Monday morning I met Sœur (sister) Helena Albarracin, a Catholic sister, at the Congregation Dorotee di Cemmo in Bukavu where she lives with other sisters who all work at various clinics, schools and prisons in and around Bukavu. From there we left for the General Hospital of Bukavu, where Sœur Helena assists in the running of the malnourishment centre for kids. I was first given a guided tour of the whole hospital to meet everyone there (doctors, nurses, medical students, directors etc).
At the end of this ‘meet-and-greet’ my head was spinning with all the names and impressions as well as trying to understand everything in French…but it’s the best way to learn and being able to speak and understand it becomes a matter of ‘survival’ if you want to get around on your own!
The general condition of the hospital is in a bit of a state, but they manage to cope with what they have…it seems. Seeing what I did left me feeling rather guilty for complaining about waiting lists on the NHS (National Health Service in the UK) and nasty receptionists at doctors surgeries! Despite the tough conditions the personnel at the hospital have to work with (limited access to medication, dated buildings and equipment) they are all terribly friendly and do fantastic work.
Then on to the malnourishment centre. It’s here where reality hit me hard and I wondered how I’ll be able to leave DRC without having adopted all of the kids here. To be honest, I didn’t expect a pretty picture and I surely didn’t get one, most of the children here are seriously malnourished and clearly look close to death and I feel pretty useless and helpless being here and doubt the bag of toys I bought them will be any good…but they really need is proper access to medication and balanced nutrition…as all children do.
There’s roughly 30 children at the centre, some coming in on a daily basis (with their parents or siblings who travel long distances to get here), others residing at the centre for closer observation. Their ages range from 3 months to 10 years (the ones I saw). Along with the sisters, the kids are looked after and their intake of food/nutritional drinks monitored by the resident nutritionist. Some of the children struggle to keep the food down and some don’t want to eat/drink at all. The symptoms of malnourishment is clearly visible on most of the children (swollen belly, skeletal frame, sunken or very swollen eyes, lifeless gaze) but luckily there are some who, having been at the centre for a while, look so much healthier in comparison to the kids who recently entered the centre. Most of the children cried upon seeing me, possibly because they’ve never seen a white person before, but luckily on Tuesday most of the children remembered me and it felt great to be met with a smile and a ‘high five’!
There is one little girl in particular off whom I’ve grown very fond of very quickly, called Rachelle (5 years). She is terribly weak from malnourishment and so so thin. Upon meeting her for the first time she cried non-stop and didn’t allow me to comfort her. But on Tuesday, after sitting with her for a while and showing her the photo I took of her on the camera screen, she warmed to me and seemed more comfortable with me being around her…which felt so great!
To anyone who feels that they are able to help with donations for the malnourishment centre, the donations will be gratefully received and put to good use. Donations can be made to Sœur Helena Albarracin through Western Union. Thank you so much!
There are trainee doctors who drop by often (many of them my age). They are all eager to practice their English with me, as I am to practise my French with them, so we’ve agreed to a 50/50 exchange of ‘teaching’ each other which of course is a huge laugh, but useful nevertheless as I already feel much more confident with my French.
Late in the afternoons I spend my time exploring Bukavu, which is somewhat terrifying on your own, but I need to know my way around and have luckily managed to find a shop that sells my favourite coffee and cigarettes (yes yes I know, smoking bad…bla bla bla, but I don’t drink or do drugs or sleep around so I need to do something ok?) and a internet café right next to each other…which I hope won’t bugger up my macbook! I tried using the shop’s computers but the keyboards are in French with missing letters so sorry to any of you who received incomprehensible email responses from me!
BTW if any IT experts are reading this (erm…Bob?) I have a question: If you use your own laptop/macbook at internet cafes and only insert their telephone line, is it still possible to pick up problems/issues/anything that will affect my macbook? Any advice greatly received! Merci beaucoup!
I’m sorry for the sideway photos…I cannot find where in wordpress you rotate!