Miss Nancy Wamai
When I first told Nancy about my vision for MMK; to provide free health care services to remote villages in Kenya by organizing medical missions trips, her encouragement and support pushed me to actually making my vision a reality. In 2011, MMK was “born”, and Nancy immediately signed up for the first trip even though she is not in health care. Nancy is a Vice president, Assistant Portfolio Manager with Tradewinds Global Investors, a subsidiary of Nuveen Investments where she has worked for the last 7 years.
She is good with numbers almost to a fault. She will briefly glance at my mortgage statement when I have concerns over charges, explain what each item means and how my mortgagor arrived at the numbers. When we go to a restaurant, she will glance at a bill and accurately calculate the tip in a blink of an eye.
During our first MMK trip, Nancy wanted to help and we discussed using her as our data analyst. But when the lines backed up at the pharmacy, Nancy quickly ditched her station and worked as a pharmacy translator calling out the patients’ names and providing them the written instructions for the prescribed medications. When we went back to our hotel and everyone was hanging out, poor Nancy was working after hours entering the MMK patients’ data into the laptop. Her energy is exceptional and with her upbeat spirit, she quickly took the role of our time keeper and pushed everyone to keep the schedule.
Nancy and I have a long history. We worked together over a decade ago at Nairobi’s Kenya Duty Free stores at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. We lost contact and reconnected in 2006 when I first moved to LA and she hosted me until I was able to get my own place. She was one of my wedding attendants and she we see each other often. We consider each other family, sisters from another mother and spend most holidays together. Having grown up in Kenya, she is intimate with the poverty, desperation and inadequate health services that has driven MMK to Kenya over and over again. But even having been exposed to poverty growing up, she was not prepared for what she would see and experience during that first medical trip in December 2011. The first volunteer team comprised of doctors and nurses mainly from UCLA and Kaiser, a doctor from Seattle, a nurse from Canada and another nurse from Florida. We partnered with three Kenyan doctors in addition to local nurses and community health workers in each location we visited.
The trip was an eye opener for Nancy. She was shocked by the circumstances of our patients. “But it’s when we went to a very remote area of Maasailand called Wamba in Samburu District, that I felt like I had been transported to the twilight zone!” she whispers. The primary school which served as our makeshift clinic had no windows, doors and definitely no water anywhere within a 60 mile radius. The main question the American volunteers kept asking was ‘where do these children wash their hands after they use the bathroom? What do they drink when they are thirsty?’ Which was why one of the main medical conditions was dehydrated children in this area which barely receives any rain.
Since most families are pastoralists, which means they are nomads moving from place to place in search of water for their livestock, they have no permanent homes. Most children were being seen by a doctor for the first time in their lives at 8 years old, “yeah, we guessed their ages, no birth records here and parents do not keep track of birthdates”, she recalls.
A lot of women had problems due to early pregnancies; most girls were promised for marriage before they were 5 years old and married off by the time they were 13 years to men two to three times their age. Nancy was traumatized “The first day was the toughest. I could not wrap my head around what I was seeing. Imagine two year old kids, who looked underdeveloped for their age, with flies fawning all over their eyes, courtesy of trachoma, a contagious bacterial eye infection. Despite a very long first day, none of us slept very well that night. The images of the day’s event were like a continuously rolling power point presentation slide in one’s mind”.
The second day was a little easier, mainly because of the up- beat personalities and approach to life of the patients. “Here we were feeling so sorry at their unfortunate circumstances; and there they were, so grateful that we had come all the way to provide free medical care smiling like they had won a lottery. We were all humbled beyond words. The things we fret about, that we think are a big deal? Are Not! Nothing like perspective to help one re-calibrate their priorities in life!”
Nancy continues to be actively involved with MMK and this year, she initiated a fund raiser in her company, Nuveen Investments. Nuveen has a Matching Gift Policy dollar–for-dollar up to $5,000 per employee per year. “I was honored and humbled by the generous donations and comments from my colleagues during this fund raising initiative. This is an organization that I hold very close and dear to my heart. Thank you Nuveen family for helping MMK continue its work that so many desperately need”, she said in a voice full of wonder. “I am very grateful”.