Expect the unexpected.
Miracles do happen – although in different shapes and sizes.
As I write this, just before flying home, after our 8th annual month in Ethiopia, we are sitting in a little Retreat Centre about 40 miles outside Addis Abba – the capital. It feels like a million miles from the clinic, 7 bumpy/ dusty hours South in Buccama, but we decided that this would be a good place to be for 72 hours rest and reflection on this year’s experiences.
The water pump at the clinic broke down last September. Fixing water pumps was never in our remit. We were all about the Mothers, their prolapses and keeping the clinic going. But, having no water whatever in a very dry place makes it almost impossible to do the basic things of life -cooking, washing, hygiene and irrigation. Sister Haimanot – our real-life heroine – asked us for help. We had to do something. We told the story and my partner in the charity- my cousin Maureen’s brother Billy- came up with his ‘Pre Christmas Water Pump Appeal’ to his wide circle of friends and relations. In an amazing display of Christmas generosity Billy’s appeal touched a chord and the funds rolled in very well. So, we found the money for the pump plus quite a considerable bit more.
The extra money, plus what had already been donated for the salaries etc, enabled us, this year, to finally buy the vehicle/ambulance, which had been needed for years. They had been soldiering on with a very old vehicle, which was costing a fortune on repairs, and had finally given up.
As fate would have it, Willie Clark, newly widowed from Margaret, one of Maureen’s best friends, asked us if he and his daughter Susan (an NHS nurse of huge experience, and medical ability) could accompany us this year. Willie is a resourceful handyman/ Mr Fix Anything, of great experience, but buying and selling cars in Ayrshire was what he did best all his working life. We needed him big time, and he stepped up to the mark. He trailed around the used car lots in Addis, bargained a decent price and with local assistance and help managed by some kind of miracle to get the car licensed and legal in the space of a couple of days. Never in his lifetime of selling cars has a car been greeted with so much excitement or appreciation. As I have said before, the road to Buccama is dire, and getting worse. Only a robust 4 x 4 can make the journey reliably and we needed a good back space for a stretcher and extra people. It is a life changer.
Life in Buccama goes on as ever, and the Prolapse Mothers kept turning up in significant numbers. Our association with Dr Mark Karnes, of the Christian Hospital, grows stronger every year, and he now operates on two of our worst cases every week. The rest of the women are delighted with the success of the pessary rings, which allows them to return to a normal life. We were fortunate to be visited for 3 days by Gill Brook, a UK physio trainer and regular Ethiopia volunteer worker. She is a real gynae expert and taught the local nurses and us how better to treat severe women’s conditions.
The biggest change this year is that the Clinic has taken on the care of people suffering from a form of endemic non-filarial elephantiasis, or podoconiosis (locally known as “Mossy Foot”). It is a horrible, disfiguring and painful condition and has all the shame and stigma attached to that which leprosy used to have. Unlike Prolapse, it cannot be kept secret and is there for all to see in all its stages.
But this form of Elephantiasis is curable and reversible and there is a simple protocol, which honestly isn’t very expensive. Foot soaking and washing, keeping the feet soft, wearing socks and shoes. All easy, but what if you don’t have access to water or soap? What if you don’t have shoes and socks? What is Vaseline? What if you don’t know any better and you are a young mother, stuck in your earthen house, too ashamed and afraid to come out, because you have elephantine feet, attached to your skinny legs. This is who walked into the Clinic one Saturday morning. We had already assisted at a pretty chaotic Mossy Foot Clinic but couldn’t really understand the system and although there are guidelines they were not really being followed.
So, it was time for some research – with a contact from Dr Mark, we discovered that there was a Mossy Foot Foundation, based in Soddo, 16 miles away, with lots of good information and a workshop making the enormous shoes that the worst cases need. This is where Susan, our retired nurse really came into her own. We bought four pairs and begged, borrowed and stole socks from whoever would give them up. We had been given little girls’ tights to bring, so we chopped off the tops and bottoms, and made makeshift socks. You would have thought that we had given them a little piece of heaven.
With reading, research, some education and the willingness of guards and cleaners, our Mossy Foot Clinic went from shame and sadness to joy and celebration. By the way, without the Water Pump Appeal, there would certainly be no water – so vital for the treatment of podoconiosis.
We are adding socks to our appeals now. Pants and socks – Sounds like every man’s Christmas stocking list doesn’t it? Unlike pants though, we will accept any socks without holes. The bigger the better, rugby or football socks would be great, loose tops, also great. Socks and shoes – a life changer, who would have thought it?
We are honestly trying not to expand, but the need does not lessen. Communication is still dire, electricity comes and goes, plumbing is always interesting, the rains are scarce, and the so called in country improvements don’t seem to reach that far into the country.
So, with your help, we shall keep going. We are applying to the Department of International Development (DIfD), and of course we are always on the lookout for any philanthropic millionaire, who wants a project to get his or her teeth into.
As ever, it was a heartbreak to leave the Sisters, who look after us so beautifully, and our much-loved teacher and guide, Sister Haimanot Ammanuel, who in her humble way, could knock spots off any leader you could think of.
Let me finish by thanking very sincerely all our supporters, our benefactors, our Direct Debit donors, the Rotary Clubs locally, our Trustees, our terrific and encouraging Chairman – and our families who wave goodbye to us every February for a month.
Jo and Maureen