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Healing Kenya: Nursing students treat 945 patients in six days during medical mission trip to a Kenyan village

Healing Kenya: Nursing students treat 945 patients in six days during medical mission trip to a Kenyan village

By Jennifer Meers Jones ’08
When the 20 UMHB nursing students, faculty, and community members arrived in the Kenyan village of Malikini late in the night July 29, 2011, the darkness of the sleeping village was overwhelming. The village does not have electricity, so once the sun goes down at 6:30, moonlight is the only source available to light the way. With their flashlights packed away with their luggage, at first the group had trouble navigating in the dark of night. But for sophomore nursing major Michael Mutinda, the roads were familiar. He had traveled them many times as a young boy living in Malikini.

“Growing up there, I know the problems we went through,” Mutinda said. “The village has been a very peaceful area, but there is no government support. There is no running water and the roads are not good. We rely on the rains, and when there is no rain (because at times the rains keep), then there is a lot of suffering.”

Mutinda experienced that suffering first-hand as a nine-year-old boy when famine swept through the country. Food was scarce—over five hours of back-breaking labor earned Mutinda just a single cup of paddy rice.

After graduating from high school, he began working as a photographer, taking people’s photographs for green cards. He applied for the American Green Card Lottery Program and, two years later, received his permanent resident visa. He moved to the United States with his wife and daughter in 2003, then joined the U.S. Army and served as a medic for five-and-a-half years in Iraq and Korea.

Despite being thousands of miles from his village, the problems facing Malikini continued to consume his thoughts.

“When I was in Korea I was told about my cousin’s wife who died because of a snake bite. It took over three hours by oxen cart pull to take her to the hospital. She did not have any other options for medical treatment,” Mutinda said. “I still felt the problems within that area. I knew, something needs to be done. Somebody needs to wake up and do something. But I kept thinking, what could I do? I’m not rich.”

Still, Mutinda could not shake the feeling a medical camp needed to be established in Malikini.

After Mutinda enrolled at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, those dreams began taking shape. A seemingly chance encounter on campus with adjunct nursing professor Dr. Glen Smith set the ball rolling on the university’s first medical mission trip. Smith had been a missionary in Kenya prior to coming stateside, so when he noticed Mutinda’s accent he struck up a conversation. They discovered a shared passion for the people of Kenya and decided to bring their vision of a medical mission trip to the attention of Dr. Sharon Souter, dean of the College of Nursing. Souter was immediately on board—she had been seeking opportunities for the College of Nursing to get involved in missions.

“The collaboration between those three leaders and the orchestration of God in details was absolutely beautiful,” said senior nursing student Kacey Carabajal, who went on the trip. “Many of us have had the desire to participate in a medical mission trip for a really long time, so it was just such a blessing to have the opportunity to go.”

MEDICAL CLINIC IN MALIKINI

After a 20-hour flight, the group—which included nine UMHB nursing students, one Tarleton pre-med student, one Texas Tech pre-vet student, four UMHB faculty, and five community members—arrived in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city. The following day the group drove by 15-passenger bus to Malikini, arriving that night at the school dormitory they would call home for the next week and a half. Most of Saturday was spent setting up the medical camp and getting the equipment ready for the clinic, which would begin on Monday.

That Sunday, the group experienced their first Kenyan church service. Christianity is widely accepted in the country, but the service revealed a unique blend of African culture and traditional Christian beliefs.

“We were all assigned to a church and were expected to participate in the service,” Souter said. “During the offering time one person brought a live chicken. As part of the process, which is very normal there, they auctioned it off to the highest bidder. I’m not sure who won, but they gave the chicken to us, which we then gave back to the pastor of the church.”

The service provided the group with a taste of what was to come in the days ahead as they were put on the spot and asked to share their faith with the congregation.

“We thought we would just be sharing our testimony, but no, the pastor said, ‘You have the whole service; you are the sermon.’ We were able to cope with that pretty well, but it’s just an example of the process the students went through to learn how to, at a moment’s notice, share their faith through a translator with people who didn’t speak the same language,” Souter said.

The medical clinic started that Monday. In the next six days, the nurse practitioners and physicians would treat an astounding 945 people. The students assisted with assessment, spiritual counseling, and pharmaceutical advisory.

Every patient began with assessment, said senior Mandy Brawner, who worked in this area.

“We had three stations set up with students and translators,” she said. “Patients would explain to us what was wrong in their words. This is when we were really able to see the cultural differences. In America, when somebody has a sniffle and a cough, most of the time they will say they have a cold. That doesn’t necessarily mean they actually have a cold, but that is what they usually say. In Kenya, patients would say they had malaria or other common diseases. Part of our critical thinking was accessing the symptoms they were describing and determining what was actually wrong with them.”

Brawner said common ailments patients suffered from included general aches, back pain, malaria, head funguses, worms, stomach issues, acid reflux, and heartburn. “But they wouldn’t know what to call it,” she said. “They’d say, ‘Stomach hurts here when I eat.’ And then we had to figure it out by asking specific questions.”

