By Susan Gold
On August 16th I departed Madison for Kenya with 10 UW-Madison undergraduates in tow. They are all interested in Global Health, need a field experience to meet a course requirement, and were so very excited. None of them had been to Africa and one had never even flown before! My affiliation with the University has made so many more trips possible. I agree to take students and the University pays my expenses! They add much to the trip so it’s a win-win for everyone.
Our trip actually had components. First, they visited 8 different health care sites which gave them a broad view of health care in Kenya. Then they assisted me for 3 days in teaching over 100 HIV+ adolescents about reproductive health. Their personal experiences that they shared with the Kenyans and being closer to their age added a whole new dimension to the classes.One of our site visits was particularly poignant for all of us. We visited a maternity hospital in one of the slums in Nairobi. They have 60-70 births per day. The women all labor in a common room, curtained off with 4 beds to a section. The beds are old, the floor concrete, and they have only one infant warmer. Women are allowed only one visitor for 2 one hour visits, so essentially they labor alone. There is no pain medicine available. There is only one operating room, if it’s in use and someone needs an emergency c-section, the only option is to wait. That can cause very bad outcomes for moms and babies. The hardest part for me was the “special care nursery” for babies under 5 lbs. No ventilators, babies 2-3 to an incubator struggling to breathe, no diapers and not even a blanket to wrap them in, a baby in an incubator with cockroaches crawling on it. They lose 40-50 babies per month. I didn’t know whether to be heartbroken or enraged. I ended up both. When I asked the staff what they could use to help, they asked only for things for the babies.
The classes we taught were life changing for all involved. I learned again how eager adolescents are for the truth, how they are the same all over the world. They ask: will I be loved? Am I normal? Do I have a future? We all saw the burden their HIV status places on them as they navigate an already difficult world. I am so blessed to do this work.
I carry all of you in my heart; your faith strengthens my faith. I pray everyday for all the children, that they come into this world healthy and loved and with the opportunity to grow up strong and take their place in this world. It means so much to me to tell my Kenyan community that my Plymouth community joins me in those prayers. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your interest and your support.
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