Today we speak to past Frontier volunteer Rhiannon Walker who spent two weeks on the Kenya Local Health Clinics project. We asked her about the ins and outs of the project...
Into The Wild: Why did you choose the Kenya Local Health Clinics Project?
Rhiannon: I chose this project because I want to go into a medical profession so this was great experience and has allowed me to see how other countries' healthcare compares to ours.
Into The Wild: Why did Kenya appeal to you as a country to travel in?
Rhiannon: I have always wanted to visit Africa and as there was a project which I wanted to do based there, I chose to go.
Into The Wild: What work did you undertake on the project? Did you specialise or undertake a wide range of tasks?
Rhiannon: I spent most of my time in the Maternity ward of St. Luke's Missionary Hospital and undertook a wide range of tasks such as assisting with births, weighing and measuring newborn babies and suctioning their airways, to general jobs such as tiding up the ward, putting instruments away and prepping things to send for sterilisation.
Into The Wild: Describe a typical day on the project?
Rhiannon: A typical day involved getting up around 7.30 for breakfast, and be on the way to the hospital at 8, arriving there about half past. When I arrived, I would see what needed to be done or if anyone needed any assistance in the Maternity ward. If they did, I would help as much as I could. If not, I would go to theatre to watch different operations or go to another section of the hospital and see if I could help there. If I was in the Mat ward, I would be given a brew and bread (on its own, they thought it was weird we have stuff on it like butter or things to make a sandwich!) around 11:30am and have a little break as long as nothing was happening. I had my lunch about 1:30pm and then finished my day at around 4pm. The days were flexible so if I was involved in something I might not leave until 5:30pm, or leave at 3pm if nothing was happening.
Into The Wild: What was it like working in such a rural setting?
Rhiannon: Working in a rural setting was a lot different as just simple things like having to walk to the hospital rather than drive or catch a bus helped me to realise how lucky we are in England. The hospital itself was so different as the things that I would have taken for granted, like a working stethoscope, was something which they didn't have. They also didn't have Vitamin K injections which is something very basic in England, nor working incubators which unfortunately needed to work during the time I was there. They didn't have many staff, and Malebma (head Midwife) said to me she is a Midwife, Nurse, Cleaner, Social Worker and a Counsellor and wishes she could just do one job.
Into The Wild: What were the people you were treating like?
Rhiannon: The people I was treating barely spoke English, but I could tell they were grateful that I was helping them as I tried to make them comfortable and feel relaxed. The Midwives were very "shouty" and "to the point" with them and didn't treat them as individuals. I thought it was very important to appear friendly with the women as labour is a scary time and I felt they needed people around who were relaxed to help them feel better. I think I did this well as I was a lady's birthing partner and she was holding my hand afterwards and kept saying "Thank you!" to me which was really nice. It is also good luck in their traditions to have a Mzungu (white person) at the birth of a child so I think they liked that I was there!
Into The Wild: How did the clinics compare to Western hospitals and surgeries?
Rhiannon: The main difference with the clinics was the theatre in the hospital. It was a big room with two metal beds covered in thick plastic sheets to help ease with the cleaning afterwards. The Drip Stands were made of either wood (which soaked up all the bodily fluids) or poles which you hold your washing line up with. There were windows which were made of glass slats which gives access to any insects or debris that may decide to come in. Even though the instruments were everywhere, the Doctors and Surgeons were careful to make sure nothing was touched before it was needed, i.e. only taking off a needle cap just before it was used to make sure it was still sterile.
Into The Wild: How was the project different to your previous volunteering experiences?
Rhiannon: This project was very different to any of my other volunteering experiences because I've never volunteered abroad before. It has opened my eyes though to how Third World Countries have to struggle with basic things which we all take for granted.
Into The Wild: What is your favourite memory from the project?
Rhiannon: I think my favourite moment was when a lady who had been in labour for a very long time finally gave birth, and within 4 minutes of her giving birth, another mother-to-be waddled in and had her baby almost immediately! It was then down to me to swap and change between the two babies, weighing them and suctioning their airways, being careful to change gloves and the end of the tube to make sure that there was no cross-infection. It was great and really exciting to be in charge of both babies, and great to see how happy the mums were afterwards.
Into The Wild: Has the project helped you in your future career goals?
Rhiannon: It has helped me to decide that I defiantly want to work in the NHS but also to possibly raise awareness of how little they have in Africa, particularly St. Lukes. I bought them a mobile before I left so that they can track down Doctors more easily, as they have a tendency to come in later in the morning/afternoon if they stayed late the day before.
Into The Wild: Did you do anything in addition to your project whilst in Kenya?
Rhiannon: I also spent two days at the end of my trip on a safari in Tsavo where I went with Joel and another volunteer who I met called Jess. It was such a nice two days and great to stay somewhere where there was an actual shower with hot water!
The time after work was spent with the local children from the houses next to where I lived. They were so nice and some of them spoke good English. They taught me how to dance African style and I taught them hand clapping songs. I bought them loads of toys and clothes before I left as they didn't have much, a couple of footballs and string they used to jump over.
I also was lucky enough to go with another volunteer to a local school and helped teach there for a day. It was a shock to see the standard of the school and classrooms compared to what we have, but all the staff there were volunteers and they have a lot of enthusiasm for what they do which was great to see.
By Maria Sowter