HELLO MY LOVELIES *frantic waving*
It’s been such an enormously long time, hasn’t it!? I don’t apologise, but I am *so* glad to be back, and continuing my stories of Kenya. I haven’t felt inspired to write for such an awfully long time, and just this morning realised how much it still has the potential to help, you see, there’s a bit of a situation…
The retinal screening department I used to work for got taken over, and all the equipment went begging (well, to a specialist medical equipment auction house) and my lovely plan that my friend Lillian, at Kwale Eye Centre, would be the delighted recipient of one of our left-overs, went rather…not pear-shaped but, certainly differently-shaped than how I had it all worked out in my mind. Anyway, after much to-and-fro-ing on emails, I have learned that Lillian and Dr Helen *CAN* have one of the cameras…for the impossible sum of nearly five grand.
OR IS IT IMPOSSIBLE?? IS IT?!?!
“No, it is NOT,” thought I, “for I have wonderful friends and contacts in the Blogosphere, and around the world, who will surely appreciate reading my little old Kenya stories so much they might dip into their pockets, plastics, and paypals, to support my dream of saving sight (and life) in Kenya by enabling double the amount of screening they can currently manage with their one camera…”
You see where I’m going?
Here’s Lillian and her one camera. See how happy she looks? She’d look a LOT happier with two cameras, believe me (*sneaky grin*). ANYWAY. The kind folks who bought my stories before (when I could remember who I sold them to) have been asked for permission for me to share them here in order to pique your interest and garner your sympathy, and possibly entreat you to contribute. After all, how often do you KNOW for darn sure, you’re saving lives?
THE KENYAN CAN-DO ATTITUDE
Perhaps it’s that we’re all tied up in legislation and the red tape of bureaucracy that we’ve learned to think inside other people’s boxes. Perhaps we’re conditioned and mentally confined to thinking along certain health and safety corridors, the boundaries having been established so firmly that we trip along without thinking, doing the correct thing, taking appropriate measures, keeping within the lines.
It baffled me, in Kenya, when I visited some hospitals there due to a link project with the hospital where I work, that there was none of this in evidence. Just none. I assume behind the scenes, there must be policy and if not policy, then procedure, but it felt a little ‘freefall’, to say the least.
Maybe it’s the heat, or the colours, or the sheer magnitude of what the hospitals are fighting against there, but to my western eyes, the healthcare provided, and the methods through which it was offered, seemed very basic and likely to barely scratch the surface. Yet nurses, doctors, and patients, were all quite happy to smile and engage and demonstrate the achievements of their institutions.
Once I’d got beyond the surface, and realized the extent of the problems faced, the smiles, laughter and positive attitudes seemed heroic, though to the nurses who demonstrated them, they were just part of the service! Some of the hospitals served people from over 200km away, sending people out to run clinics, assess the worst cases, then bus them in for treatment, with an inclusive three-day stay in a cramped ward, before bussing them back.
In each of the four hospitals, the nurses lamented the treatments they couldn’t provide, because the equipment was broken or non-existent. In one, the doctors had been on strike for nearly 6 weeks…which astonished us, because in the UK, the system goes to pieces and there’s national outcry if even the junior doctors go on strike for more than a day or so.
In the midst of these adverse conditions, the point of the project had been to support our four linked eye hospitals to up their game with regard to infection prevention and control. A noble endeavor when you think, with the benefit of hindsight and statistics, that the simple act of hand-washing has been one of the most revolutionary improvements in healthcare, and has HUGE implications for protecting both patient and healthcare worker from infection.
A nigh-on impossible task, when you come face to face with stark realities such as that running water isn’t always available – sometimes it just turns off and there’s no knowing when it will come back.
This is where the Kenyan Can-Do Attitude comes into its fore, though.
In our hospital, a lack of running water would almost certainly bring everything to a grinding halt. Clinics would be cancelled, plumbers would be called, newspaper articles would go out post haste about how public spending cuts are adversely affecting the provision of hospital care.
In Kenya, the intrepid nurses bought a bucket with a lid at the top and a tap at the bottom, and positioned it over the sink.
