Mwaya Mondays- Vol. 42

Monday, 27 May 2013

Mwaya Mondays Vol. 42- By RIPPLE Africa volunteer Kate Sutherland:

Well it seems to have fallen to me this week to write about my experiences here at Mwaya. My name is Kate and I have been here for nearly four weeks now – difficult to know where the time has gone! This really is an amazing place, as my predecessors on the blog have confirmed.

Malawi gets to you – the proud friendly people, beautiful children and wonderful scenery. Although lacking so many of the trappings of modern life (mobile phones excluded!) which seem so important to us back home, Malawians seem remarkably content. Life for the volunteers is simple at Mwaya but we suffer no serious deprivation. The wonderful staff here seem to take us under their wings, treating us like members of their own family and any thought of dietary restrictions flew out of the window on the first day.

I came out here as a recently retired GP from Edinburgh. (Being Scottish almost makes me an honorary Malawian especially in this year of David Livingston’s bicentennial). Perhaps naively, I thought that I would be able to save the nation! In reality, they are already trying hard to do that themselves. I have sat in a number of clinics with nurses and clinical assistants and remain in awe of their ability to “process” so many patients every day. They draw largely on their own experience in assessing who is significantly ill, but they are also very aware of the limitations in their resources. Yes, medications are sometimes in short supply but despite this the medical system works surprisingly well. There is scope of course for improvement and further training and that is where volunteers can hopefully help.

I have been helping regularly with the under 5s clinics which take place weekly, often in remote villages. They are wonderful affairs, attended by perhaps up to 100 women with their young children. Clinics start with health education in the form of singing and often dancing, followed by a disorderly” queue” to have children weighed and immunised (and mums too if necessary). The whole process takes about 4 hours but is clearly a great social occasion, if exhausting!

I have also found a niche helping with antenatal care and was lucky enough to assist in the birth of a baby last week. It was a surreal experience. The usual birthing area was already being used by someone else, so delivery was carried out in the postnatal room. While the other mothers were all excluded, their new babies were not. One by one the babies woke up and had to be re-connected with their mums, all while the poor patient was labouring. Then before the final push, I glimpsed a chicken wandering through the room! I am happy to report that the end result was a healthy bouncing girl!! As I contentedly left the room, I swear I spied a pregnant dog waiting in the queue for the ante- natal clinic. All creatures are dealt with here!

There have been some changes here at Mwaya this week. Harry and Morgan have returned to the UK for a few weeks but will be back. This weekend we have said goodbye to nurses, Triona and Mark who have made a huge impact in the last two months, working in the clinics, sharing their experience with the clinical staff there, teaching first aid to the preschool teachers and befriending and supporting many of the young people in the Health Club, and much more. We will miss them and wish them well on their return to Dublin.

But life moves on and we welcomed Susie, Toby and Paul yesterday with more newcomers expected over the next few weeks.
I shall close with a few of my impressions of Malawi so far – the red moon rising over the lake, the milky way seen to perfection in the absence of light pollution, the constant sound of the waves on the shore and the creaking and rattling of the giant bamboo at night. Finally, the other day, I felt completely at ease as I cycled, on my own for the first time, the 7 km to Kande clinic in the morning sunshine. I had the road virtually to myself, passing through an unspoilt landscape, the air cool, a gentle breeze in my face and receiving cheery greetings from everyone I passed. Perfection!