02 October 2013
Today’s blog comes from a group of FOL volunteers from Australia and New Zealand currently in Kenya on the Harambee project. Many of them are new to FOL - and Kenya - but they are learning fast! Over to them… On a Saturday afternoon at Nairobi airport, a varied group of Kenyan veterans and newbies enters the arrivals hall, full of hopes, expectations and fears. Coming from opposite ends of the world in Australia and New Zealand, as well as Ireland, the group brings to the table a vast array of talents, experience and expertise. Regardless of background, there is a hope that our work with Friends of Londiani over the coming weeks can have a positive effect on the lives of some of the Kenyans we will meet. Our first journey takes us to a beautiful retreat lodge in the hills surrounding Nairobi, where we rest up for the night after long flights from around the world. The first impression - to a Kenyan newcomer - is that it is certainly a beautiful lush green country, different from the arid land we might have expected from some depictions of Africa. To the returning veterans, the surprise is the rate of change in Kenya, particularly the building work and the roads. A full day of travel along the madness of Kenyan roads follows, with stops along the way to admire the Great Rift Valley, to gawk at the zebras and impala, and to grab some lunch and last-minute supplies for the following few weeks. Our arrival in Londiani is mind-blowing. A large group of locals, including many women and children, have gathered to wait all day at the gates to welcome us with song and dance. It is incredible - an experience unlike any I have had before. To feel so appreciated and welcomed into the community is unbelievable, and makes me realise that the work FOL has done, and continues to do, in the community must be very valuable. We take everything for granted, whereas the people here are so happy just for us to come into their community and offer our help to them. We are literally mobbed by excited children! The whole experience blows the first-timers away. From the start, all teams hit the ground running. Our medical team prepare for the week with a trip to Londiani District Hospital. It is buzzing with activity, and a wide variety of services are available - as you can see from signs on the walls of the various buildings - including x-ray, a surgical room and pathology services, as well as counselling and general consultation rooms. We meet with the regional Public Health Officers, and prepare for our seminar on disabilities, outreach clinics, maternal health seminars and public health projects planned for the first week. The disability seminar is a great success. We have 44 Community Health Workers (CHWs) from the region. The CHWs are effectively volunteers from the region who take on the challenge of educating the community about health-related matters and encouraging them to engage with local health services. The eagerness to learn and to help the rest of the community is astounding, and the feeling of privilege at being able to attend the seminar, given by FOL volunteers in conjunction with the District Health Service, is apparent. Some have travelled for two hours on foot to attend and face the same journey to get home. A CHW turnout of 100% of expected; this says it all. There is a high level of knowledge shown from the CHWs, who get very little training, and the resources available are appreciated. We do some great work advancing knowledge of disabilities in general. In the afternoon there is a particular emphasis on seizures and epilepsy, afflictions that are often stigmatised and that can be the focus of flawed local beliefs. The first seminar on this topic was greatly appreciated; it will be interesting to see how it can enhance knowledge and improve the lives of those with disabilities in the community. FOL will be reviewing the seminar in full to see if it has an effect.