Lwala diaries – a postscript

Editor’s Note:  In 2006, Lens magazine chronicled the efforts of Milton Ochieng’—now a resident physician at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis—to construct the first health clinic in Lwala, his village in Kenya. That summer, after earning her undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt, Abbie Foust spent 10 weeks in Lwala helping Ochieng’ conduct a health survey. Here are excerpts from her e-mail journal.

Bill Snyder
Published: February, 2007

May 27, 2006—Oyare (good morning)!

Abbie Foust embraces children from Lwala, a village in Kenya where she conducted a health survey
I can't believe I've only been here three days. This place is amazingly inspiring, beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time… There is no electricity… and no running water…

I am staying in the home of the Ochieng’s… The first day they took me to a very sick woman in the village who was vomiting and weak… The clinic isn't running yet, so there was nothing we could do except massage her back and feet and keep her company ...

June 3—Lwala is quickly becoming my second home… I am now used to showering with one bucket of water and a cup. I am used to having beans at every meal…

I am even becoming accustomed to the extreme poverty that is prevalent in this community—poverty that can be seen in the distended bellies of children (and in) the lack of books and chairs in the local primary school… It doesn't make me any less sad and angry every time I see it, though…

We started the health surveys on Wednesday… Some days we walk over two hours to get to a certain village and go from hut to hut… We interview the mothers; some… as young as 14 ...

You'd be surprised how many mothers say their kids have had convulsions and blood in their stool—both of which are NOT good. I am also learning how many of the children are not vaccinated in this area…

June 19—We had the privilege of speaking to a woman who is openly HIV positive—something that is very rare in Lwala. Even though 30 to 50 percent of the population is infected with HIV, people are incredibly secretive about it ...

This woman, an AIDS widow, had seven children, five of her own and two that she took in from her sister and brother-in-law who both died with AIDS a year ago. She struggled every day to feed her children because she was too weak to work in the farm (just like the rest of the community, she lives on subsistence farming). Often, she relies on neighbors to give her family food…

I went over to the 2-year old boy of the family, who had a clubbed foot and couldn't walk very well, and scooped him up in my arms… He hugged my neck and held onto my hair and nuzzled his face into mine. I tried to set the little boy down… but he wouldn't let go. He wrapped his legs tightly around my waist and hugged harder—and that's when the tears came for both of us…

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