Hi everyone! I thought I’d write a little something on the work that I’m doing here in TZ, in case you are asking yourself, “what exactly is she doing over there?”. Well here we go!
I work for the Mabatini Parish Public Health Office, and my position allows me to wear several different hats. If I were to break it down by what I spend most of my time doing it would be split between working with natural medicines, home visits, health education, and working towards sustainability for our health program.
1. A large portion of my time is spent learning about natural medicines, cultivating and harvesting them from our gardens, and helping in the management of packaging and selling the medicines to the Mabatini community (which is the most poor and densely populated area in Mwanza). One of the great things about this part of my ministry is that we sell these natural medicines at a very cheap price in hopes that the people can afford them and will use them for preventing diseases and conditions like malaria, amoeba, high blood pressure, malnutrition etc. These medicines grow easily in the Tanzanian climate, so many people have the trees and plants right in their own back yard. We try to do education in the schools and community to help the people know about these amazing and available resources.
In the garden with some Artemesia. This plant helps prevent Malaria and is a main ingredient the medicine Doxycycline.
Some of our medicines. They don’t look like much, but they do help.
2. I have also spent a good amount of time with our physical therapy nurse Margaret, and we go up into the hills to do home visits to the sick and disabled. Sometimes we do massage, physical therapy exercises, or we just check in with the client and see how they are doing. There is one young man I visited several times who can only walk with the help of crutches because a few years ago he was stabbed in the back near the spinal cord. He sits in front of his house much of the time, and usually drags himself wherever he needs to go. When I first met him, I never saw him smile. He seemed so down and out, which I can only imagine the pain and struggle of what he’s gone through. Slowly I got to know him a little better and found out that he likes to draw (and he wasn’t that bad at it either!). So I emailed my friend Susan back in the states, who is a great artist and with whom I worked with at the St. Vincent de Paul Wellness Center. I told Susan about this young man and his artistic talent. Susan was amazing and ended up sending a huge box of art materials along with a donation. I used the money to hire an art teacher to go up into the hills to visit Ramadani (the young man) and to teach him art. After 3 lessons with the art teacher, I began noticing a huge difference in Ramadani. He was smiling, laughing, and creating beautiful African art. I witnessed life coming back to this young man and a sense of empowerment with his new found talent and skills. He himself told the art teacher one day “I feel like my spirit is refreshed”. It was an amazing change to see, and I told Ramadani, that if he could accomplish so much with art, that surely, with exercises and practice, I believe he will be able to walk again someday. Margaret and I have already noticed improvement when he walks with the crutches. Now we are encouraging him to continue his art as an income generating skill. He is making many cards and paintings that hopefully he will be able to sell. Overall I am very thankful for this experience with Ramadani and for the support back at home to help impact this young man’s life.
Ramadani sitting on the ground, art teacher to the right, and me looking at his newest drawings
One of Rama’s art lessons, with several curious onlookers
Rama’s art 🙂
My supervisor, Br. Mark, has been working with Rama for a while and even got him a hand powered bicycle.
Ramadani is just one of many disabled people we serve. Often we visit several children with physical or mental disabilities. Sadly, just recently, two of the children with cerebral pasly we had been visiting passed away. And in the same week, the gentleman I mentioned in the previous post (with terminal cancer) passed away too. It was a hard week for all of us staff. The worst part, in my opinion, is that the deaths of the two children could have been prevented. The cause of death was malnutrition. Most of the people here in TZ eat a lot of starches and carbs like porridge and ugali with little to no nutritional value, yet vegetables and fruits are so easily available. On top of that, we grow and sell Moringa, a tree that produces highly nutritional leaves that can be pounded and put in food to boost vitamin, protein, calcium and potassium intake. I believe these deaths could have been avoided, which brings me to another important part of my job.
Our physical therapy nurse Margaret working with disabled children and their mothers.
3. Health education in schools and the community, is another area of my position. I have been accompanying my co worker Natalie on a few school visits. Usually she teaches a health topic of hygiene, preventative care, environmental care, natural medicines etc. Right now, until my Swahili improves, I’m more of a supportive role drawing pictures of what she’s talking about on the board. The hope is that we can teach the children and community proper ways to avoid sicknesses and to encourage health prevention BEFORE they get sick and it’s too late to do anything. Currently, Natalie and I are making plans to start fungal screenings in the schools. Ringworm is a common fungus that many children have on their heads and skin. Our office produces an oil from the Marobaini tree that helps get rid of the fungus. As a part of the health education aspect, I’m hoping to start a theatre club in the near future with the parish youth that will meet once a month to act out health topics. That way they are learning and having fun at the same time.
4. Last but not least, I am spending time trying to network with other surrounding organizations and work toward sustainability for our public health office. In general, our office does a lot of other good work such as counseling, surgeries for children with club feet or bowed legs, and eye and dental clinics. So it is helpful for us to partner with other organizations that might be able to help us out with financial and material resources to provide the services that we do.One of the main focuses of Maryknoll is “to go where you are needed but not wanted, and leave when you are wanted but not needed”. The point is to help people help themselves so that you can phase out and they can take ownership of the work and continue to sustain it even when you’re gone.
Justine (the guy from my previous post The Amazing Things People Do for Love, who is missing his right leg) teaching a teenager with mental and physical disabilities to write his name.
So again my main jobs are working with natural medicines, home visits, health education, and sustainability for our health program. It is good work and I’m happy to be doing it, but there is still so much to be done.
As far as future projects, I would really like to build and introduce the Tippy Tap to our parish, and if it has a positive response from the community, we will be able to promote it’s usage in schools. The Tippy Tap is a very basic hand washing device that can be made with wood, ropes, and large water containers. There are several diseases and infections we would like to help prevent, especially the ones spread through fecal-oral transmission, given that many school toilets do not have toilet paper and most don’t even have water. “So what do the children use to wipe themselves?” I asked… I was a bit surprised when I found out the answer is “their left hand”. This is a common practice in developing countries where water and toilet paper are not readily available. So! Given these circumstances, I would really like to build and introduce the Tippy Tap to promote better hand washing.
The tippy tap (I don’t know what language that is, but at least you see the toilet and how the tippy tap works)
Being here in mission in Tanzania is such a rare and unique experience and there are many instances I find myself thinking “wow, this is so much more than a tourist could ever experience.” My friends, family, and welcomed readers, it is a pleasure to have you journeying with me, seeing these people and this culture through my eyes, and I would like to take the opportunity now to invite you all to help me in this good work to be done. I remember, before I left, many of you mentioned to me how much you would have liked to have had the opportunity to experience mission and serving the people, and I am so glad for all of your good intentions and desire to do good in the world. So now, let me be your eyes, ears, hands and hearts for the people in need here in Tanzania. Please consider being a friendly sponsor by visiting my support page (just click the Support tab that is located near the top of this page).
Much love and peace!
Video below: A new video series I have begun to watch is the Poverty Cure. It talks about our good intentions to help the poor in developing countries by ways that actually help instead of causing more problems. I am happy to say that Maryknoll Lay Missioners are sensitive to how our help impacts the communities we work with and we try to focus on what can be done to empower the people so that they can achieve sustainability.