♥Burkina Faso, West Africa♥
If I can touch the life of any 1 person…Mission Accomplished—Corina, RN
Those words are truly how I felt going into my first medical mission. I did not know what to expect, what we would encounter, how I would be received, if I would really do any good, and ultimately I had no idea at that point how much this experience would actually change me and life as I knew it. Forever I would see the world with new eyes.I’m not sure how to put into words my experience in Burkina Faso because the truth is, unless you experience poverty on this level first hand, there really are no words to describe the array of emotions you will feel and the memories you will never forget.
Burkina Faso, West Africa, October 2011, a VERY HOT and HUMID climate! One of my best friends (who is also a RN) and I were about to embark on a medical mission together and we couldn’t wait to get started at the Village of Hope. Careforce International (founded in 1994) is a Canadian based organization who works with partners in Kenya, Burkina Faso, Dominican Republic and Canada to achieve education in children who suffer from poverty, despair, and hunger in order to bring about change. We were on the medical mission team, which only takes place once a year in Burkina Faso.
The staff at the Village of Hope were truly incredible. Pastor Michel and Lydia Ouedraogo are the founders of the Village of Hope. They are angels along with the entire staff. Everyone was so warm, friendly, helpful and really went above and beyond to make sure our experience there was enjoyable. The women in the kitchen made us the best meals. We were all impressed and always excited to see what they had prepared for us to eat.
There are approximately 455 children living at the Village of Hope who normally wouldn’t have had an opportunity for education. There are dormitories, school buildings, staff and volunteer accommodations, shower and bathroom facilities, kitchen, cafeteria, solar paneled water well and a playground. It really is a “Village of Hope” for these children.
We worked out of the medical clinic located in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso. Our medical team consisted of 16 people not all medically trained and from different walks of life, who wanted to help and contribute in any way they could in this experience. We set up an eye glass clinic and 2 medical clinics within the facility. We had a doctor, nurse practitioner and 3 nurses running the medical clinic and the rest working in the eye glass clinic.
There was also a young doctor who was from Ouagadougou who worked at the medical clinic. I call him this city’s angel doctor. He was extremely intelligent, hard working, sweet and dedicated to his community. We were all so thankful he was there to help us with whatever we needed. He is an amazing man and that city is so lucky to have him!
The first day I worked in the eye clinic where I gave patients eye exams and fitted them with glasses based on their results. It was very rewarding after fitting them with their new glasses and seeing the expression on their face when they could see. The room we worked in that day was extremely hot, had no air conditioning and I basically was continuously and profusely sweating. It’s definitely mentally challenging to stay happy and positive in that environment because the heat makes you feel so exhausted and debilitated. Ultimately I knew I was there for the patients and to help make a change so that’s what I kept my mind focused on.
The rest of my time I spent working in the medical clinic partnered with a doctor on our team. We worked a few days at the clinic in Ouagadougou. The patients we saw had malaria, hypertension (high blood pressure), parasites, HIV and other diseases or illnesses. Pastor Michel announced at his church service that our medical team was at the clinic seeing patients. The turnout was really incredible and overwhelming. There was no way we were able to see everyone so we had to triage the patients according to need. It was hard not to treat everyone, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough time.
One day at the clinic we were in the middle of seeing patients and a loud boom, sounding like a gunshot went off. I was so startled, nervous and scared because I wasn’t sure what was going on. The doctor and I grabbed all the important things we could from the room and we bolted out the door. He ran to see what was going on and I ran outside and found the team. There was smoke everywhere and people scattering as fast as they could. It turned out a fuse box had blown up and was on fire, which created the loud boom sound. A fire extinguisher was used to put the fire out and we were all given masks to wear while the clean up was going on. It was a scary moment for all of us and I’m happy to say that it wasn’t a gunshot.
Working in the medical clinic in Ouagadougou was definitely upsetting at times. First of all there were so many people like I said who arrived, but we had a limited amount of time so we were unable to help everyone. Also we obviously didn’t have access to the type of medical care that is available in the US and Canada, so at times you felt helpless. Resources were slim. After working in the medical clinic for a few days we decided to go and work in a remote village about an hour from the city. I thought I had seen poverty and sickness until we arrived in this village.
