A Field Trip
On June 17th Louise Harrison and I travelled to Zambia for a month with a lady called Heather Godfrey, who used to be a physiotherapist at the hospital and returns every year. Louise and I are both students at Southampton University about to enter our final year, studying Psychology and Geography respectively. I know Heather from back home and asked if I could accompany her this year so I could do some volunteer work for the hospital and research for my dissertation on Primary Health Care in Zambia, and I invited Louise along with me. After an interesting 6 hour coach ride from Lusaka we finally arrived at Tikondane, the Community Centre where we would be residing, about 1km from the hospital. Heather usually stays in the hospital mess but due to the large amount of medical students this year that was not possible, and in hindsight, for Louise and me, Tikondane was the best place to be.
Sunday 19th was our first full day in Katete. We walked up to the Church at St. Francis and experienced an extremely energetic service – it was great fun! This was primarily due to the choir visiting from the nearby town of Chipata. Their uniforms alone were amazing – a vast array of colour in identical patterns. They burst into song before the service began and danced in and out of church in unquestionable style, hips swinging as they went – brilliant!
The following day Heather took us round the hospital which was an unforgettable experience on so many levels. The visit to the maternity ward was especially hard. There were rows of beds everywhere with patients. We felt extremely awkward; the difference between our two worlds suddenly seemed very real. We decided it would be wrong to take photos. The nurse in charge granted us permission to see the premature babies which Louise and I found especially upsetting. Instead of the nice modern incubators that we are all used to, these babies slept in boxes that to us most resemble the ones found of farms which keep the baby chicks warm under a light bulb. As well as one light bulb these babies, sometimes two in a box, each had one drip and that’s all! We also met two little orphans who stay there without any real care and attention, until they are four months old when relatives come and collect them. We made sure we checked up on them before we left. Next stop was the physio department. How they make the crutches was fascinating, from splitting a piece of wood to putting a piece of tyre on the bottom to provide the grip. The perfect use of limited resources!
Our next tour of the hospital was from an entirely different perspective – that of engineering. Louise and I were shown around by the legend that is Paul Splint, an engineer and general handy man from Holland. He returns to Zambia every year to carry on with the endless construction and improvement that the hospital and Tikondane so badly needs. We witnessed first hand the extent of damage termites can cause, the problems with sceptic tanks and how much work the church needs doing. Thankfully, this year Paul had an excellent sidekick – Dervla, an Irish engineering student who came with the Irish medical students. Between them they began constructing a community hall for Tikondane and erected a basketball pitch. Louise and I did our bit too, helping Paul to reunite hundreds of locks with their keys from Russia, which had become separated when the termites decided to eat the boxes. We also totally reorganised the stock room and took a stock take of them all! There was not much we could do for the hospital because we were not medical students, but we did our bit.
We met Abraham Phiri too, an amazing man, who runs the Sunday school. He asked us to help him, which of course we did. Sunday school is held just beside the Church on the porch of a building, the children love it and all respect Abraham immensely. Louise and I took lots of multicoloured paper and colouring pencils and a bat with lots of balls to Zambia and the Sunday school children benefited from these the most! They absolutely loved drawing and did some fantastic pictures – definitely some potential artists in the making! Crownders was a hit too, a cross between cricket and rounders, especially with the boys. They were much better than me at hitting the ball; thankfully it was a soft ball though!
The whole experience was absolutely fantastic and one that I will never ever forget. There are so many memories that are hard to put into words: having breakfast with the Chief, the Milky Way, the sunsets, over packed bus rides to Chipata. Mosi beer, everyone saying How are you?, climbing the mountain, cake and custard, bicycles, a wedding, watching the TB drama, ”Zambian time” and crazy 8 game, but thankfully we’ve got all the photos to look back on. St. Francis is a wonderful hospital providing hundreds of people with the first level of health care. I have so much respect for everyone who works there, especially Paul, the doctors, the medical students and volunteers, because without them the lives of the people living in Katete and the surrounding areas would be far worse. We are keeping in touch with those we have met and hope to help in what ways we can in the future. We have already sent Elke and Tikondane a boxful of watches in an attempt to improve Zambians time keeping! People say Africa gets under your skin and I completely agree; Louise and I are already planning a trip back!