Deep in Malawi’s diamond-shaped plateaus and rolling highlands, a young mother rushed her child to a nonprofit street-side clinic, miles away from her own village. Due to limited access to healthcare facilities and medications, it was the last hope for her child, who was suffering from a high fever, drowsiness and rapid breathing — common symptoms of malaria.
Nurse Erica Weiss provides medical care in Malawi. (Photo by Brian Maley)
Mary Taylor ’08, a registered nurse at Ithaca College’s Hammond Health Center, saw the patient in time to supply the appropriate treatment. She recalled her experience as she prepared to table in the Campus Center for next summer’s trip to Malawi. Taylor started bringing students to Malawi in 2010 as part of a short-term study abroad program. Since then, each summer students and health center staff have returned to bring medicine and medical care to rural villages.
Malawi is a landlocked country in southeastern Africa. It is known for the generosity of its people, earning the nickname “The Warm Heart of Africa.” But over half the population lives below the international poverty line, and a quarter live in extreme poverty. An estimated 17% of the population is unable to meet their food needs. Malawi also has a high prevalence of diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS.
While students have participated in the trip from the beginning, the trip this year — from May 29 to June 12 — was made up entirely of healthcare professionals from Ithaca College. Students did not make the trip because of concerns over the Ebola virus. Students provide important assistance to the health care professionals, but Taylor said that having all healthcare professionals was beneficial this year because they were able to provide more specialized care.
“The students are really helpful because they’ll do the blood pressure, temperature, weight checks and dispense medication,” Taylor said. “But this time we could say ‘what do you want us to do?’ We could say that we have specialists.”
Over the years, the common obstacle faced by Taylor’s group has been scarce resources. Whether it be the gasoline needed to travel through the country or the quantity of prescription drugs available for patients, sometimes there just is not enough.
“We had a big bottle of Ibuprofen, but we could only give out 15 pills each because we had 300 people,” Taylor said. “We had to dole it out, and it was so sad.”
Apart from providing medical care, the group has also volunteered with orphaned children by providing physical checkups, aiding with school supplies and simply spending time and playing with them. According to UNICEF, there are over 1.3 million orphaned children in Malawi. Without the protection of a safe and secure family, many of these children face poverty and exploitation. Taylor said she hoped that these encounters would make an impact on students and change their perspective.
“If one student gets it, feels a deep connection and compassion, we’ve done it,” Taylor said.
Elana Brosnick ’17, an occupational therapy major, gets it. She traveled to Malawi with Taylor the summer of 2013 after attending an information session. She said working with the children was one of the highlights of her trip.
“The biggest thing I was taken with was the kids, I loved playing with the babies,” Brosnick said. “I would love to go back if I had the opportunity.”
While there are moments of helplessness for those who travel to Malawi, such as patients who cannot be cured, Taylor said that it is important to have the bigger picture in mind.
“Even if we save one life, it is worth the trip,” said Taylor.