July 4th 2013,
Medical mission work concentrated in a hospital such as Tenwek can accomplish great things in terms of helping the sick and the poor. Yet, it is not the only means by which this goal can be achieved. Often, the financial and geographic situation of the inhabitants of local communities inhibits their coming to the hospital, thereby, leaving a large portion physically and spiritually unreached. Venturing into these communities and demonstrating Christ’s love through the bringing of medical aid is another significant branch of medical missions. That being said, spreading medical care in this manner can only be basic – fostering small steps forward in community development. On Independence Day, I had the opportunity to travel to a village called Ilmotiook to aid in the immunization of the Kenyan babies.
Although Tenwek organized the project, the supplies (syringes, vaccines, and vitamins) were located at a government-funded dispensary. After picking up these supplies , a group of ten of us (6 Kenyans, 1 South Korean, 1 Cameroonian, 2 Americans) made our way up over bumpy, unpaved roads to Ilmotiook . Our work-site was an empty, single story cement building adjacent to the local church. Our goal was to give four different vaccines and one vitamin to over a 100 babies that had amassed with their mothers outside the church. The crowd was organized and vaccinated according to age: all babies received one shot for pneumonia, one shot for Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, and influenza, and an oral vaccination for polio. Babies aged 9-months and older also received one shot for measles and one pill as a vitamin A supplement.
Due to lack of training, my role was not to inject the vaccines, but to fill the syringes, drop the liquid polio vaccines into babies’ mouths, and pass out vitamins. Perhaps the most unique aspect of my duty was attempting to overcome the formidable language barrier. At the hospital, most patients could speak enough English to understand the essence of what I was saying. In Ilmotiook, most mothers spoke no English, understanding greetings at most. I had to rely heavily on non-verbal communication. I became proficient at motioning to my mouth for the polio vaccine and acting out the procedure of tearing the casing off the vitamin A pill and pouring the contents into the child’s mouth. My charades, coupled with my skin color, raised a certain level of suspicion among the mothers, as well as the occasional laugh. After completing the vaccination, I helped to weigh babies as a part of their physical examination.
Participating in community based medical missions was a new and powerful experience for me. It highlighted that even basic medical care is unreachable to a large portion of the Kenyan population, which can have devastating long-term physical and economic consequences. Mission hospitals such as Tenwek can serve as a fortress, providing care for an astonishing variety of medical maladies, as well as a base from which basic medical care can be spread.