When I first heard from Sandra, I started to dream of all the possibilities, but not for long, reason kicked in and I remembered that going to Africa was not part of my plan! I had all my work cut out for me for the next months and no finances to go, so I planned to politely decline the invitation.
Days ticked by and I kept thinking of this opportunity to join a team from YWAM in Senegal; to travel to remote villages in the African plain, to bring life and hope & to help fight Malaria. Sandra leads YWAM Gorom’s school of Malaria and she invited me to go on outreach with them in Casamance to do health promotion, diagnosis and treatment of Malaria. What an amazing opportunity! We see a large amount of patients affected by Malaria in PNG and I’m always up for a challenge, learning new things, see how we can adapt what they do and grow our programs with our medical ship, but also see what they do with Malaria and try to apply it to the main health issues we encounter in PNG such as Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
The more time went by, the more I believed it was right to go even though it was getting ridiculously close to the feasibility deadline! After an encouraging chat with a friend and mentor, I decided to jump in and trust that my time in PNG, the “Land of the Unexpected” would have prepared me well to face this new adventure as I had no idea what I was getting into!
My first day in Gorom was spent in the lab where I read my first malaria slide! No rapid testing here! And when there wasn’t any access to electricity, Sandra would use a mirror to reflect the sunlight into the microscope, I never got to that level! When I first started looking into microscopes, the slides were already focused and malaria was in the field. I could pick up the malaria after a quick crash course and with the help of a cheat sheet :)
But it’d be a whole different thing when I’d set up my own microscope in the village and realize I hadn’t seen anything through a microscope in over 10 years! I had the hardest time even just finding the field! But I eventually got there and found my very own malaria parasite! They are tiny, tiny as!!! A little red ring with a glowing red dot! And then the reality of what I was seeing through the microscope hit me. This was a four years old boy… we’d soon find out that the whole family was infected. The older sister carried gametocytes; the kind of malaria that gets picked up by mosquitoes and spread around!!! No one in the family was sleeping under a net, and the sickness was free to roam. We were able to teach the village about the use of treated mosquito nets for prevention and provide them with treatment. In that village, half of the population was positive for Malaria.
Every time we visited a new village, we would first meet with the village elders and chief to explain our mission and ask for permission to help in their village. It was usually short and sweet, despite the fact that it was in four different languages for everyone to understand!!! My YWAM family is so diverse, I love that we had people from 7 nations working together! My favourite meeting was in Sare Hamidou, where the chief of the village, a very devout Muslim man, expressed his gratitude for our coming and our concern for his people. He acknowledged the fact that God had brought us from far away lands like Australia! He then went on to say that since God was behind our project, bringing stranger in, he had no choice but to help; he would gather as many people as possible and help fight Malaria! I would have never thought that my presence alone, or the distance I had travelled could mean so much!
Towards the end of clinic, I would usually have some time to just sit down with the mamas and chat. My favourite part of the day as I get to hear their stories and share the stories my friends in PNG! One afternoon, we looked at pictures of PNG… They loved it! They would stare at the different styles of houses, compare similarities in the culture and laugh at some of the differences. One mama decided to teach me how to ‘properly carry a child” so that I could teach the mamas in PNG. It was so good to see them take pride in their culture and share with me about their lives!
I felt very fortunate to be shown a wide open door into the lives of many in the villages and to be able to jump in very last minute to work alongside and learn from the excellent work that YWAM is doing in Senegal!
Taking this unexpected journey to Africa turned out to be one of the most uncertain, stretching and rewarding thing I’ve done in many years! I have learnt and experienced so much that I’d be ready to jump into the unknown again anytime!