News: Interview with founder Joanna Hanks

19th March 2012

As Friends of Buburi founder and trustee, Joanna Hanks, prepares for her 9th visit to the clinic, we ask our Facebook fans ‘If you could ask Joanna anything, what would it be?’. Here are their questions and her answers…

When and why did you decide to start up the charity?

I originally volunteered with AidCamps International in 2003 to build a health clinic in the rural community of Buburi. I envisaged a one-off opportunity for a unique experience. However, once I was out in Buburi and started working with the people, seeing the desperate need for the project, gaining a small understanding of their difficulties and challenges, I signed up there and then to return the following year to help with a planned Orphan Centre. When this did not happen I could not bear to think of the people left with nothing but empty promises and an empty building. I knew I had to do something to help. That’s when I decided to do all I could to get the health centre opened and assist with the initial setting up costs. Even at this stage I did not envisage long term commitment.

In 2005, I returned to Buburi and with the support of St Mary’s Hospital and Isle of Wight GP Surgeries, I took more than 200kg of vital supplies to Buburi to enable the health centre to start seeing patients. As an opening celebration, the centre ran a free clinic day, treating more than 270 patients. There were no funds to provide salaries to the nursing staff, but clinics continued daily thanks to their hard work and dedication. It was at this stage that it slowly dawned on me that if I was determined to help set this health clinic up it would involve more than this one visit.

How do you manage to fit in your charity work around a full time job and family life?

This is probably the part of trying to run the charity that I find the most challenging and the one thing that I struggle with most. I often feel I haven’t got the right balance. I try and juggle the needs of a very demanding and intense full time role as a specialist nurse with those of the charity, as well as those being a wife, grandmother, mother and daughter. It is not easy but I want to keep trying. This is such a worthwhile project and the need is so great.

Are the Kenyans nice people and are they welcoming to visitors?

The Kenyans are very welcoming and friendly people. Over the years I have known the people of Buburi, I have seen so much kindness, generosity and self sacrifice. Despite living in extreme poverty they always welcome you into their home to share a meal.

What is the hardest part of being a trustee?

I think the hardest part of being a trustee is the responsibility of getting things right for the people in Buburi. I feel so privileged in comparison, it is often easy to just ‘fix’ things financially, but I have to remind myself that we need to equip them with the skills to help themselves in the long term.

What is the best bit of your involvement?

I love the opportunity to be able to visit this remote corner of Africa each year; and to meet up with the amazing group of people living in this community, many of whom I consider to be my friends. I feel very at home out there and it is very rewarding to be able to see the lasting benefits as the clinic and community grow in strength and independence.

What is your favourite memory of your time in Buburi?

There are so many but one memory does stand out. A father came rushing into clinic saying that his wife had just given birth and he was unable to stop the bleeding. The clinic was very busy and no-one else was able to go. I was worried as I have had very little Midwifery training. I grabbed a book – Where there is no Doctor – and a vial of Ergometrine. I followed him on a bike at high speed, down tiny little dusty tracks, my adrenaline was pumping. We eventually arrived at a tiny compound and I was shown into a small mud hut. Mum was lying next to a very small baby and she was bleeding quite profusely. I read the book and applied pressure to her abdomen as instructed. It was so dark in the hut I had to keep going out into the sun to read the next instruction. As the bleeding continued, I decided to give half the Ergometrine injection. Gradually the bleeding started to ease. It was such a relief and I was finally able to stop shaking. Two weeks later the mum came to the clinic with her baby to say thank you. That was a very special moment.

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