Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Operation Crossroads Group

Kevin: Grosse Pointe, MI
Beth: Boston, MA
Bianca: Everywhere, Earth
Stephanie: Atlanta, GA
Audrey: San Luis Obispo, CA
Lauren: Farmington, MI
Becca: Minnetrista, MN
John: Grosse Pointe, MI
Peter: Mfangano Island, Kenya

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Daily Life on Mfangano Island

Water: Something that we used to expect at the turn of a knob here is a precious resource. Though surrounded by the 2nd largest freshwater lake in the world, water must be collected from rain, due to the pollution and endemic organisms in the lake. Each home is fitted with a gutter system which collects rainwater for storage into large cisterns. We carry our daily supply in buckets to our home, though we have not yet mastered the local talent of carrying anything and everything on the head. For drinking water, me must hand pump this rain water through a filter then treat with iodine.

Showering/ Toileting: Showering is accomplished by collecting rainwater into a tub, then using a cup to pour water over the head, collecting the runoff back in the tub, as water is a precious resource. Going to the bathroom, or as we say here "using the hole", consists of going outside the house to a shack with a bicycle seat shaped hole in the concrete floor. Stand, sit, squat-- do whatever you can to hit the target and avoid the dreaded "kick and roll". In all seriousness, we are very lucky to even have this type of toilet, as many around the area have no latrines available to them.

Sleeping: Each night we sleep inside mosquito netting on inflatable sleeping mats. The nets are to protect from malaria transmitted by the mosquitos which come out at night. The nets have served more than this purpose as we find bats, large spiders, and new species of insects on the outside on a nightly basis. We awaken around sunrise (6-7) each morning to maximize the daylight hours, as there is no electricity on the island. We go to bed early (8-9) as the island turns completely balck past sundown. We rely on headlamps, lanterns, and flashlights while the people of the island have the innate ability to see in the complete darkness.

Cooking: All food is prepared over a clay pot filled with coals. Each morning the fire is started early to boil water and begin breakfast. A local friend, Rose, has been helping us learn to cook and prepare local meals. The food is basic but very edible. An average breakfast consists of mondazi- a fried dough, like a doughnut wihtout flavor, and tea. Lunch is carried with us and consists of a boiled egg and bread. Dinner is the largest meal of the day and can range from the common beans, rice, or lentils to special feasts of tilapia, Nile perch, and the prized goat. Accompanying each meal is a starchy side which helps to fill the belly. Chipati is dough rolled flat and fried (like thick pita), and the local favoirte in ugali, a mix of flour, water, and oil, made into a mashed potato/playdough mixture. Ugali also doubles as silverware as all eating is done with the hands and scoopers made by molding the ugali into little bowls.

Transportation: Around the islands, all transportation is by boat. We travel island to island each day aboard a long wooden boat with a small motor. Most of the other boats on the lake are fishing boats, powered either by oar or make-shift sail. Our trips across Lake Victora have provided some of the most picturesque and relaxing times of the trip.

Laundry: All clothes are washed by hand in a bucket with a bar of soap. Each article must be scrubbed, rinsed, ringed, and dried in the sun. Wearing clothes for the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time is becoming a more and more common occurance.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Story Behind Alma-Ata

The Declaration of Alma-Ata was created during the first International Conference on Primary Health Care in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan in 1978. This conference, put together by the World Health Organization and United Children's Fund (UNICEF), brought together over 134 countries to discuss the delivery of health care throughout the world. The final declaration adopted outlined 10 major principles which for the first time recognized health as a fundamental human right, as well as outlined a gradual plan to provide health for all by the year 2000. Unfortunately, we have not seen the goals of this conference come to fruition. Our rationale for choosing this as a title for our website was to revive the spirit and ambitions of the Declaration of Alma-Ata. (The actual Declaration of Alma-Ata can be found in the links section on the right side of the page).

Who We Are

John is a third year medical student at the American University of the Carribean, considering a career in infectious disease or pediatrics. Kevin is a fourth year medical student at the University of Michigan, considering a career in pediatrics. We have known eachother since growing up 3 houses down the block in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Our interest in international health began on a mission trip we both took to the Philippines in 2001 during our undergraduate years at the University of Michigan. From that point we were both motivated to return to the developing world to work to change the inequities we encountered. John traveled to Kendu Bay, Kenya with Operation Crossroads in 2003. Kevin worked with the St. Jude Children's Hospital International Outreach Program in 2004. The upcoming year combines some of our experience with these programs in Kenya and Central America.

The Motivation

Seeing true poverty for the first time leaves you questioning how you can go on day to day without acknowledging that much of the world lives without their most basic needs being met. An uncomfortable guilt settles upon you when confronted with people living without food, without shelter, without clean water, or without basic medical care. Once transformed by this experience, it is impossible to return to your previous state of counsciousness. Observing those struggling to survive on a daily basis challenges your basic thinking about life. It is enlightening to view happiness that thrives in the absence of financial wealth, fostered by a strong sense of community and family, simplicity and humility. The give and take of anger and enlightenment is a major struggle encountered upon traveling out of your comfort zone. This struggle forces you to reconsider your prior way of life, motivates you to learn about new and different ways of life, and drives you to find ways to combat the injustices of hunger, disease, and poverty.

The picture above was taken during our trip to the Philipines in 2001. The child in the picture is running through the Payatas community, an urban slum built upon a landfill, where the major source of income is the sale of scavenged scrap from the rubbage. This picture embodies the struggle between the anger felt seeing children living in this impoverished setting, and the enlightenment seen in the happiness of the child flying a kite made of a trash bag, that perseveres despite these conditions.

Our goal during this upcoming year is to observe, learn, and experience this struggle on a daily basis and to find a way to encorporate work with these communities into our future medical careers.

We hope to utilize this website to post travel updates, photos, and our thoughts as we travel throughout the year. We will update it as often as we have internet access, so check back soon. Please feel free to post comments, but remember that family, friends, and faculty will be viewing this site.