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!