By Doris Kollie
In April and June of 2017, after being accepted as a HEAL Fellow, I was denied a US visa twice – preventing me from participating in HEAL’s Global Health Training. I felt so downhearted and thought that all was lost. In addition to my frustration, I would monitor the training activities via WhatsApp with more ill feelings. At the end of the training, I sat and thought to myself that the Global Health Training is the first step to all that it takes to becoming a HEAL fellow, I concluded that because I did not partake in it, my opportunity of truly becoming a HEAL fellow was ruined.
In early September 2017, I regained my hopes of being a part of the HEAL team when Dr. Aylin, my advisor, first visited me in Rivercess, Liberia. The day we met and talked was the best thing that ever happened to me. I felt loved, cared for and most of all I felt like a lost and found person. During one of our meetings, she told me that I still had chances of traveling to other countries other than the US for a HEAL-sponsored exchange program. Finally, this was confirmed by the HEAL Team with every detail to start planning for my exchange visit.
Preparing for my visit
As part of the preparation for my exchange visit, I was given a list of partner sites to choose where I wanted to visit. I read on each of the sites and got other opinions, then finally decided to have my visit to SEWA Rural in Gujarat, India. As I commenced writing my application and objectives, I knew how far I had to travel, but all I wanted to see was the differences and similarities in health care in another part of the world. I was excited to compare the rural areas in India with that of Liberia.
Finally, I made it to SEWA Rural – Gujarat state, Bharuch district. Though the plane ride was a long and tiring one, it was a great experience which I never had in my life. More to that, I was fortunate to see beautiful airports and other countries that were transit points.
Activities in SEWA Rural Hospital
During my visit with SEWA Rural, I had the opportunity to learn, do and see many things. As I entered the hospital wards, I was thrilled to see a sense of oneness among staff. At my site in Last Mile Health, we are one happy family and our culture code says, “we are in it together.” On the other hand, I saw the inflow of patients from outpatient to inpatient who were given treatment free of cost. After the orientation, I sat in the pediatric clinic with my co-fellow, Rachel Lusk and other doctors and nurses. As I sat watching the doctor screen the kids, I discovered that the majority of the babies that I saw were not wearing diapers. Curious to know, I asked why, and I was told that they could not afford the cost of diapers. I felt sad, to learn about a situation that was very similar in my county, only that instead of carrying the babies without diapers, the baby mom uses old clothes for diapers.
Visits to the Communities
During my two weeks stay, I was privileged to visit all the project sites of SEWA Rural, especially the Community Health Project. Like my current work with Last Mile Health, a mobile phone is provided to all frontline health workers to improve maternal and child health services in the tribal areas of Gujarat. I watched community health worker use the mobile application (ImTecho) to do pregnant woman visits, follow up visits on discharged babies from the Intensive Care Unit, mother and neonatal follow up. Another exciting moment for me was the visit to the Eye Camp. Like outreach activities that we conduct in Liberia, the Eye Camp is an eye outreach campaign that SEWA Rural carries out to assess identify, treat and schedule people with eye condition for surgery.
More to that, I was fortunate to visit other projects undertaken by SEWA Rural, strongly indicating that it does not only seek the health needs of the people. In addition to the community health services provided by SEWA Rural to curtail maternal mortality, child death and promote healthy habits , I was very pleased to see women empowerment projects, vocational training center for school dropout boys, menstrual hygiene project for school dropout girls, adolescent programs in schools and communities and most importantly a center for less fortunate kids (ages 3-6yrs) for basic learning and nutritional program.
India being a very populated country with millions of people, in terms of development, I saw beautiful airports, good road connectivity some good schools and even beautiful homes. Amid all of these beautiful things, I saw a high rate of poverty. I learned that most of the families do labor jobs as a source of income that is not even enough for sustainability. During my visit, I saw the homes of poor families like that of Liberia that are built with sticks and dirt. Moreover, I saw some homes that were like refugee camps, which brought sorrow to me.
My visits to these places taught me great lessons that SEWA Rural is not only seeking the health needs of the less privileged but going beyond to give holistic care and this is one key take away. One good driving force for me as I do my work is moral imagination. In Liberia, I always share with people that saving lives in remote communities is a pride for me and I see it as a noble service that I render whether it rains or shines. I feel that walking for hours to take health to the communities is a huge accomplishment for me. My visit to SEWA Rural and the numerous project sites made me to realize that we are all gearing toward a single goal. It may be done in different ways by different people and different places, equitable access to health is our goal. Whether in Liberia, India or the whole world at large, let us fight for justice in health.