“It can be filled fresh each day, and then we can wash our hands,” they told us. “We get our water from a tank anyway, and it comes through the pipes…so this is the same, but without the pipes.”
Smiles and nods of encouragement passed between them, while we sat there with our little westernized minds blown wide open. No committees had been instigated. Nothing had been passed up-line. No lack of funding had been cited as the beginning of the collapse of civilisation, and no clinics had been cut. A bucket was simply and quietly installed, and everything went on as per normal.
In one of the other hospitals, we praised the nurses for installing pump-cans of alcohol gel for use by healthcare workers and patients, to encourage good hand hygiene, combat infection, and embed good practice. The nurses quietly acknowledged the compliments before explaining there was no money anywhere, and they were buying the alcohol gel from their own pockets, because they believed it to be important.
The ‘make it work’ attitude extended beyond the hospitals. Every wall I saw had some kind of structure built against it, even just a few wooden poles with a palm frond roof that could provide a base for selling something. Fruit, second-hand clothes or shoes, hats, bottles, chips, cakes, anything, anything, anything which could be sold, was somehow put on a stall and displayed attractively for sale. There were things for sale I had never even thought of buying…there were three-piece suites out on the pavements, there were adverts for mattresses and popcorn (a bizarre combination, I know, but truly!), there were people walking around cars in traffic jams selling bags of nuts, bottles of water, necklaces, trinkets, CDs, anything.
Even the disadvantaged (which to be fair, in an area with a 70% poverty rate, was most people) were full of vim and vigour, making life work. As I was sat in the (cool, air-conditioned, clean) taxi on the ferry back from Mombasa one day, I saw a man crawling past me. Literally crawling. He had chunks of plastic strapped to his knees, plastic bags affording his hands a little protection, and his lame feet dragging in the dust behind him. Using a big stick and an immense amount of willpower, he was moving slowly forward, one knee at a time, taking his place amongst the commuters on their way to and fro. I have just recently read (in an article about untranslatable words) of the Finnish concept of sisu – an extraordinary determination in the face of adversity, and I have to say, so far as the term goes, I can think of no better embodiment. No-one was going to help this chap, and in the face of a world where if you can’t work, you die, he went to work.
I met a worker in one of the handcraft co-operatives and he smilingly told me (in excellent English) a little about his world, how he had learned the trade from his father, and had worked alongside him until his father was no longer able to work. He wanted better things for his children though, as the tourist trade (which is relied upon for sale of these carvings and trinkets) is failing as Kenya becomes an increasingly fraught country. He wanted his children to get jobs with more security, perhaps in a kitchen. He smiled as he spoke and continued to carve a tiny white rhino with a gigantic, very sharp knife. Later, in the shop, I was pleased to see that each item had a label on it denoting which craftsman it had been made by, enabling a portion of the profit to go back to him.
Even the beggars were tireless, as I suppose they would have to be, in order to live. But so far as I could see, there was no rancor. No bemoaning their lot or how much better things could/should be. Things just were, and they found ways to make progress in spite of them.
They did their utmost, and then they did that little bit more, and it made the difference.
I’m certain that somewhere, high up in the corrupt governmental and law-enforcement systems, there are changes which could be made to help people. Maybe in our systems, maybe in theirs. But given the scale of the problem and the nature of the place it’s in, my infrastructured, westernized brain has no idea how to approach it.
The best I can do is support what’s being done to embetter the lives of the people who are there and doing their best to live them.
It’s Africa, and from what I saw, the attitude is Can-Do. I hope they find an African solution, and a way forward, because goodness knows – with the spirit I saw exhibited, the determination and thirst for improvement, if only they were given the opportunity I think they could change the world.
Please, please do support some of the work being done to help change the impact of preventable blindness, and embetter the lives of the people living where I visited in Kenya. Please share this EVERYWHERE on social media, and click the link to donate to the Retinal Camera for Kwale campaign – https://www.gofundme.com/retinal-camera-for-kwale-eye-centre
Thank you. You’re wonderful xo