As a healthcare professional who has served in clinical and management capacities in hospice, home health, skilled nursing and assisted living for more than two decades, I regard hospice as not merely a job, but a calling. I have constantly sought innovative ways to better serve clients and the community. But it wasn’t until 2005 that I realized “community” meant not only sunny Southern California but the globe. Specifically, a tiny, impoverished village in a country I’d never heard of.
When I journeyed to Malawi in 2005 as part of a humanitarian mission organized by World Vision International https://www.worldvision.org/, my eyes were opened to a country plagued by harsh poverty, forced marriage of young girls, lack of sanitation, and extremely limited access to healthcare, especially for those who lived far from Nkhoma Hospital. Suffering was ubiquitous. Death was everywhere. Nearly 12 of every 100 adults – including some barely out of their teens – were living with HIV/AIDS. Many, including young children, died every day.
In the midst of this ongoing tragedy, I was struck by the kindness of the people; their resourcefulness, resiliency and devotion to family. The devastation of HIV was evident, but the people did not act as if they had little hope. If parents had died from AIDS, older siblings or cousins raised the younger children. Everywhere I looked, young girls carried babies on their backs as they worked or walked to the market place. The ability to accept life as it came was amazing.
Nkhoma Hospital staff were among the most resourceful of all. They had little in the way of medical supplies and medications, yet they made do; in fact, they performed admirably well considering the challenges they faced.
The need for assistance overwhelmed me. I determined to do what I could. I sponsored two young children’s education. I traveled on two subsequent missions to Malawi to work at the hospital; each time learning a little more of the native language, Chichewa, and discovering a lot more about the people, and myself. Although glamping is more my style than camping, I learned to live much as the Malawi people do; without modern “luxuries” such as indoor plumbing. On two trips, I took my daughter, Allie. The experience opened her eyes and heart as it had mine.
Although the healthcare and overall life needs remain daunting, I’ve witnessed tremendous progress over the past ten years. I have unbounded hope for the future, thanks to Nkhoma Hospital professionals such as Dr. Sam Kabota, and Ellen Chizimba, who serves as the leaders of Nkoma Hospital palliative team. Together, we can make a monumental difference in the lives of people here at home and 10,000 miles away in Malawi.