Facing Death

This blog is one which I would prefer not to be writing. But it shows how grim life can be here. Especially when you are sick.

Yesterday we received a visit from a man we had met many years ago. He now lives some distance from Funzi. He was distressed and came to ask for urgent help. His sister was in serious pain and had been ill for a long time. There seemed to be little help and less hope. He begged us to take the medical team to her and we agreed to go the next day. The woman lived in a small room the size of a single garage. It had no floor, a broken bed on which she was lying and very little else. The walls were just coral blocks crudely cemented together. Our nurse, Halima, looked at her notes and we quickly realised that in 2009 she had a mastectomy. Her chest was now covered in sores and she complained that these felt like they were moving -as though it was ring worm. Her arm was swollen and there was a very bad sore under her arm pit. Halima knew straight away that it was spreading breast cancer and that it was incurable. Even though it was Sunday we persuaded a doctor to travel from over an hour away to attend to her. Today we will be arranging a cocktail of drugs that at the very least will reduce the pain. We will also organise for a nurse to visit her on a daily basis to dress wounds and to give her injections.

Facing death is never easy but in these grim conditions it’s especially hard. There was a heavy silence in the car back. This strikes hard for me. A few years ago a close Kenyan friend got cancer. The only drugs the hospital had to give him were paracetamol despite huge pain. He died in agony before I could get from England to his bedside. I arrived the day after his death, So, even though this woman is a long way from us we are determined to extend our services and get help to her. It just reminds you how many other people die in pain and in desperate circumstances -with no NHS- who do not have the care of the Funzi and Bodo Trust.

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The men who need our help too.

This morning we had a meeting with a doctor from Kwale Hospital . We have a long list of patients with serious conditions requiring surgery and who are unable to fund the hundreds of pounds needed to pay for them. Two of them are men with a disturbing condition. They have been bitten by a type of mosquito which causes the scrotum to grow to a huge size. The conditions causes up to ten litres of liquid to become trapped in the scrotum.

The doctor said it becomes so bad the scrotum can be wrapped around their bodies and they cannot walk freely. People talk about such people having to use wheel barrows to get around. Thankfully it can be treated but people often cannot afford the operation. With people in employment earning as little as one pound seventy a day where do they find the money for an operation costing thousands of pounds? These two men are going to be lucky thanks to the Funzi and Bodo Trust. Thankfully they haven’t got a similar condition called elephantiasis which not only effects the scrotum as described but leads to huge legs. This cannot be treated. The nurses strike in Kenya has meant that at this one hospital they have a backlog of five hundred cases to treat -all of them people who cannot pay. Those people may be faced with years of waiting to be seen. If we left our patients to add to that list they would have a similar fate and you can imagine what would happen to the type of patients I have described. So we have no choice but to pay. I think the work and stories of the Trust often touch women and children more easily than men. I wanted to share the story of today as I felt that men might relate to the importance of the work more easily if they read about a condition which was so damaging, painful and socially embarrasing to other men. Maybe the trigger for them to decide to support our work if they haven’t already. Much in the same way people have started to show more concern about testicular cancer at home.

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Our Kenyan friends are a huge support.

Today we met with our team in Kenya. Eleven people – all Kenyans- who provide the medical care and education services to the people here who live without proper sanitation , inadequate housing of muds huts or coral blocks and in Funzi without electricity and often with too little to eat.
It was a human reminder of how much has been achieved in just five years- since we registered as a charity,  Our nurse John who battles prostate cancer himself and who sees a constant flow of patients from eight in the morning until five in the evening , six days a week. People who cannot afford to get the treatment they need elsewhere. Halima, our new young nurse, who last week weighed over 85 babies and supported by Mwatmeme monitors their growth and development.  Ambulance driver  Ali Juma who along with our manager Boniface was up in the middle of the night helping a pregnant woman with complications reach a hospital safely. Our boat captain ,Jenga, who is often woken in the night to get the desperately sick across pitch black and often choppy waters to get to doctors. The very young Mbwana who despite having had little education himself has -with our support- been trained in computers and is now teaching children from a rural school about the modern world and how to learn electronically. A school which until we rebuilt it and became involved had for forty years not even been able to provide a chair and a table for every child. In the UK we are all volunteers and the fact that such a small charity with no access to big funders is able to provide these talented people and these services to some of the poorest communities is a testament to the fact our money is getting to where it is needed and making a real and significant difference. Tomorrow the day begins early again as we take the boy with a serious liver condition to hospital for admission and treatment. Meanwhile the rest of the staff are engaged in removing jiggers (parasites) from the hands and feet of small children plagued by these awful creatures.  In Africa and the UK being part of the Funzi and Bodo Trust means real comitment and real results,
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You can really make a difference.

