“Mzungu! How ahh-yu?”
As we stepped out of the van for the first time, completely unaware of what the next two weeks had in store for us, we were immediately greeted by the sounds of the young school children screaming the only English words they knew. Their ever-present smiles and welcoming words became the perfect constant of our trip: the happiness that radiated from each and every person, no matter how poor, was life-changing.
We began in Oyugis, Kenya, in a little modest hotel, three miles from our clinic site. Every morning our team of 16 hiked through the countryside to meet the local people patiently waiting for our help. Over our eight days of clinic, we saw many new interesting things, helped many people in small ways, and were able to change a few individuals’ lives completely. Throughout the clinic days, we saw babies extremely sick with malaria, and people young and old with exposed brains as well as heart defects, bad infections and wounds, and minor headaches and stomach aches. No matter what the case, we did our best to help every person in some way. Although we didn’t have the right materials to treat many of the cases, we did our best to lend the resources we did have to the people who needed it. For example, a three year old boy who was hit by a motorcycle came to us with a badly broken jaw and horrible head wound. Given almost all the people in these African towns live in extreme poverty, many of the families can’t afford decent medical care. When the boy came to us, he was septic, and his condition was declining rapidly. With the money we collected, we were able to pay for the boy’s jaw to be completely reconstructed. It took one-hundred dollars and a few days to change his life completely.
The little boy is only one example of the lives we changed. As much as I want to believe that we changed these people’s lives, I know they changed ours just as much. The people we met had extraordinary stories to tell about the hardships they faced throughout their lives. Many of the things we heard were beyond what I could ever imagine. We met orphans, who at eleven, became the primary care taker for their siblings, mothers who, at sixteen, were widowed and left to provide for the family, and children who were so dirt poor they didn’t know when they would find a meal again.
The people we met, experiences we had, and lives we touched have changed my life. I will never forget the happiness of the people who have nothing. In the words of one of the locals, “Things cost money, but a smile is free”.