OkaZHI: Okanagan-Zambia Health Initiative

Living Within Means

As nurses, we not only provide care to patients, but use knowledge and intuition to teach people and their families how they can help themselves… this is called empowerment.

Rianne and I relocated this past week to an outreach clinic that help severely malnourished babies and children to gain weight. This clinic is apart of the Mongu chapter of ‘Village of Hope’ (VOH)- this is a non-profit organization that helps vulnerable children all over Africa from providing them with a sponsor, so that they can have a home, eat, go to school and have a chance at life. The clinic is ran and owned by one woman who was passionate and dedicated to helping children survive this unjustifiable burden. The sick children that we are familiar with have detrimental diseases, such as cancer. No child should die because of a lack of food was the underpinning of her work and beliefs.

Our first day went from teaching to being in the clinic and then going to different huts for home visits. We did a nutrition teaching session to a few of the mothers in the village and the ‘house moms’ who lived in the orphanage homes. We have never been to a Mongu hut or have seen the available resources on a personal level, so when we presented our teaching, we thought it was basic knowledge to keep food safe and clean. We went over covering the food, ensuring that you store your food in a cool place (fridge) after cooking, how to keep it away from insects (cockroaches, flies and spiders) and to cut meat into small portions so it cooks to the middle. Well… did we just do a teaching session that didn’t even relate to what these women had. No one had a fridge, there was no time to cut meat into small portions for 6-12 children, there was no house that could keep insects out, because it was wood, mud and some metal sheets on a dirt ground. This was ‘their’ life, not ours, and we learned quick about how teaching a ‘basic’ nutrition session wasn’t really that basic.

Our work at the VOH clinic ranged from diagnosing, treating and providing medication from our diagnosis. This was something the both of us were not familiar with, but with support and using our knowledge of the common diseases in the area, we pulled through. We saw mostly children as there was a VOH elementry school right behind us and a few of the workers in the field.

Then there were the home visits. We are always practicing ‘efficiency’ and how we should be fairly fast to assess and see all of our patients, so that we can get our work done, but we weren’t on anyone’s schedule but our own… which is a very different pace than what we are accustomed to. We walked on average 3-4 hours in the blistering heat and on the sand with our heavy shetangeys (dress wraps) and umbrellas. For all that traveling and walking, we only saw 2-4 huts a day… seems like so much work for little pay off.

The ah-ha moment didn’t come to us until we went into the homes… now we understand what it is like,  living within means and these women did. We asked about their food situation, where babe and mom slept, how they were doing with their mico-business and what were the challenges that they were facing at the moment. Most were very happy and had no concerns as most of the kuku’s (grandmothers), sisters, aunts and other family members supported one another. It is such a strong sense of family and community. The most unfortunate part was to see often that the fathers of the children were not around… but the women are so independent and strong. They smiled when we told them their baby was healthy, fat and that they were doing a wonderful job. Seeing these huts for the first time made us so grateful to always have a roof over our head at the end of the day, and a bed to go home to.

The women bowed and were so grateful, giving up their only stool so we could sit down during our visits. When we said our goodbyes, a mother who spoke clear English said,
“Thank you for coming to Mongu and visiting us, the work you are doing really is a blessing.”

And isn’t that why we do this? 
Because we really do feel blessed by empowering those to live within their means…

Alicia and Rianne

Our canoe ride from a hut visit (on top of the 3-4 hour walk!)

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