Faces

August 2, 2009

Every year, I see 30 or 40 patients in the hospital or in the villages surrounding St. Gabriel’s. Some of them I see twice a day while I am here, others just for a short course of therapy. My focus is on establishing a relationship with them, and I hesitate to take pictures. However, I wanted to share a few pictures I have taken over the years which tell quite a story about those who have crossed my path here in Malawi.

This young girl was suffering from cerebral malaria – a severe form of malaria that can affect the brain. She and her mother worked with me twice a day to try to regain the ability to sit, stand and move her arms and legs. When she was discharged from the hospital, she was carried on the back of a man in her village for the six hour bike ride home. Another man from her village strapped her wheelchair on the back of his bike to carry it home.

Mother and daughter

Mother and daughter

This elderly man had a stroke and made excellent progress while he was at the hospital. He had a lot of family support and they made sure he did his exercises diligently. I struggled with my Chichewa trying to explain the exercises or instructions to him – only to hear him one day, jokingly say “You cause me a lot of trouble”….yes, in English! He went home under the close supervision of one of his wives (he had several), travelling in the back of an ox cart.

Walking in the hospital corridor, with the guardian's help

Walking in the hospital corridor, with the guardian's help

This middle aged man had TB that had spread to this spine. When I started working with him, he could only move his neck. Over a month, and good medical management, he was able to walk short distances, and even go up and down a few steps. I have heard over the years, that he continues to do well despite the devastating effects of HIV/AIDs and TB.

Exercises in the sunshine

Exercises in the sunshine

This man came to the hospital because the ARV medications were causing serious side effects of leg paralysis and pain. His supportive wife was his best advocate. She had me write a letter of recommendation for her before they left to go home because she wanted to be able to volunteer in her local hospital when they returned home. Imagine, thinking about giving to others when you have so many responsibilities in your own family. I had great respect for both of them.

Ready to go home

Ready to go home

This boy was burned when he had a seizure and fell in a fire. Children with epilepsy are rarely treated in rural Africa because monitoring the blood levels of the medication in their blood is not feasible. The risk of toxicity from the medication without monitoring is high. He was initially shy and quiet. His therapy got him involved in playing games, pointing to pictures in a book, shaking plastic bottles full of rocks and building his confidence with his family and friends. He shared many smiles, and made great progress.

Smile!

Smile!

This woman suffered a stroke, and was being followed by the home based care nurse. I traveled to see her on the back of  bike  taxi. She was happy with a real cane to replace the stick she had been using.

Getting around the village

Getting around the village

These women have encouraged each other – one who had an amputation of her leg because of cancer, and the other who had a fracture of her femur.

Walking well

Walking well

Walking outside, tackling a step

Walking outside, tackling a step

I am grateful to all of my patients for what we have shared together.

Advertisements

Sustainability

August 2, 2009

The St. Gabriel’s community includes not only those who provide care at the hospital here in Namitete, but extends into the villages in the catchment area. The Carmelite Sisters, who sponsor St. Gabriel’s hospital, also support projects in the surrounding villages. During the year before our trip last summer, Elizabeth gathered donations from our friends and family. We then brought the donation to the Sisters, knowing that they can best direct contributions to areas of need. They told us about the village of Chinyata that needed to expand their school – they had two classrooms in buildings, but the other classes were being held under a tree. The donations were given, and I visited Chinyata this year to see the progress.

Father William has been overseeing the work at Chinyata, and he told me about the challenges of making a project sustainable. Chinyata was chosen as a village to support not only because there was a need, but because there were signs that the village people themselves would contribute to the work – they had built their own homes with mud bricks, and the chief showed interest in learning new ways to promote the village agriculture.

The edge of the village of Chinyata, the new school in the background

The edge of the village of Chinyata, the new school in the background

The project not only involved building a school and housing for the school teachers, it also included building a water pump and clothes washing station, establishing village latrines and planting trees. The donors have required the members of village itself to participate in the planning of the project, as well as to contribute to the labor. It is hoped that with this shared responsibility, the project will be sustainable – the principles of improved agriculture will be carried out over the years, the school buildings will be maintained and the sanitation will be kept up. It is a challenge met by every project started with sponsorship, and a test of the true motivations behind both those that give and receive.

The progress in Chinyata is encouraging. They have classrooms for Standard 1 through Standard 6 filled with 750 students – needing only two more to complete the primary school through Standard 8. They have completed three of four duplex houses for the teachers. The water pump and clothes washing station were functioning well. There was evidence that the fields were prospering, even though my visit was during the dry season. We saw trees planted in the fields – a certain type of small tree that has leaves that fertilize the soil when they fall, an edible pod and a root system that draws water to the field. This allows the villagers to reduce their dependence on expensive fertilizer and take care of their fields with a natural process.

Students on the last day of school, helping to clean the school

Students on the last day of school, helping to clean the school

Inside the Standard 5 classroom

Inside the Standard 5 classroom

Trees planted in the fields - the leaves fertilize, the roots draw water and the pods are edible

Trees planted in the fields - the leaves fertilize, the roots draw water and the pods are edible

I look forward to returning to Chinyata in the future….it seems it will be a bright one for this small village tucked in the hills between Namitete and Mchinji.