The pace of life on Mercy Ships has picked up with the arrival of Christina Fast, from Canada (no pun intended!) If you have been following these postings, you will recall that Christina came to the Sterilizing room in Sierra Leone, and taught Juan and me the Sterilizing certification course.
After visiting one hospital in Sierra Leone, Christina returned to Canada inspired to create her own NGO, to promote best practices amongst Sterilizing departments in developing nations. She has been aided by friends, family and of course none other than the Pender Choppers. David Howe has put Christina in touch with a very affordable lawyer for the NGO’s registration and funding has come from wood sales and generous donors from Mayne Island to contribute towards the registration, and her first project here in Guinea.
Christina arrived last Saturday, and did not hesitate to begin her work. Along with Amara, our Day Worker from Guinea, Christina was able to visit three hospitals this past week, interviewing hospital staff, touring departments and assessing the work that was required. To put it mildly, Sierra Leone was miles ahead of the work that is required in Guinea. Findings included: broken machinery; no disinfectants; no gloves or personal protection; rusted instruments; used razor blades , gauze and other biological waste all around; no or few brushes; no Hep B vaccines given to employees; no needle stick protocols…..and on, and on.
Every location they visited expressed a great desire for further education and assistance. They acknowledged their need for better practices, and stated that the lack of sterilize instruments was a huge cause for concern, and a large contributing factor to their high infection rates.
Christina decided to pick Donka Hospital – the largest Public Hospital in Guinea, as a focus for improvement. Starting this Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday she will be accompanied on a clean- up mission by Amara, George, Frank and Alice (who will be coming to the sterilizing room from the Galley when I leave in December). They are taking a few supplies with them and a lot of bleach and elbow grease. It is their desire to get the department to an acceptable sanitary standard, and then provide the education and tools to keep it that way. Christina hopes to travel up country next weekend with Amara to visit more rural hospitals.
Christina and I have dinner each night watching the sun set over the islands off shore. We spend our time discussing the NGO and its future direction. I have agreed to be on Christina’s Board of Directors, and to help her as I can in the future.
Christina also brought with her 75 ‘Comfort Dolls’ that were knitted by her Mother’s friend in Calgary, for the patients here in Guinea. Today we walked to the Hope Centre (the step-down unit for the ship) and Christina gave out the delightful knitted dolls to each patient there. The children were delighted with their stuffed toys, and were clearly grateful for them.
We sat for an hour or so, and played games with the children and their care givers. ‘Jenga’ is a huge hit there, and it is amazing to see how skilled the little ones are in getting the block tower to stay standing. There is great excitement shown by all when the tower falls. Some things do not differ by culture!
I was particularly interested in a young man there, who was an Albino. He had a wound on his forehead the size of the circumference of a large muffin paper. The sore was at least a ¼ of an inch deep, and may have been the result of a Noma (an acute and ravaging gangrenous infection affecting the face). I watched as he knelt to say his Muslim prayers in a small, quiet corner. As he touched his forehead to the floor in reverence, his wound touched the floor as well. It spoke deeply to me of his faith and dedication.
I am surprised by how many Albinos I have seen throughout my time here in West Africa. Albinism affects fewer than five people per 100,000 in the United States and Europe. In other parts of the world there is a much higher rate- about 20 out of every 100,000 people in southern Nigeria, for example. Although they fair far better in the West of Africa, than in the East (where rumors of voodoo curses, murders and kidnappings for human organs abound), I feel for them in many ways. Even the healthy ones have such a difficult life – often filled with rejection and chronic un-employment.
My first encounter was not with an Albino, but concerned one. In my early days in Sierra Leone, I was traveling in a van which was stopped in traffic. A little boy came up to the window where I was sitting and grabbed my arm in joyful surprise. I could not understand what he was saying, but his Mother quickly explained that he was so excited to see me because he said, I was like his Uncle. His Uncle, the Mother told me was Albino.
The second encounter involved Gateways friends who were traveling to a beach in Sierra Leone by boat. On the way, they had to stop for gas at a marina. As the fuel tank was being filled, a woman ran towards my friends with a newborn baby in her arms, and pleaded desperately with them to take her child who was Albino. “She should be with you”, the Mother explained.
I am puzzled and saddened by our world where too much or too little melanin- a simple pigment, creates so many prejudices…so many heart aches…so many misunderstandings.
That’s what we sometimes do, isn’t it? How many times have you had two conversations at the same time? You’re saying one thing, he’s saying another, or at least one of you is saying one thing and the other is thinking of something else. Communication. It starts there and ends there.
The soul is all eternity, he said,
I’ll show you all eternity right here with me in bed.
Reality is just a dream, said he,
I’ll make your dreams come true, she said, her voice was filled with glee.
The universe and we are one, he then declared,
I’ll show you shooting stars, (She lay in bed, her body bared).
And death a new beginning, he jubilantly roared,
You’ll be the death of all my lust, for I am getting bored.
Enlightenment is what I seek, cried he,
Than that is what you’ll get, for I’ll be up to have my tea.
We just saw the Documentary Imagine, John Lennon’s life. He described how they lost self to the group, the phenomenon, the Beatles. That was when they decided it was time to quit & find their own path’s.
