Now, I'd read one of Farmer's books (and, in fact, used it in my thesis research on structural barriers to accessing HIV medications in the U.S. and Senegal) and I'd been very impressed. How did an NGO started by some medical students years ago become the #2 best NGO, improving health in Haiti, Rwanda, Malawi, and 6 other countries worldwide? The more I learned about the organization and its status, though, the more curious I became about its approach. Its work seemed, in my opinion, to be based in certain communities, providing a wealth of resources to a small group. I understood the rationale behind providing quality services and creating model institutions to areas where access is difficult, working with Ministry of Health officials to create governmental ownership, but what I wondered was about the others who don't yet have access to these types of services. How could we hail an approach that didn't yet reach them?
It was with these thoughts in mind that I embarked on a professional development trip early this year, visiting the countries of Burundi and Rwanda. While the trip provided an excellent opportunity to visit friends and see their amazing work and perseverance during their time abroad, it also provided time to visit these same facilities I'd theoretically questioned.
While in Burundi, I spent four days visiting the PIH-affiliate Village Health Works (VHW). Though I'd never read the famous book, I'd heard founder Deo Niyizonkiza speak about his childhood as a refugee, leaving Burundi and being lucky enough to find opportunity while in the U.S. I had been moved by the story of how the community of Kigutu adopted the facility Deo started upon his return, constructing a stone road with their bare hands to ensure vehicles could get to and from the clinic.
|The famous road.|
|Part of the beautiful facility.|
|On the way up the mountain.|
|Our escort (yes, this would be national security)|
|View from the facility (DRC in the background, I'm told)|
|Hundreds of patients come daily, seeking services in the facility.|
|VHW is home to the largest solar panel in Burundi, |
and relies on this for everyday operations.
|Administering one of dozens of blood tests for the day.|
|Me acting as though I could actually diagnose malaria|
|I think this was song number 5. :)|
|The local instructor helps me use the manual |
foot peddle sewing machine.
|At least this time I'm peddling with my own feet!|
|It's not perfect, but not too shabby (I had a good teacher!)...|
|Team work creates...|
|This! (Just kidding, she did this amazing basket on her own, |
and they'll soon be for sale through VHW).
|On the way...|
|This is the impressive facility.|
- a large tree that would have more easily been removed remained because it was important to the community;
- a doctor from Brigham and Women's Hospital was warm, friendly, and offered her time to us after just experiencing the death of a patient;
- our unofficial "tour guide," who was a friend of a friend, invited us for lunch and spent half his workday hosting us.
|The community tree.|
|The waiting area, purposefully designed in an open setting|
(and a remarkable view!)
|One of the wards - simple mod designs with important functions!|
|There's attention to every piece of detail and |
functionality. Here is some retaining wall construction.
|Remarkable view from the corridor.|
|Views like this can only help you feel better!|
|The famous PIH fish pond.|
|The facility was built around these trees as well, as requested|
by the community.
I even had the chance to venture into the rolling hills of the local community, meeting some new "friends" along the way.
My informal PIH tour concluded back here in Malawi, where I had the opportunity to spend a few days visiting friends in the district of Neno. Admittedly, this visit was for pleasure, though I was once again blown away by the hospitality, intelligence, dedication, and integration of American and Malawian staff members with one another and in the community. The "Neno in 15" tour (the number of minutes it took to see the main town) revealed that PIH employs and partners with so many in the community. A trip to the local "bottle shop" (home to 2 varieties of Carlsberg beer, the local fermented maize drink, and a pool table) revealed that almost everyone in the town knew my host by name. Even the fun activities - which involved community-style meals, playing sports with local children, and creating very innovative sources of entertainment with the beautiful mountainous backdrop - all centered around principles of fellowship, community, and cross-cultural exchange.
|The view from the guest house|
|Going up to the hospital.|
|Neno "Boma" (town)|
|Basketball is a serious community affair.|
|Showing the kids funny pictures on the Ipad.|
|My new friends holding their homemade football.|
|Sunday brunch with the PIH fam.|
|We "mowed" the grass, Malawi style.|
|I even tried...|
|Movie night under the stars!!|
(Yes, that's a sheet and chairs from the living room).
*This blog was independently written without support from PIH for the purpose of sharing my experience while abroad with family and friends.