BASIC HEALTH CARE IS A RIGHT, NOT A PRIVILEGE!
Have you ever wondered what it would be like without health care? Can you imagine being sick and not having access to a doctor? If you were sick, and you could not potentially diagnose and treat yourself, and if you had a contagious infection, it could potentially spread to other people and become an epidemic. Well, there are some communities in Africa that have no access to basic health care. In these communities, a simple infection that can easily be treated with antibiotics becomes a life threatening situation and causes families the lives of their children, and children the lives of their parents. My name is Sean Mucheru, and I spent my summer volunteering in these impoverished communities with a non profit organization called Medical Missions Kenya (MMK), founded by my family.
MMK provides free healthcare services to impoverished communities in Kenya by recruiting volunteer team of health care providers to provide free health care services for two weeks in Kenya traveling from village to village. I have served these communities through MMK before, and each year I am amazed at how fulfilling the outreaches are. Before my first trip with MMK, I dreaded the community service even though I knew it was the right thing to do. Kenya changed the way I see community service. I expected to be miserable throughout the service but to my surprise the outcome was totally different. I had a smile on my face every single day as I helped serve multitudes from the rural outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya.
It literally takes a village, and I started our grassroots campaign efforts here at Crossroads. I shared my experiences in Kenya which inspired my friend Eli Gardenswartz to join MMK. Eli and I started a clothing drive where we asked our friends to donate any gently used unwanted clothing for our trip. They did-and the clothes kept coming until we couldn’t take any more donations. The willingness of our classmates to donate their clothes was overwhelming.
Our first stop was at a boys home called Kwetu Home of peace. “Kwetu”, in Swahili language means “Ours”. This was a rehab center for boys who were living on the streets because they had no homes. Driven by poverty and perhaps as a result of the AIDS epidemic, these boys resulted to lives of crime for survival. I thought the center was doing amazing work providing shelter and food to the boys, most of them who had no families.
Here we were invited into their “community room” where the boys sang songs and danced. After introductions, the boys shared how they ended up in this home. There were children that were younger than 5 years old living on the street without parents, food, or shelter. In that situation I don't think anyone could last, but they shared how they sniffed glue in order to suppress hunger pangs in their stomach because they didn't have anything to eat.
12 year old me volunteering in Samburu village, Kenya.
I have seen the boys on the street of Kibera, the largest slum in Africa where MMK supports a few orphanages. The boys sit on piles of trash, holding on to a small plastic bottles under their noses, inhaling glue-a thick, industrial substance meant for shoe repair. We listened as the boys as they recounted their struggles and their lives in the mean streets of Nairobi, a life of crime and drugs, stealing their way to the next meal-struggling to stay alive.
Their stories were heart wrenching. These boys had nothing but despair until they were rescued and brought to Kwetu.
Here MMK provided the boys with clothing, food items, hygiene and school items. We also installed for the boys a basketball pole and hoop and held basketball skills sessions teaching the eager boys how to play basketball. For a moment, there were no tears, no horrible memories of their lives in the streets; just smiles all around as the boys got lost in the wonders of basketball. It was a good day.
After the Kwetu boys home outreach, we traveled to different villages providing free health care services where locals turned out in hundreds. Previously, during my volunteering experience my task was to help the doctors and nurses by passing out the patient forms. I also had created fliers with pictures guiding the communities on hand hygiene translated from English to Swahili as well as the local languages. This was in an effort to promote health practices. This year though, Eli and I worked at the Triage area where a Registered Nurse taught us how to obtain and document basic Vital signs like blood pressure, heart rate and temperature using an electric portable machine. We became so good at it and got the lines moving faster.
Taking an oral temperature amid language barriers
It was surprising to me that these people don’t have the same privileges and it bothers me because there are no hospitals or drug stores where they can buy medicine. I would even see pregnant, restless, and desperate women who had walked for about three days arriving at the triage with what they called “Maji” which means water in Swahili, but looked like an orange Fanta because of water contamination. Just to see that alone made my heart sink! Seeing that water bottle with what she called “water” was a painful experience. After checking her vitals and sending her to the nurses and doctors, I knew she was in good hands and that they will make sure she will be fine.
The best part of volunteering in Kenya was experiencing and participating in the rich cultural practices like the Maasai traditional dances, especially of the Maasai Morans. The Morans are the warriors of the community and probably have the best dances as well. They are fearless and live in isolation in the forests for years as part of the initiation to Moran-ship. During this time, they learn tribal customs and develop strength, courage, and endurance—traits for which Maasai warriors are well known for. I guess you could equate that to being in the military. The Moran warriors are easily recognized by their distinctive bright cloth wraps called Shukas. They wear intricate hand beaded jewelry and wear their hair in braids that are dyed red.
I also enjoyed playing with the small children. They look happy, contented and completely oblivious of their impoverished conditions. They are brave and obviously very resilient. I feel extremely blessed and fortunate to be born in a country that has plenty of resources and in a family that provides me with everything I need.
Everyone we encounter, smiles and waves warmly. I felt weak in their presence. They are so authentic....so content with so little. So enduring.... so resilient. To have the joy in SEEING a stranger. They welcome us to their huts and offer us the little that they have. Their hospitality and authenticity was overwhelming. I will continue to volunteer with MMK and I encourage everyone to get out of their comfort zone and take time to engage in community service.
Reflections from Sean Mucheru (Crossroads high school rising freshman).