A wise woman once said "as you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, and one for helping others." During our time at Save a Life Centre we definitely saw this philosophy in action. For those of you who don't know what Save a Life Centre is, it is an organization started by a lovely woman named Lihana. Caregivers and children that are malnourished meet once a week to receive baby milk and food, teachings important to families (malaria,TB, malnutrition), and the word of God, necessary for the child's full recovery. Worker from the Save a Life team also visit the children and there families in their home setting to give advice on hygiene, how to care for their children, and reinforce the teachings made that week.
During our first day at the Save a Life Centre, we felt slightly out of place. Clearly we are not in Canada anymore. This was very noticeable when receiving a child from the hospital. What I noticed was that when a child is considered to have a "chronic condition" they are not the first priority. The child we received got into a car crash 3 months ago and was suffering from a skull fracture that was misdiagnosed. When the child started to experience headaches the family brought the child in and for care where the child was diagnosed with a hematoma. At this point the child had deteriorated extensively. When Lihana decided to take in this child, I eagerly went to the hospital with her. This was my first experience of witnessing severe malnutrition. Laying on a bed, in a crowded paediatric ward was a boy trying to survive. Words cannot describe how thin this boy was. You could see every bone and every crevice on his body. The boy was continually grinding his teeth and yelling whenever someone would touch him. I couldn't imagine the pain this boy must have been in it made my heart hurt. When the translator explained that we were now going to Save a Life Clinic the parent picked up the child expecting them to stand. Without a hesitation Lihana picked up the boy, cradled the child in her arms and began to carry the child back to the vehicle. You could clearly see the passion Lihana has for her job and Zambia. If this 8 year old boy had been admitted into a hospital in a high-income country, his care wouldn't have been drawn out for so long. Tears began to fill in Jaclyn and my eyes when we realized the limited resources available at Lewanika General Hospital and the Save a Life Clinic. This almost made us feel helpless since we have become so accustomed to all the support and resources Canadian hospitals have to offer. Rather than focusing on what we don't have, we had to improvise and begin to think outside our comfort zone. Nilene and Lissette, physicians working at the centre, were a huge resource for us.
One philosophy we learned is that most families in Mongu have as many children as possible because some children will likely die. This harsh reality is quite shocking for Jaclyn and I - that malnutrition, children raising children, and child death is so expected. In the picture below are two siblings. One is a year and a half and one is four months. When the boy was 6 months the mother became pregnant again thus seized breast feeding. The boy began to show signs of malnutrition. The boy may look fairly chubby but he is full of fluid due to not enough protein in his body. Him and his sister are similar in size due to the boy being malnourished, which has stunted his growth. The team at Save a Life said since the boy has been admitted into the clinic he has been showing signs of improvement. He's begun to play and smile which makes the save a life team cherish their jobs.
As many of you may remember doing when you were children, is the filling of shoe boxes to be sent to Africa for the children. When we were at save a life we had the opportunity be on the other side and see the children from the school open their boxes of love. This was amazing to be able to see the happiness that this brought to the children. The children were overjoyed with everything they received from sunglasses to clothes to toys. The smiles from ear to ear on the children's faces was absolutely heartwarming and a reminder of how happy these children are with the little they have. Seeing this was a simple reminder of despite the sadness and hardships felt by many people in this country, there are those happy moments that show the amount of love in their hearts.
These experiences opened our eyes to the difficulties that face Lihana and her Save a Life team every day. Thank you Save a Life team for pushing us out of our comfort zone and making us feel so welcomed
Lots of love,
Jaclyn and Trisha