Unfortunately the people living here didn’t receive much medical attention because they were unable to make it to the city and didn’t have adequate means of transportation or money to be able to treat their illness or afford medications. We set up our clinic in their local church, which was basically a building with windows and no air conditioning. Again many patients showed up to be treated, but just as before we had a limited amount of time.
The people living out in this remote village area are extremely poor and have many chronic illnesses or diseases. The resources we had access to could not treat some of these people, therefore we had to turn them away, which is an indescribable feeling. Looking a patient in the eyes who is ill and frankly will probably die from their illness, yet there is nothing you can do to help them, is a tough pill to swallow. Many of their chronic illnesses or diseases wouldn’t be chronic if they were living in the US or Canada. So again we had to triage the patients and treat them based on need and available resources.
Working in this village was so poignant for all of us we decided to forego an additional day working at the city clinic and travel back to the remote village to work there, where we all felt our time was better utilized. There are a few patients from the village who I will never forget. I will describe a few of them for you the best I can.
One older man in his 60′s who had a tumor on the left side of his neck the size of a grapefruit. We were all amazed he was still alive and able to breathe. In the US this is a situation where surgery would obviously be required. But again we were in Africa, this man was poor and unable to afford adequate medical treatment. We were not there doing surgery so unfortunately there was nothing we were able to do for him.
Twins approximately 1 year old. One of them with malaria. This child was not alert, weak, had shallow breathing and was malnourished. Most of the children we treated were malnourished and underweight, therefore a child who looked 8 months could really be a year old. So this particular child we treated for malaria had to be rushed to the hospital with a few of our staff in order to survive the next 24 hours. Luckily he was treated with the needed medicine and did survive.
An older man in his 80′s with hypertension (high blood pressure). His blood pressure was extremely high and he had taken blood pressure pills throughout his life, but not consistently. He was sweet and charming, yet never spoke a word. He had a caregiver with him the entire time. We were able to fit him with sunglasses because we wanted to do something, but made the decision not to give him a supply of blood pressure pills for a few weeks, feeling that there was a risk of it doing more harm than good. If he wasn’t on a regimen and didn’t continue taking them after the supply ran out, it could prove more risk then benefit to his heart. Since he had more resources than others, due to the fact that he had previously taken blood pressure pills, we advised him to go back to his original doctor. This man just stood out to me because he was in his 80′s and although he never spoke a word, I could feel he had lived an intense life.
I really had to come to terms while being there that we could not help everyone, but the ones we could made it totally worth it. Also everyone we encountered had a smile on their face no matter what illness or disease they were fighting. Adults and children wanted to shake our hands and were extremely happy just to have us there. All the kids wanted to take photos with us and as soon as we snapped the photo, they wanted to see themselves on the camera, then they would laugh.
Shaking hands with the children was extra special. Their faces would light up with joy, it was amazing! It was as if we were giving them hope for their future and inspiring them just by being there. Some of the best memories were made with the children when we had free time at the Village of Hope. We played soccer with them, played on the playground, handed out “bonbons” (candy), and a few of the boys even taught me how to play the cajón box drum. The simple things in life.
I can never fully explain or portray the experiences I had in Burkina Faso in writing or verbally. It’s a journey so special to me and close to my heart that I think about every day. I wanted to share what I am able to with you so that you can realize what is going on in the world every day, every hour, every minute, every second while you are living your life. People are struggling just to drink clean water, eat one meal a day, receive education, breathe clean air and just survive the best way they can to see the next day. This is not just in Africa, but all over the world. I hope by sharing my story you are inspired in some way to get involved, give back to the world, be thankful for what you have and most importantly open your mind and realize there’s a bubble bigger than your own.
Corina, RN, CANS is Board Certified and trained in several types of cosmetic procedures. She is a true artist creating natural looking results!