We hired a nurse who would visit the orphanage a few times a week and treat the children after we left. She’s been doing a wonderful job so far, the fungus epidemic at the lower school is improving and the children are continuing to receive treatment. Starting the clinic was by the most humbling and rewarding thing I’ve done with my life and I can’t wait to go back to continue our work in country.
The hydrogen peroxide bubbled as it mixed with the pus from his infected wound. I looked at him sympathetically and asked if it hurt.
“No,” the small boy replied meekly, trying not to wince in pain. Austin stared at the ground, attempting to keep his leg steady so we could clean the wound and to avoid looking at the gash that had been causing him so much agony.
He had limped in the room a few minutes earlier, his gait unsteady from the wound on the back of his left leg caused by a nail he had fallen on four days earlier. It was deep and quickly becoming infected, most of his leg covered in clay dirt. Amanda and I immediately hurried over to help him, having just organized the medicine and supplies we brought over in our suitcases.
Austin was quiet and shy, not making eye contact when we asked him questions, his big beautiful eyes avoided our gaze as he mumbled. We finished cleaning his wound with hydrogen peroxide, an alcohol wipe, and Neosporin. As I searched the suitcase filled with medicine for Children’s Aceteominophen, Amanda asked him if his leg was feeling stiff, a sign of tetanus. When he replied no, we both let out a sigh of relief, administered the medicine, and promised him that we’d check in on him later that day. We knew we had to monitor him closely to make sure the wound healed properly and that he didn’t have symptoms of tetanus, which could take a week to present themselves.
I watched him limp out of the room, his green plastic flip-flops were mismatched with his blue school uniform, and felt a sense of pride and relief. He was the first patient I had ever personally treated. While we would encounter far severe cases in the next few weeks including a 5 year old girl that suffered from a serious case of malaria and worms as well as three children with acute hernias, I had a special place in my heart for Austin. We watched him get better over the next week, seeing him twice a day to administer pain medicine and clean his wounds. He went from a sad child that sat on the sidelines during recess to the star soccer player who we played against a week later. I shudder to imagine what would have happened to him had we not been there with the medical supplies, his wound inevitably becoming more and more infected. This isn’t to say that we thought we were doing the children we treated a favor. In fact it was quite the opposite. They had let us into their world, welcomed us with open arms and taught us that despite the crushing sadness they ostensibly had in their lives, happiness comes from within. Starting a clinic to help them was a small token of our appreciation and the least we could do.
We learned a few months earlier that Teresa and Stephen desperately wanted a clinic for the over 500 children at school, many of which had never seen a doctor before. The school simply didn’t have enough resources and closest physician was over 15 miles away. While neither Amanda nor I were doctors by any means, we had some experience ordering medicine for mobile clinics in Honduras and both had gone there multiple times to volunteer and shadow doctors. Nevertheless, this hardly prepared us for what the next few weeks had in store for us.
We brought over 50 pounds worth of medicine from the United States into Kenya, went to the nearby town at least 5 times to purchase more medicine from the pharmacist, and got to work building the foundations for a medical clinic at the school. Fortunately, medicine in Kenya is relatively cheap because India produces generic medicine for developing countries for very discounted prices. We knew we could keep the clinic sustainable for years to come using money we had saved. Education was their ticket out of poverty and it was our job to make sure that happened by keeping the children in good health.
Teresa cleared a damp room, not much larger than a closet, with shelves of neatly stacked water stained newspapers and an old wooden cabinet that served as a vessel for the medicine. We organized the medicine into different categories: Stomach, Pain, Cough/Cold, Eye Drops, Wound Care, etc. and wrote up detailed instructions for treatment and cards that explained dosages and uses for each medicine. We poured our hearts into the clinic, seeing up to 50 children daily to diagnose and give them treatment. We created a health record system, referred to as “the book”, which had a page for each child that included their complaints and treatment given. Should the children ever get seriously ill, Teresa could take the child and “the book” to the nearest hospital 40 minutes away and use it as a medical history.
The greatest feeling was seeing a child the next day after giving them treatment and hearing that they felt better. Their allergies were improving, their headache was going away, their wound was less infected. Nevertheless, we encountered numerous obstacles, feeling overwhelmed and exhausted at times by the sheer magnitude of the task we were taking on. There was a head fungus epidemic at the lower school as a result of poor living conditions because many of the children stayed at their respective homes in the nearby village. Over 40 students were infected and the treatment required applying clotrimazole to the infected area twice a day along with bathing their heads with vinegar and water. We often encountered ailments that we knew we didn’t have the medical knowledge to diagnose and treat. These limitations were frustrating at times because we wanted to do more, but our concern for the kids’ wellbeing far outweighed our personal desire to play doctors. We were the only people looking over each other’s shoulders, but that didn’t mean either one of us would take advantage and go beyond our limits as college students.
When we encountered a case we knew required an expert, as was the case for the children with malaria/worms and hernias, we took a overcrowded and often dangerous 30 minute taxi ride to the hospital to get the kids treatment. I was struck by how brave the children were, not complaining despite their serious illnesses, and braving the hot sun, dehydration, and long lines until they were seen by a doctor. After seeing the conditions in the hospital, which was understaffed, had limited resources, and was overburdened, we realized that we needed to hire a medical professional to work in the clinic after we left and hopefully get physicians to volunteer there in the future. The hospital wasn’t a feasible place to take every child that fell ill at Wema.