Ten Things About Volunteering At A Hospital In Rural Kenya You Should Know Before You Go.
1. You’ll realize you’re a doctor.
Treated as an equal by your medical peers around you, doing hospital rounds every morning, and giving your feedback on patient cases will quickly have you realizing how much you know and can contribute in a Western medical environment.
2. There may or may not be running water.
What you think might be essential at a hospital is not the case in Kenya. Most days of the week at noon the water would shut off and not come back on again. I never learned why that happened, but where there is no water, there certainly is no soap.
3. The doctors, nurses, and medical staff are sharp.
They aren’t lacking in intelligence, they’re just lacking in educational opportunities. Bring your knowledge, share your knowledge, and help them grow.
4. It’s not uncommon to open up a drawer and find it full of dead bugs.
Sanitation levels are entirely different then what you might be use to. Your need to be able to adapt to this environment is crucial to being involved with this work.
5. The patients are incredibly grateful for your treatments.
It’s a different type of thanks one receives in a setting where good medical care isn’t taken for granted, doctors are few and far between, and death is a common occurrence.
6. Your meals will be repetitive and your digestion could take a beating.
Rice, flat bread, cornmeal with water, lentils, sometimes vegetables, or meat. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I did my best to avoid any raw food as an attempt to steer clear of bacteria. However, my plan backfired. I was left with a pretty unpleasant case of traveler’s diarrhea for a good majority of the time I was there, which even kept me home from the hospital one day. Be prepared for this to happen and always take care of your health first.
7. Don’t forget you’re in a hospital.
Sometimes patients are vomiting behind you as you’re treating someone else, there’s open wounds oozing with infection you’re needling around, HIV is common here, and there are sick feverish patients you’re treating with undiagnosed causes. On the flip side you’re treating cases you wouldn’t treat everyday and witnessing the power of Eastern medicine in it full glory.
8. The trip to and from the hospital each day is no stroll in the park.
Long, hot, bumpy and 30-45 minutes each way every day. Make sure you’ve used the bathroom before you leave, as well as bring some water. As long as the drive was it was still one of my favorite parts to the day, as all the little ones stared, smiled, waved and yelled at me, “Mzungu!” the Swahili nickname for white person.
9. The beauty is unmatchable.
Having visited during the rainy season, everything was lush and growing. Stunning rolling hillsides, epic sunsets, and the greenest of green I’ve ever seen. Top that off with the kindest, most welcoming, fully present people and you’ve stumbled into a little slice of healing the world heaven.
10. If you can survive all of that your heart will bust wide open, fill with compassion, and a new depth of gratitude will be acquired from one of the best experiences of your life.