We came to a stop outside a building that was the initial Partners for Care destination for most of us.  The signage said,  What if?  Life Changing Center.   “What if?”  is a question of what it would be like  if there were no AIDS in Kenya.

"What If" signage in Kenya

While most of us went into the clinic building, Lindsey Barber and Charlie Evans went into Mararui, lined with drainage system that empties into the river where the drinking and washing water come from, with Peter from Partners for Care.  Peter took them to visit a friend’s home as well as take some measurements to show how the mHealth android works.  The device relays vital signs information and pictures to Dr. Vincent at the clinic. It is a triage device with Dr. Vincent gives instructions for caring for the patient or asks for more information.  Each entry is a new record, but the patient’s information gets integrated into a record stored on the server.

Partners for Care Clinic

Partners for Care was founded by Atlanta nurse, Connie Scheren, who came to the MedShare store for supplies for her medical team mission trip.  It has 8 programs in addition to the clinic.  As we walk past the goat on the corner into the What if?  building through the door with Clinic written on it, we found a world of hope and love.  In the space that was opened 2 years ago, there is a one room clinic, class room for their Second Chance program that prepares 20 students for the national graduation exam with 2 years of education.  There is also a computer room, with no internet access, that serves 20 adult students at a time.  Forty-five or so have received or are receiving training and 20 have found jobs.

PET cart that was sent to Kenya on a MedShare container

Going into the clinic run by Dr. Vincent we saw a PET, personal energy transport vehicle which was sent in a MedShare container.  Other programs include sports programs for the kids, with volunteer coaches, including a policeman who was tired of just arresting them, a home for orphans run by Pastor John who also help widows, distribution of 500 treated malaria nets to households with kids under 5,  the wonderful music group Temple of Worship that draws crowds for AIDS awareness and prevention.  There is also an 8k race that is run at the same time as a 5K in Atlanta (the Kenyans finish the longer race quicker!).

A Kenyan Doctor

The Marcibit program is really striking.  Partners for Care serves one of the most impoverished sections of Kenya.  350 people with jiggers, a kind of parasitic flea that enters the skin and reproduces so the people, especially kids, can’t walk.  The inflammation is incredible and 350 have been treated with  antibacterial soap and water after which the site is covered with Vaseline.  89 have been provided with shoes that can help prevent it.

The health programs are important as 473 Kenyan children under 5 die every day, 71 due to HIV/AIDS, 93 to malaria….90% of these deaths are due to preventable causes!  So Partners for Care is there to help reduce child deaths.

Our visit was truly inspirational….we were sung to with a Jambo (welcome) song which included Hakuna Matada, reminding me of the Lion King and the Circle of Life!  They also sang a song “Smile”…happy for you… will lift you up, hold your hands, loose your pain, so you smile again. They ended our visit by singing “That Little Light of Mine” in English and Swahili….We left on our bus singing “That little heart of mine, let it shine,” knowing the love in the hearts of the Partners for Care.  The passion and inspiration of the Kenyans who spend so much energy to do their work to serve their own people is a memory I will always cherish.  They are rich in spirit, and thanks to them there is a little more light shining for many.

This post is part of a series we’re doing over the coming days while MedShare staff and Board of Trustee members travel through Kenya from February 17 – 27. We invite you to share the experience with them by reading their stories; to access them, click on the “Africa Trip“  icon in the right sidebar. Safe travels, team!

Kenya Trip Notes from the Field: MedShare’s Lindsey Barnett

By Lindsey Barnett, MedShare’s Senior Program Manager

From the moment Meridith and I stepped off the plane, a flood of excitement and gratitude rushed through me to be in this place – well, excitement mixed with a strong desire to shower and rest my eyes after an almost sleepless 24 hours. :) There’s so much to appreciate about Kenya and the countries surrounding this region, from the lush landscapes to the cheerful lilt in the voices of new friends who welcome you with warmth and graciousness. As we visit this incredibly diverse group of partners over the next week, I can’t wait to hear the thoughts, questions and ideas that come from those in our group – people who are coming together from across the U.S with a rich blend of knowledge, experiences and a deep-rooted passion for making a difference in our global community.  As we’re traveling, we’d love to hear from those at home who may have questions or seeds they’d like to plant during this opportunity to probe a little deeper in the field – could make for some really interesting dialogues with our Kenyan partners.

