Guest Blogger: Eddie Christensen
Making a Difference Foundation Board Member
Why Should I Give Back (by going a Medical Mission)?
India, Kenya, Haiti, Paraguay, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Panama all sound like fun and exotic places – and they most certainly are. But think deeper. How many people have you met from any of these places? Chances are, not very many.
In 2019, I had the opportunity to participate in a humanitarian and health education medical mission to Kenya sponsored by the Making a Difference Foundation and CHOICE Humanitarian. I boarded the long flight from Salt Lake City, Utah to London, UK. From there, I flew another lengthy leg from London, UK to Nairobi, Kenya, and then on to Mombasa, Kenya. From there, I traveled about two hours by van across dusty roads to a remote village by the name of Sakake, Kenya which is somewhere in Southeastern Kenya with Mt. Kilimanjaro as a remote backdrop in the far-off distance.
Sakake is a small, dry, and very remote village with no running water. The population is somewhere around 300, mostly children, depending on which houses you count. Sakake has one small cinderblock school/civic building, and two mud and stick school outbuildings. To the north there is a dry and sparsely dotted grassy field where children can play soccer bare-footed (assuming a soccer ball can be located, and assuming the ball isn’t flat from the stickers littered across the soccer field). Like the small school outbuildings, houses are all built from mud and sticks. None have electricity, glass windows, mattresses, or linens. All cooking is done by fire and the primary staple is ground corn, grown primarily during the rainy season (which seems to be getting shorter each year). Elephants trumpet nearby in the evenings and on occasions you can hear lions growling (hopefully looking at something other than you).
At a nearby village, about 45 minutes by motorcycle, there is a mostly open-air hospital which provides rudimentary medical services, such as labor & delivery, simple urgent care, primary care, vaccinations, pharmacy, and health education services. Most patients are children being treated in an open-air wing for malaria. Roosters freely roam the premises and lots of people (primarily village health representatives, akin to someone with first aid training in the US) are bustling around receiving health education training.
While in Sakake, I helped hand-build over forty school desks for children (who had up till then sat on the dirt floor of the mud and stick schoolhouse), helped lay the foundation of a new school building by collecting and transporting large rocks from a distant rock quarry, participated in public health meetings with various officials (and non-officials) from nearby villages, and assisted with rounds at the nearest open-air hospital.
As evident from the foregoing, this was not your typical medical mission. It had a variety of humanitarian, direct patient care, and public health education elements as its focus. It was challenging, yet very rewarding. I will never forget the children’s exuberance of having a desk to sit at instead of having to sit on the dirt floor while learning – a priceless gift to me.
So back to my introductory question – why should you give back by going on a medical mission? It’s simple – to address something that is missing in your life (perspective) as well as something that is missing in someone else’s life (basic necessities and survival). Although we can’t fix everyone’s political, social, economic, and health issues, we can do just a little bit to fill that small void in our own lives, but which fills a large void in someone else’s. When you return, you will realize it meant much more to you than it did to those you helped.