Monday, January 21, 2013

Stick-shifts & Safety-belts

At the Hospital
Lumela! I just got back from an incredible week up at the St. James Mission Hospital. We had a group of visitors from US come and facilitate a workshop for the staff and community at St. James. US has been a partner with St. James since its start in 1963. A team from HOPE Africa came as well.

One thing that I've learned about travel anywhere in Africa is that it's always much more difficult than you expect it to be. Something is always bound to happen that you didn't quite expect or plan for. It could be a flight cancelation, a ridiculously long line at the border, or (one of my personal favorite stories) an airline going out of business 2 days after I booked a flight with them (true story). My trip to Mantsonyane was no exception to this rule!

The HOPE Africa staff arrived on Monday with one half of the US team from London. They headed up to the hospital while I waited in Maseru for the other member of US to arrive Tuesday at the airport. HOPE Africa had rented a car for Dr. Ian and I to drive to Mantsonyane. When I arrived at the airport to pick up the rental, to my surprise I found out that the car was a manual! I can count the number of times I've driven a manual car on one finger. So needless to say, I was a little worried about driving up into the mountains in a car that I had no idea how to drive. There were so many things to focus on already with this drive: driving on the left side of the road, herds of sheep and cattle crossing the road, and rockslides around many of the blind turns just to name a few. So when you add in a clutch and a shifter, there was a lot to deal with! I have to say thank you to my Aunt Nancy who let me practice my stick-shift skills on her car one afternoon back in NC, otherwise this trip would have been a disaster! Im happy to say that Dr. Ian and I made it to the hospital without incident.

A group during a Bible study
As I said, US has been a partner and funder of St. James since it opened its doors 50 years ago. It's been one of the longest partnerships that the hospital has had. US, formally USPG, has recently changed their approach to social development and will no longer be funding the hospital. But that's not to say that they will no longer be supporting the hospital. The workshop that we all attended last week was about the new approach that US will be taking with St. James. The approach, called Hands On Health, focusses on strengthening the ties between the hospital and the community it supports. This is done by creating teams comprised of hospital staff and community members that go out into the community on a regular basis and talk with different families about how the hospital and the community coexist. The goal of these visits is to find out about the family in an informal and conversational way. It is in no way like going door to door and taking surveys. It's about creating deep and meaningful conversation between the hospital and community.

Me and Majoro, the Hospital Chief of Staff
The only way that this approach can survive is if the hospital and community want it to happen. It is not an approach that I could come in and implement, or that HOPE Africa could implement. It has to be community based, which is not something that outsiders can create. That being said, we had an overwhelming response from the hospital staff and community. There were probably about 50-60 people at the workshop, and the vast majority of the group was comprised of hospital staff and community members. We spent the workshop going out into the villages surrounding the hospital and getting a feel for the specific format of the visits. It was an incredible introduction to what life will be like when I move up to the hospital. I think the hospital staff was blown away by some of the answers and revelations that came out of the visits. By the end the of the workshop, we had confirmation from both the hospital staff and community members that they wanted to continue with the process. This was fantastic news! They even went as far as creating a list of groups and setting specific dates and times to meet and discuss community visits. Dr. Ian, who led the workshop, said that we got about as concrete of a response as you will ever get with this kind of workshop. And he would know, because he developed this approach while working at a mission hospital in Zambia and has since led workshops like this all throughout the world.

Some Group Building Activities

Dr. Ian Campbell

Driving in the mud!
We had planned on doing one of these community visits at one of the clinics connected with the hospital on Friday morning before we headed back to Maseru. Unfortunately, the weather decided not to cooperate with us and rained through most of the night and morning. This made the road to the clinic impossible to pass. This does not mean that we did not try to pass on it! Once again, I got into the driver's seat of my little manual Ford hatchback and started out on a very muddy and treacherous road to the clinic. This car was a champ. It made it as far as the 4x4 from the hospital made it before the 4x4 got stuck. Then we decided to turn around and head back to the hospital before we were all stuck! How I didn't get stuck in the mud is something I still don't understand. Good work, Ford Figo, good work!

The road to the clinic

My front tire

All in all, it was a fantastic week. I'll be packing and heading up to the hospital this week! I can't wait. My next post will be from Mantsonyane! Sala hantle!

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