Today has been a little sad. After taking nine year old skin cancer patient – Sharke- to be treated for a growth on her face we heard of a further complication. Last year we persuaded the local school to allow her to attend class for the first time. She has loved being involved with the other children and learning. We captured this in our latest film which we have posted on our website http://www.funzi.org.uk Sadly she has been finding it harder and harder to see the blackboard and to look at books. Her eyes have been damaged because the skin cancer is also under her eye lids and it scratches the lens of her eyes. It appears the eyes have deteriorated under this constant assault. Today we visited the specialist eye clinic at Kwale. It appears that although we take her to the clinic every month they believe there is nothing they can do to stop the slow march towards eventual blindness. In the meantime we will be using every means possible to make that day come as late as possible. The doctor has stressed how much Sharke is getting out of being with other children and not being excluded as so many disabled people are in this society. It was confirmed that with her condition she will live until she is in her early twenties. It is our task to make that life as rich as possible. The desperately poor children in these villages are so endearing it makes all of this so much harder. On the way home we stopped in a village to buy basic food stuffs from a local store . The small children were in hysterics as Veronica and i sang to them a song we had learnt at Sharke’s nursery class…..banana, banana …all are fruit ….mango , mango mango …all are fruit. Sung by us with a poor imitation of their accents. They might be poor but their eyes are so bright and full of life . I wish we could do more ….for more of them . Each is deserving of opportunity. These experiences while sad will drive us on to find more supporters when we return. If you aren’t already signed up for regular giving then do consider it and get in touch. We promise a most valuable return on your investment !

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A Great Day For Education on Funzi.

This afternoon we announced to the headteacher and village education group the news that we are ready to go ahead and build a kindergarten for the school. This is such a huge step for them . They are supposed to have three classes for this age group but cannot accommodate any children at present .
Hence their children are starting learning long after other schools . Setting them behind . The parents said how grateful they are to people back in the Uk for caring about them. Also to the States of Guernsey who have contributed to this project. When they were told there would be proper toilet facilities and a cook house you can imagine how they felt. It is at moments like this that the work of the Trust and the journey of the last five years is affirmed.
It makes all the fundraising and never ending demands and pressures of the rest of the year seem worthwhile. Meanwhile our treasurer , Veronica Hood, is working with the school developing the library. We have talked to the school about Funzi children starting to receive computer training at our center in Bodo. Computer training is not part of the Kenyan curriculum and so they are reluctant. But with careful argument we were able to make them see that if the children could access computers it opened up their understanding to all those other subjects. They will start with free lessons from the trust for their staff. We also plan to help them get access to teaching materials as they currently have very little. So a good day for education on Funzi . A great day for the progress of our Trust and a fulfillment of promises to our supporters and donors.

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Very Long Days

Its been a thirteen hour day today – starting very early and meetings continuing until nearly half past eleven at night.
Nine year old Sharke who has terminal skin cancer had to be taken to see a specialist amid growing concerns about a new growth on her face – next to her nose. As usual she was so brave and underwent blood and other tests. It was thought the growth might have to be removed. In the end it was decided that as it was breaking open it could be dealt with and managed with drugs and other treatment. We we were warned this would be a common challenge we will face with her in coming months. She also has a problem with her lips which are painfully sore . Her eyes continue to deteriorating as the cancer is under her eye lids and scratches the lens. It is making it hard for her to see the blackboard at school. We are planning to visit the specialist eye clinic with her. In between this we met with the builder to look at further improvements to our new birthing centre and to discuss plans for a kindergarten on Funzi.
On the way over in the boat we picked up a teenage boy who appeared to be very ill . He was so weak he couldn’t get in and out of the boat. He had been to another clinic who had just given him medicine . Thankfully our nurse, Halima, saw him and warned that she felt he was much worse and may have liver problems. We immediately took him to a hospital and spent over one hundred pounds on tests . It transpired Halima’s fears were right and he was having major liver problems and it could prove fatal if not dealt with. We immediately contacted a specialist in this field and he is to see him urgently
In among that we held a short staff meeting , went and settled our drugs bills with the chemist and discussed our future relationship and spent the last few hours discussing future health policy with our manager. And I had the pleasure of seeing some old friends near the school – three female donkeys not loved by the villagers because they eat the crops but who really like me when I scratch theor ears and become instant followers – quite lietrally !.

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First steps to building a kindergarten on Funzi

Work has begun on taking the first steps towards our new goal. Building a kindergarten on Funzi Island.

Today the contractor came for the first meeting and to survey the site. We intend to have two classrooms , toilets for small children and cooking facilities. In times of real hardship many children get their only meal through food aid cooked at the school. It’s intended that the cookhouse will serve the whole school and not just the kindergarten.

I was struck by the need for this facility when i saw a small group of kindergarten age children at school today. They were learning in what amounted to a tumbled down garage by Uk standards. The floor was full of deep holes and the children were sitting on rubble. Despite this the children beam when they see you and their faces light up at any interest or attention shown them.

Teaching them was a lady who we had been treating at our clinic. She had suffered mental illness and her only treatment had been through a witch doctor. We got her seen by medical experts and today she is back at work healthy and happy and with marriage in prospect. It felt like a good omen that someone who had been so tormented for so long was here so changed that she was entrusted with the care of the smallest children. The optomism her case creates  should be a talisman for the change we hope to bring to the small children in her care.

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