Blog Maggie

Jambo from Mt. Elgon Orchards!  It is my fourth week on the farm, and I couldn’t be happier.  Though my first few days in Kenya required a few adjustments- mainly overcoming jet lag, maneuvering the bumpy “roads”, and greeting every person I passed on the way to work (shockingly, not a common custom in New England)- everyone on the farm was so welcoming that I immediately fell into a comfortable routine.

After arriving to the farm on a Friday evening, I was allowed to settle into the guesthouse before being given a comprehensive tour of all that was going on at the orchard.  I saw the greenhouses for the roses, the main office, the hospital, the orphanage, the special needs home, the vocational training center, the nuns’ home, and the primary and secondary schools.  Though I was only briefly introduced to the endeavors of the farm on that first morning, I have since spent time understanding and familiarizing myself with all of the projects, and can safely say that every ounce of energy and planning from the trust and its employees has been dedicated to a worthwhile cause. 

Coming from the U.S., I had neither met Bob and Bea nor had any idea what Mt. Elgon Orchards encompassed.  It is a massive intertwined community, with so much going on at all times that there is never a dull moment.  It is abuzz from the early hours of the morning to late at night, seven days a week, with constant motion of workers, school children, animals, and visitors alike.  As an aspiring medical student, I planned on spending the majority of my time at the Andersen Medical Clinic, but have since found it nearly impossible to avoid becoming involved with many of the other projects going on around the farm. 

For the past few weeks, though, I’ve spent Monday through Friday at the hospital, observing and learning as much as possible from the clinical officers, nurses, and technicians.   The staff members have been incredibly generous and patient with me, and have taken time to share their knowledge on common illnesses and treatments.  It has been really remarkable to experience a healthcare system based on the prevention and monitoring of major diseases that rarely occur in the Western world.  I’ve had more exposure to malaria, TB, and HIV than I’d ever thought possible.  The experience has opened my eyes to the fact that, not only do these diseases still exist, but they are rampant in many areas of the world that do not have the means to prevent them.  Thus, clinical care here in Kenya focuses not only on treating these illnesses as you would anywhere in the world, but also on educating the community about their transmission and how to cope with the effects of being infected or living with a loved one that has been infected.  Since the start of the Andersen Medical Clinic, the prevalence of HIV has declined significantly, and the clinic has acquired a substantial amount of HIV-positive and TB patients that return regularly for follow-ups and monitoring. 

As I’ve mentioned, the Anderson Medical Clinic ensures comprehensive care for its patients, and has many diverse operations running at any given time.  Since starting my time at the hospital, I’ve worked with the lab technicians looking at malaria parasites, I’ve sat in with the clinical officers seeing and diagnosing patients based on their physical signs and reported symptoms, I’ve learned to vaccinate young babies, I’ve observed HIV counseling sessions and tests being run, and much more.  In the next few weeks, I’ve planned to accompany the VCT on their mobile HIV clinic to a few small villages, and I’ve also coordinated with the orthopedics department to travel to small homes for follow ups on some of the hospital’s disabled patients.  There is a never-ending amount of experience to be gained from working in the clinic, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it. 

Outside of the hospital, I’ve been spending a couple afternoons each week with the kids at the orphanage.  There are nearly 30 children living at the home, under the care of the housemother Mary- a determined woman who knows how to get things done while still treating the orphans with the utmost care.  The children are amazing.  They are spunky, and goofy, and love to dance and play and sing.  Over the course of many visits, they have finally taught me how to cook ugali, sukuma wiki, and how to properly chop cabbage. They still won’t let me handle the machete for chopping wood after I got a blister.  They are fascinated by pictures and have an intense desire for adventures.  On my second weekend at the farm, one of my housemates Luca and I took the kids to the dam at the top farm to fish.  Though we thought we’d be teaching them the ropes of catching tilapia, the kids quickly took over the rods and began pulling out fish after fish.  They were naturals, and the pure joy they got from every hooked line was really incredible.  I think they took home about twenty scaled and gutted fish that night.  This weekend I plan on taking the kids to the greenhouses to walk through the roses, as they’ve never been and are insistent that they have another field trip. 

I have also begun teaching at the primary school on Mondays and Wednesdays.  The teachers have all welcomed me with open arms and graciously given me the benefit of the doubt with their kids.  On my first day, yesterday, I delivered three lessons, one in English, Math, and Science each.  The kids are all well behaved and eager to learn.  The classrooms are packed, as the Mt. Elgon primary school is in high demand by the surrounding county, yet every student follows along with the lesson and dutifully hands in their class work to be graded.  The kids show immense work ethic and promise.   Though they’re taking most of their classes in English, which cannot be easy, they do their best to work out the questions posed to them and make any necessary corrections before the period is over.  I’m looking forward to working with them more. 

I have also planned to begin teaching hockey after school in the secondary school, starting next week.  The plan arose after two teachers from the school, Christobel and Hyacinth, happened to meet me in the hospital and asked if I’d be willing to take over Luca’s previous role as the school’s rugby coach.  While I know close to nothing about rugby (I am from America!), I told them I would be happy to switch to hockey, and their faces lit up.  Turns out they both played hockey in high school, and would love to help me!  I hope we can foster some interest in the secondary school girls- I have a feeling they would do quite well with hockey. 

While all of this activity has taken place during the weekdays, I have also had some downtime on the weekends to explore Kenya alongside Bob and my housemates.  We’ve driven through the back roads of Kenya looking for the Ugandan border, fished at that small dam twice now, visited Kitale for a brief glance around town, and, this past weekend, climbed Mt. Elgon in the national park.  My time here has been a beautiful, never-ending adventure, and I’m excited for all it has in store for me over the remaining three weeks. 

One of the Clinical Officers, Okumu, and I, hard at work seeing patients.

A few of the orphans after their first big catch at the dam

Luca and I with the chicken we were presented with in a Pokot Village. Mt. Elgon Orchards is helping to fund the construction of a new school there.