The student would then write a report about the patient’s assessment and take them to the next room, which was spiritual counseling. This room was set up similarly to assessment, with three stations. Each station had a student and a local pastor to serve as translator.

“Spiritual counseling was really another form of assessment,” said Carabajal, who was assigned to this area. “We asked the patients why they were here today and how we could pray for them. We checked to see if we needed to add anything to the assessment form. And mainly, we would ask about their spiritual lives, ask about their families, and get to know them in that relational aspect. Then we would pray over them.”

Professor Dr. Bobbie Dixon, who oversaw the clinic’s assessment area, said she was most surprised by the patients’ reactions to the mzungus, the term Kenyans use to refer to white people.

“Our translators were pastors and experienced spiritual counselors,” Dixon said. “But there were times when we were short and we had to pull students from spiritual counseling to help in other areas. And the patients would say they preferred to have a student pray for them rather than the pastor; they thought the white girl’s prayers were stronger. They thought the mzungus’ prayers went straight to heaven.”

After spiritual counseling, the patient was taken to see one of three physicians: nursing faculty members Dr. Joanne Woods and Dr. Glen Smith, and Temple-based physician Dr. Ricky Kindle.

“As a nurse practitioner, I saw the patients in the clinic,” Woods said. “I primarily saw the women, and every single one who came in complained of back pain. It didn’t impact me initially until I saw them walking down the road, toting their little ones on their backs, and hearing about working in the rice fields and out in their gardens and cleaning their homes bent over all day. One lady I saw was in the rice fields from sun up to sun down every day.”

Woods said the thing that impressed her most was how loving and giving the people of Malikini were, despite the challenges they face.

“Just to come to the clinic they would dress up in their finest—the very best they had. The men came in suits, and they always had a smile on their faces. That really helped me keep things in perspective during the long days in the clinic,” she said.

Finally the patients were taken to the pharmacy, where students filled prescriptions, explained the medicine’s instructions, and administered the first dosage.

“By the end of the week, we ran out of everything. We ran out of the cute little bottles that we put the medicine in. So everybody started saving their water bottles, and filling water bottles with 100 cc of Malox or other medicines to give out to patients, making use of everything we had,” Souter said.

For student Kelsey Anderson, the trip took an unexpected turn when illness forced her from the role of a caregiver to the role of a patient.

“I actually contracted malaria,” Anderson said. “I was in Uganda for the two and a half months prior, and then I met the group in Kenya. It wasn’t until we started the clinic that I started showing symptoms, since it takes a week or two to get sick. So I had two days working at the clinic teaching patients about their medications in the pharmacy before I started to feel really run down. I spent the rest of the time in bed. But there were a couple of days where I was able to go sit in the clinic part of the time.”

It was during these times in the clinic that Anderson was able to minister to one small patient that left a lasting impression on the entire group.

“There was a two-month old little boy we called Baby Simon who was dying of AIDS. All I could do was sit in the treatment room and take it easy, but I got to hold him and try to feed him his medicine.”

Anderson said being sick helped her relate to the patients they were treating.

“It was different seeing it from the perspective of being sick. I was able to see people with the same illness I had, and it made me understand how horrible it would be if your parents had to say ‘I’m sorry but we have to wait until we have the money to get you medicine,’ just because they didn’t have even the little money it would cost to get malaria treatment.”

UNDERSTANDING TRUE SERVICE

When recalling the trip, one common theme each member of the medical mission team brings up is service. Even more than the medical services they provided to the residents of Malikini, they remember the selfless way the village served them while they were there.

“One measure of love was they did everything they could to make us happy,” Souter said. “The people cooked for us every day out of love, preparing three meals a day and snacks. And you have to remember, there is no electricity, just a small little generator.”

Most vivid in Souter’s memory was the African cuisine the villagers prepared for the group.

“For eight days straight we ate goat stew,” she said. “By about Wednesday we had eaten enough goat stew; we were all ready for other things. So they started making us cheese sandwiches. They were to die for—we loved them! The villagers changed to help us, because they realized that after several days of goat stew, we were ready for something else. So they made those provisions.”

In a village without running water and electricity, even simple tasks Americans take for granted required a labor of love to prepare.

“The people of Malikini truly taught me what service was about. There’s no running water. Think about how much water it takes for 17 women to take a shower! The men used oxen, went to the river, and filled basins of water so we could shower. They heated a big black vat over some wood for us so we could have a warm shower, and that was all carried by hand. That’s service,” Souter said.

For Mutinda, seeing the people of his village serving and being served by the team he helped organize was a dream realized.

“Every moment I was there, every student and every professor was working so hard, and I was so encouraged,” he said. “It has opened doors for many things. We are already planning another mission trip for 2013.”

Mutinda said, to his best knowledge, this was the first and only mission to visit the village of Malikini.

“When I came to the U.S., I heard many churches talking about going on missions to Kenya, and I would ask myself, ‘Where do they go? They do not go to our village.’ I’ve never heard of anybody taking a mission to Malikini. But after this medical mission, I hope soon the door will be opened to a flow of visitors to that village.”

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE:
Videos from the trip