Is there something within our consciousness, that brings us together, & is there another level that keeps us apart?
How do we walk a balanced road between self & other, selfishness & sacrifice, individual creativity & the power of collaboration?
Each of us must answer that question for ourselves.
I will start by including a few facts about this new country we are visiting.
Guinea covers a land mass of about 95,000 square miles –about the size of the United Kingdom or slightly smaller than the state of Oregon. The nation is ranked 178 out of 187 nations listed on the Human Development Index, and its 10 million residents have a life expectancy of 54.1 years. 43% of the population is under 15 years of age. By far, the majority of Guineans are Muslim-with only 8% of the population being Christians.
The average income in Guinea is about $863 per year, and its literacy rate is only 29%. Sadly, there is only one physician for every 1000 residents, and there are only .31 hospital beds per 1000 as well. Mercy Ships will be providing general, plastic, maxillofacial, VVF (female fistulae repair), ophthalmic, and orthopedic surgeries. Another 10,000 residents are expected to receive dental procedures, and leadership workshops will be held for about 1,200 church, community and government workers. At the same time, Guinean professionals will be trained by Mercy Ships in medical, agricultural and mental health professions. Capacity Building is a key focus of each Mercy Ships field service.
Mercy Ships has hired up to 150 local day workers who serve in a myriad of positions from translating to electronics, marine operations, the galley as well as working in medical programs or facilities. Each of these valued day workers are trained with new skills that will benefit them and their country long after the Africa Mercysails. Capacity building makes a lasting impact- and that’s a very good thing.
We have been busy in the sterilizing room since our arrival. Unpacking from the sail, set up and re-sterilizing have filled the past weeks. Our team is the same as last year, with the exception of one new Day Worker. George, Frank, Juan and Mark are all back, and Amara is our newest team member. His Mother is from Sierra Leone, and his Dad is from Guinea. In fact, there is a large Sierra Leonean contingent in the OR. Four other Day Workers are from Sierra Leone, which should make George and Frank very happy. These Day Workers moved to Guinea during Sierra Leone’s civil war, and have remained here ever since. When we met for the first time last week, I told them that we have a great collection of Sierra Leonean music in the sterilizing room….so come on down!
It is very difficult to take pictures here. Several crew members have had their cameras confiscated, and had to have the intervention of our security department to remedy the situation. In short, it is simply not worth trying- at least not in the city. I have included some photos taken by our Communications Department which seem to have more grace given to them.
The rain continues to come down, and the cholera epidemic is still going strong. Restaurants are ‘iffy’ for the most part, and expensive. We are having our usual bout of crew bugs….as 450 people from 36 countries most of whom have flown to get here… bring a weird and virulent mix of germs and illnesses.
George and Frank left last week for a nine day vacation back home in Sierra Leone. It is about a 6 hour bus ride to get there. It was fun to see how excited they were. I was in a panic trying to get them the medications they might require with the sudden realization that they have lost their immunity to poor drinking water, malaria and other illnesses by being on the ship for 10 months! Their bags included a number of gifts for family, friend and neighbours which I had sourced in a ‘Pound’ store in England. Items such as reading glasses, children flip flops, stationery supplies and the like. I think they will have fun distributing them.
This past Monday was our screening day. I was relegated to keep sterilizing, but almost all other crew members spent an extremely full day at the People’s Palace where the screening took place. Some crew had to go the night before, and spent the time in security or pre-screening duties. Greta (a Nurse from my Gateway) found the experience to be extremely difficult. She described watching car loads of people arriving through the night filled with children and adults we simply could not help. People with chronic and debilitating headaches or abdominal pain. Large numbers of children with cerebral palsy or developmental delay. What made her feel so helpless was that these individuals could have had medicines and/or treatment in the developed world…but not here in Guinea. It was Greta’s job to turn them away. Not easy, by any means.
When the screening ended at 9:00 pm, the numbers fell out as follows. Almost 4,000 lined up to be seen. Almost 1,000 were given patient cards for follow-up and further surgery. On-going eye and dental screening, and some small future surgical screenings will round out these figures. The crowds were peaceful and more understanding of our not being able to help, than we would ever be in the Western world.
As usual, the pictures tell it all. The photographer, Michelle is my bunk mate. We are well matched both in personality, schedule and preference. Thanks Michelle, for your great work.
Does the way that we live life or see reality affect the possibilities that we have?
The following quote from Melissa Etheridge made me think so:
“We are living two different realities”.
Melissa made that quote in referring to relationships between her & others. She said nobody else could make her happy, only she could make herself happy.
If you look to someone else to fill an empty spot, it doesn’t work, that spot has to be self fulfilled.
This led me to thinking about people who see a glass half empty & those that see it half full.
There are two sides to every coin & on the other side of problems are opportunities. It is not difficult to find people who have problems, therefore it is not hard to find opportunities, unless one gets stuck agreeing with the problem viewpoint.
Our mental image of the world around us shapes the way we react to circumstances & opportunities.
I didn’t think I would look to a Symphony Orchestra Conductor for advice but take a few minutes to see what you think: