Days Five and Six – January 29 and 30, 2011
One of the best things about IU House is that it is a type of communal living. My House is across the street from Dr. Joe and Saraellen Mamlin and I saw them soon after my arrival on Friday morning. The dining hall does not serve meals on Friday, Saturday or Sunday so the first thing that Joe said was why don’t you join a group of us for dinner tonight. This is the most precious invitation ever because any of the visiting guests are invited and the dinner conversation is all about different projects happening around the AMPATH Center.
You are always blessed with meeting Indiana people and and I was lucky tonight to meet Dr. Tal and Betsy Bosin. Dr. Bosin is professor emeritus of Pharmacology and Toxicology at Indiana University Medical Department at Bloomington. They have made many trips to Eldoret and we know many people in common. He is doing exciting work with medical students in a village medical setting. Dr. Larry Goldblatt, IU Dental School and Rose ( last name escapes me, sorry) joined us for dinner. We went to Mama Mia’s Italian restaurant not far from the IU campus and their food was great and service even better. Everyone loves Dr. Joe and Saraellen.
Rose did her medical residency at the AMPATH Center a few years ago and now has been employed as the Director of Emergency Services in the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital where she must see some of the most difficult cases. Rose sees victims of rape, sexual abuse and domestic abuse when they first come to the emergency room. I have talked before about the rigorous paper work that is required before “defilement” cases can even be charged and Rose and I both agreed that in our long range planning we should include a nurse that could take needed information, perform tests and guide them to LACE for prosecution. This, of course, would help us both.
At the next table to us were a group of engineers tied into AMPATH from the U.S. who had engineered and dug the well for a nearby village. They were quite exuberant over their achievement since water access is one of the most pressing problems in most of Kenya. Dr. Tal and Betsy Bosin came in as we were leaving with their guests from Eldoret that they had known, I believe, from a public health connection. These people we meet become life long friends.
At dinner, Dr. Joe and Saraellen invited us to join them the next morning to attend a dedication ceremony in a village near the Turbo Clinic that AMPATH operates. Little did I know, I was in for the experience of my life that leads me to strengthen my support for AMPATH and the LACE project.
We left at 9:00 a.m. and those who know Dr. Joe know we had to be punctual and know that we would probably be the first ones there. It was a jolly group – Dr. Joe, Saraellen, Dr. Tal, Betsy, Dr. Goldblatt and me. The roads are better but they are still full of potholes and speed bumps. I forgot to mention the speed bumps that are place every few miles until you are outside the city. This is the Uganda Road which goes from Uganda to Mombasa so there is heavy truck traffic, pedestrian traffic and all types of transportation including the crazy mutatas which is the public transportation. One word about the mutatas. They are generally van type vehicles that have crazy paintings on their side, slogans, etc, bananas and other fruit on the top carriers and they are so packed with people it looks like a clown car. Usually two young men have the sliding doors open and stand on the side step in order to get people in and out quickly and, of course, get the fares. They weave in and out of traffic as quickly as possible and mainly create more havoc than already exists in traffic. After a few bumps – wherewe hit our heads on the top of the SUV we were travelling in – we stopped at the Turbo clinic where Dr. Joe works two days a week. We picked up Rachel who is the director of that clinic for the last 9 years and is a nurse practitioner and physician’s assistant. Dr. Joe said that these clinics would not operate unless we had such wonderful people as Rachel who lives on the grounds.
While travelling through Turbo, which was the center of a lot of the post-election violence, Dr. Joe and Rachel told us that most of the buildings we were seeing had been burned to the ground. There was a car lot where 50 cars had been parked and all had been destroyed. Along side the road, you could still see black patches where transport trucks and other vehicles had been burned and people killed. Dr. Joe said that one of the semis had been carrying coffee and it burned for weeks. You didn’t need a coffee house because the smell alone would give you a caffeine high.
We arrived at the village where Kimbilio Hospice was situated and turned on dirt roads that had ruts 1-2 feet deep from the rainy seasons when it turns to mud. The trick is to drive around them which is impossible but we made it. The day was picture perfect with the clearest bluest skies in the world, cotton ball clouds and the softest breeze that held you in its arms.
Kimbilio Hospice was a miracle to behold. It is a 26 bed, inpatient hospice that houses adults and children living with terminal illness. Their pamphlet states that their services include: management of pain and other symptoms and provision of psychological, social and spiritual support. Admission to Kimbilio and length of stay is determined by the assessment and recommendation of the Living Room team and the availability of beds.
I encourage each of you to visit the website of www.LivingRoomInternational.org to discover the miracles that one person can accomplish. Julie McGowan, its founder, first volunteered to work with Empowered Living International, a Christian group delivering inspired services to many people in Kenya. After working with them for a while she lived with Pastor Dave and his wife, Allison. She brought home two malnourished babies that no one wanted to care for and the three of them fed these babies every two hours–one of them died but one of them survived. Later in the day Julie addressed the group and explained that was the beginning but it mattered less what the results were than the process of caring for these children that everyone else had abandoned and treated like their life did not matter. This began her mission to provide palliative care to provide quality of life for individuals and families facing advanced disease.
Julie showed us the Hospice which is not complete but has all the concrete in place, wiring done, rooms walled in and the back veranda is open to the most beautiful view of the countryside. She plans to bring mattresses outside to the deck to allow patients to be outdoors in their last days of life. We saw the kitchen that is basically a well-ventilated open pit oven with good counters for cutting their many fresh vegetables and meat. For this community celebration they had over 100 people preparing the food for 1000 people. I have heard of community events but have only experienced such love with Julie and her Living Room International program.
After Julie’s experience treating people at the end of life she went to talk to Dr. Mamlin at AMPATH and they have worked together on her project to prepare for this wonderful day. She is truly his protégé and he calls her an angel. After a few years she went back to her church community in Los Angeles. It is a Christian Assembly Church and over 3000 of its members sponsored this project with money and prayers. She came back to Eldoret with $2-300,000 dollars to build her dream. In fact, her pastor, Mark and the assistant pastor Tom were at the dedication and pledged their continued support.
After touring the Hospice, Julie took our party to the 3-sided open tent that had been erected for their visiting dignitaries and community people. As I told you, they are very respectful of ceremony and honoring those who have helped them. The dedication was supposed to begin about 12:00 but those of you who know Kenyan ceremonies, everyone took their time. But time became irrelevant as each person was able to speak their heart about the meaningfulness of this Hospice in their community.
The ceremony began with the school children dancing and singing for their guests. This particular school was started for the many orphans in this area – most of them because of parents and other family members dying of AIDS. There is still such a stigma that surviving family members will not take AIDS children in. The second group of school children who danced were from the local school. Later, a very distinguished guest that came and spoke was their local commissioner – seemed like a county commissioner – in charge of their schools. They now have many children who finish the 8th grade provided for them in the community but then do not have the money or willingness perhaps to go to the next form. The Commissioner spoke to this crowd about the importance of education and how the future of their community depended on these educated people coming back and helping them support each other. Julie told us of a particular AIDS orphan who was very bright and they are trying to get him to the next form.
Other distinguished guests included the Area Commissioner -who might be equivalent to our state legislators – the Indian family who built the Hospice, the Living Room Board of Directors, many pastors offering prayer and another doctor from AMPATH talking about servant leadership. Of course, Dr. Mamlin was treated with such love and respect and was able to tell his story of how he got involved with HIV/Aids treatment by seeing one of his Kenyan medical students in the Aids ward – Daniel – and understood immediately that something had to be done. Beginning with this one patient, they are now treating 1200 patients.
But, of course, Julie was the main attraction for all. She kept reminding us who the real special guests of honor were – the three women who were dying of AIDS and were brought back to life through the help of AMPATH medicine, services and the village clinic’s follow-up. They all stood up and gave thanks to the crowd and it was incredibly moving.
But the most moving words I have ever heard – and I have heard many – came from Julie. She talked about her journey to this place and this is the place she chooses to live. She extended her love and care for each individual who was in the community – and by now there were 1,000 people there because it was getting time for food to be served. She had in her arms, while she spoke, Flovia, a 5 year old girl, who had been abandoned and left to die who was now quite lively and beautiful. Her words were about others and the message all day was about losing the self and loving your neighbors. I was so incredibly fortunate to be in a place where you could see this message in action and the outpouring of love was palpable and strong.
Of course, the ceremony is now at least an hour behind the time scheduled and there are other people who were to give prayers but Julie is also a wonderful administrator and went immediately to the exchange of gifts which was a very important part of the ceremony. A group of villagers from nearby gave Julie a sheep and a group of Kalenjen women gave her an elaborate robe they had made for her, Pastor Dave received a cane that is a very important symbol of leadership in their community. Other dignitaries received coffee cups that said The Living Room – probably brought by the American pastors for such an event.
Now, about 3:00, it is time to eat. You cannot imagine the food. The “dignitaries” were able to go back to the Hospice to eat on the open air veranda. I’m not sure all that was served, but Julie told me that a bull had been butchered for the event. There was much rice, chicken, beans, topped with a vegetable soup and a special broth on top. It was delicious.
So ended a day I shall never forget and one has once again affirmed the purpose that I feel as I travel to Kenya or serve in my community. I am a member of the Board of Directors of the Indianapolis Health Foundation which helps to sponsor the AIDS fund in Indianapolis. Please ask me about these organizations when I see you but better yet, find those partners in giving that speak to you and the community you want to serve. It will change your life.