I Left my Heart in Africa

We stood on the tarmac, bleary eyed from the jet-lag and sticky from the humidity. But there were smiles all around. We had made it to Lusaka. To Zambia. To Africa.

Africa has always been on my bucket list. It has always seemed vibrant, eclectic, and full of life. Yet, it was also this mythical, faraway place. I couldn’t believe I was actually there!

Our International Medical Relief team was comprised of 30 people from all over the United States. We were different ages, came from different backgrounds, and had varying levels of medical experience. Yet, it felt like we had known each other for years. I was impressed by how quickly we all came together, to work effectively as a team. And how much fun we had in the evenings after long days in the sun.

The day after we arrived, we hit the ground running and began our first of five pop-up clinic days. We traveled to a refugee camp, several rural health centers, a boarding school, and finally a prison. We loaded the bus with medical supplies, equipment, and medicine in the mornings, and returned to our hotel 12 hours later, depleted. But, in five days we saw over 2,000 people.

Providing healthcare was challenging because long term solutions are often difficult to implement. However, there were some extremely sick people that we were able to diagnosis and treat. We saw a young girl with Tuberculosis, a boy with River Blindness, and instances of Malaria. We treated a lot of STDs, headaches, eye pain, and dental pain. We also cared for many pregnant women and cute babies. Yet, despite these challenges, the locals we spoke with were resilient and happy. Warm and kind. Gracious and thankful.

During one of our rural health days, the doctors were called outside. There they saw a woman sitting in the bed of a cart, having just been pulled 10 km by two oxen. One of the tires was flat, but she didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see an American doctor. She had parasites in her feet and legs and was unable to walk. Our providers were able to determine the cause and put her on a course of antibiotics and anti-parasitic medications to treat the infection.

After all the clinics were completed we had the opportunity to venture into the Lower Zambezi National Park and stay in the game park. We relaxed in a beautiful lodge where we saw hippos, elephants, warthogs, and monkeys up close and personal. We were able to see the wildlife in their natural habitat – on the river and in the park. I think all of us were struck by the natural beauty and sheer wildness of it all. It felt untouched, like a place where humans still lived in harmony with the animals and the environment. It was the perfect way to end a perfect trip.

I am beyond grateful to have had an experience like this. I cannot thank the Making a Difference Foundation, International Medical Relief, the 20 dental students who acted as our translators, and our entire Zambian team enough! It’s easy to become jaded in our day-to-day lives, but having the ability to reconnect with people, nature, and why giving back is so important, is an incredible gift. This change in perspective is something I hope to hold onto. I’m thankful for the warm welcome from the Zambian people and the chance to help others.

About the author

Margaret Vallejo

I am passionate about helping others make a difference - in their backyards or around the world. When not working for others you can find me spending time in the mountains, with friends, and family.

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