In November 2015 I travelled to Kenya with Friends of Buburi, a UK registered charity, to work as a volunteer in a small community clinic in the rural county of Busia, near the border with Uganda.
I always knew I had a passion for travel and working abroad and as a student midwife I had my elective placement, in Zambia, in the Salvation Army’s Chikankata Mission.
Since qualifying as a midwife in 2012, I again yearned to work abroad and use my skills in a developing country. However, I was keen to gain further knowledge and experience before committing to such a challenge.
In 2015 I commenced my Diploma in Tropical Nursing (DTN) at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. During the course, Noreen, a trustee of Friends of Buburi, presented a lecture about the work of the charity and how she delivered a breech baby, totally unaided, without any resources available if resuscitation was required! I was inspired! I ran down after the lecture and discussed how and when I could, if possible, come out with the charity and gain some experience. Noreen seemed delighted that I was a midwife and was very keen to sign me up to go as soon as possible after completion of my DTN course.
So on 5th November 2015, I found myself sitting in London Heathrow Costa with Sallie Buck and Jackie Hamer, trustees of Friends of Buburi, and Jackie’s daughter Katherine Hamer, who is an avid photographer and interested in the work of the clinic.
We flew from England to Nairobi and then on to Kisumu. This flight did not go smoothly as the plane was incredibly hot and I fainted twice and awoke on my back, white as a sheet with Sallie holding my legs in the air! The flight from Nairobi to Kisumu was a bit more straightforward and I managed to remain conscious for the entire flight.
On landing in Kisumu we took a taxi from the airport to the Duke of Breeze hotel in the city centre which was to be our base for the next few days. From here we stocked up on essential drugs and supplies for the clinic. We also visited the shores of Lake Victoria for some relaxation before setting out for the clinic.
We stayed in the grounds of the clinic no more than 50 metres from the clinic itself in a single storey house with no electricity or running water and a squat toilet.
We filtered water we collected from the bore hole or rain water collected from the roof into a huge collection tank next to the house – this often contained mealworms, so I was thankful for the filtration system. We ate dinner by candlelight and went to bed in the dark.
I had a little torch which I attached to my bra strap so my hands were free! There was a shower. Water was heated in a big pan with three large hot rocks underneath and then poured into a large water tank up a rickety ladder. The warm water then poured down a tiny tube and trickled out of the shower.
The clinic itself comprised an HIV testing room/ antenatal and delivery room, a laboratory, pharmacy, reception, dressing room and a consulting room.
Whilst I was there I sat in on consultations and saw a variety of patients with different aliments and conditions. The clinic ran smoothly and reasonably efficiently, considering the clinic often saw 90 patients a day. The commonest conditions were malaria and typhoid, with at least 3-4 diagnoses of each per day.
I delivered two healthy babies whilst I was there in the tiny delivery room which also doubled up as the HIV testing room when there were no labouring women present. The deliveries both went smoothly and syntocinon, a uterotonic drug, was given for the third stage of labour, which is common practice in the UK to assist in the delivery of the placenta and to reduce the risk of post-partum haemorrhage. Each mother left the clinic on the back of a motorbike, carrying their baby in their arms.
I found the experience a challenge but one that was very rewarding. I came away feeling very grateful for the facilities we have in the UK and vowed to not take them for granted. I also felt very privileged to be involved in such a close-knit community.
Alice Cox RM BSc DTN