For my third post about experiences with healthcare in Africa, I thought I would journey outside of the hospital. As well all know, health is much more than what happens in emergencies or hospital stays. It’s much bigger than that. Our health is determined by our daily behaviors and decisions.
Even with all the resources available to us, many people struggle to make good choices for their health. In extreme poverty, people have less ability to choose to live healthy lives. I witnessed extreme and system poverty all throughout Kenya. I’m so thankful that I didn’t have to sit back and watch; my organization gave me the power to do something, even if it was minimal.
During my second week in Kenya, we were all told in the morning that after we got back from the hospital that day we’d go to a school in the slums to teach a hygiene clinic. I had no idea what that meant; where exactly were the slums, and how do they expect us to teach hygiene? In my mind, it was something that would never be explicitly taught in a school because it seemed too basic and like something you grow up learning. Even these thoughts show that I am privileged in ways I never would have realized.
The first part of the experience was our drive to the “slums.” I had two conflicting thoughts; on one hand, poverty is so widespread in Mombasa that I didn’t understand how one part could be designated as the slums specifically. On the other hand, I was aware that the house that myself and the other volunteers were staying in was in the nicest residential part of the city. Therefore, I figured that if there is a designated slum, it must be pretty far from where we lived. Imagine my surprise when after a less than 10 minute drive, we turned onto a muddy street and ended up in what looked like a different universe. There were people everywhere, and their living situations were atrocious. We drove down the road to a school, where we got out of the car to greet hundreds of children, who were all ecstatic to see visitors.
At the school, we introduced ourselves to all of the children and told them that we would be teaching them some important lessons, or refreshers for the older children. We then had our pre-dental students teach them how to brush their teeth. After the demonstration, we called up a student to show us how it was done. We also taught them a song about how to do it. I understood the need to teach them how and when to brush their teeth; when you don’t have enough to eat, spending money on dental hygiene obviously isn’t a priority. The lack of clean water is an issue as well. Additionally, kids not wanting to brush their teeth is a universal issue; I’ve witnessed it with both of my siblings.
Hand washing was the portion that I thought was self-explanatory, but I saw how important it is to reinforce it. We had them practice and tell us exactly when they should be washing their hands. At the end, we gave them all toothbrushes and toothpaste, and I’ve never seen anyone so excited to receive those things! We also gave dietary supplements to the children who needed them.
Little things like proper handwashing techniques and dietary supplements can do so much to change your health. For example, Thorne Research creates dietary supplements with a focus on purity and precision. If we all valued our health products as much as these Kenyan children appreciated theirs, the world would look different.