Send us your thoughts and stay tuned….

This post is part of a series we’re doing over the coming days while MedShare staff and Board of Trustee members travel through Kenya from February 17 – 27. We invite you to share the experience with them by reading their stories; to access them, click on the “Africa Trip“  icon in the right sidebar. Safe travels, team!

Kenya Trip Notes from the Field: MedShare CEO

By Meridith Rentz, MedShare CEO and President

We’re on our way……

Lindsey and I are on the flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam.  I want my body to think it’s 6:00 am (Nairobi time) but not much luck.  My mind is racing with anticipation and excitement and last-minute worries.  It’s much too hard to sleep as I consider all that we’re about to see, feel, touch, smell, hear…..experience.  We are going to have the gift of learning about the impact of our MedShare work up-close and personal.  What works?  What doesn’t?  How can we improve?  How can we have sustainable impact?

Once we arrive in Nairobi, Lindsey and I will do final preparations before our wonderful MedShare group arrives.   Bob, Liz, Sandy, Laureen, Ginny, Pat, Charlie, Tina, AB, Angie, Terry, Tom, Ed and Jennifer……hurry on up, we’re ready for you!

This post is the first of a series we’ll host over the coming days. MedShare staff and Board of Trustee members will be in Kenya from February 17 – 27, and they’ll be sharing their stories and first-hand accounts on the MedShare blog. We invite you to share the experience with them by reading their stories; to access them, click on the “Africa Trip”  icon in the right sidebar. Safe travels, team!

CEO Corner: “We Must Continue to do More”

Meridith Rentz, MedShare CEO

Dear friends,

During my first month here at MedShare, I enjoyed spending quality time in each of our current distribution and volunteer centers (Atlanta, GA and San Francisco Bay Area) as well as those regions where we are evaluating expansion including the Mid-Atlantic (to include New York City, Baltimore, and Philadelphia) and South Florida (to include Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Boca Raton).

Everywhere I go, the message from our donors, partners, volunteers, staff, Board and council members is brilliantly consistent as they share with me stories of the amazing work MedShare has done for a country, hospital, clinic or project about which they care deeply. They all express great admiration and gratitude for the unique MedShare model that A.B. Short and Bob Freeman created 13 years ago….and they all convey with great urgency that we must continue to do more. The world needs “more” of what this MedShare team delivers.

The MedShare Board and staff have heard this plea for “more,” and we are working to respond in partnership with strong leadership groups in both the Mid-Atlantic and South Florida regions. Dan Goldberg is leading our efforts in South Florida and has joined the MedShare Board. Sandy Tytel, Chair of our New York Council, and Seth Zachary, Trustee, are leading up a great group of Council members in New York. While we have much work ahead of us, there are already great things happening. For example, over the past few weeks we have received several hundred quality hospital beds from North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System. From Ghana to Ecuador and beyond, many of our worthy recipients lack adequate hospital beds; this donation will help MedShare meet those needs. We look forward to continuing this strong partnership with North Shore LIJ and building additional new relationships with health care facilities and suppliers in both markets.

There are many ways you can help us as we develop our plan for these new regions. Whenever MedShare is invited into a new region, we must develop strong partnership with local hospitals, medical supply manufacturers and distributors, volunteers, donors, and other nonprofit organizations. If you have ideas or recommendations of people or organizations we should contact in any either South Florida or the Mid-Atlantic, please send them our way. You can reach me at mrentz@medshare.org or via Twitter @mrentz.

We also have several fun events coming up to “introduce” MedShare to the community in Boca Raton (October 26th at SPIN Ultra Lounge featuring The Beach Boys) and New York City (December 8th, The University Club, 6:15 cocktails, 7:30 dinner). We’d love for you to join us.

Thank you for your support and feedback as we work to provide expanded MedShare services in order to save more lives and support more communities.

In Service,

Meridith

This letter is an excerpt from our October e-newsletter. For more – including a first-hand account of a Trustee’s trip to NYC, our Clinton Global Initiative Commitment with icddr,b and Americares to strengthen health systems in Bangladesh, and how to get your family and friends involved – click here.