Ever wonder what it is like to volunteer in The Gambia?
Ever wondered what it was like to arrive in another country and begin work as a volunteer? Ivy of Drexel University sent these notes on her first weeks:
Hello! My name is Ivy and I am here with Mengdi in The Gambia. We are biomedical engineering students from Drexel University currently stationed in Bwiam at Sulayman Jungkung General Hospital as Power Up Gambia interns I arrived about three weeks ago and Mengdi arrived just three days ago. In the past three weeks, I have had the opportunity to help install two solar suitcases, gone on a trek to a local antenatal clinic, watched four surgeries and more. Everything has been going really well. The people are incredibly friendly and generous and my only real complaint is the occasional gecko.
Since Mengdi has arrived, we have visited a busy fish market which gave us some culture shock and then went to a supermarket which was able to bring us back to the USA with instant coffee and ice cream. We then headed to the town of Bwiam for Mengdi's first night in her new home. In the morning, we went to Bwiam market to buy some vegetables, oil, and bouillon to add to the fish we bought on Sunday. We then helped our neighbor, Fatou, to cook, and by cooking, I mean pounding. We pounded chili peppers, black pepper corns, onions, and tomatoes and then Fatou worked her magic and lunch was ready. Mengdi also got the chance to try attaya for the first time, a shot of nearly boiling green tea and sugar. It is loaded with caffeine and a daily (or hourly, for some) ritual in The Gambia which I have come to really enjoy.
Later that evening, Mengdi had her first experience of a Bwiam power outage. In Bwiam, the national grid power goes out often and can be for long periods of time. At the hospital, there are solar powered batteries for the clinical sections, but not for the residences, so it gets very, very dark. The darkness is actually quite beautiful as it allows for seeing the stars - never have I seen so many stars.
On Tuesday, we cooked and had began our Jola language lessons. We have come quite beyond the simple "Kasumei"s and are already able to say things like, "I like my fridge", and "Give me ice cream" as well as more polite greetings and daily phrases. Today, Wednesday, we had the opportunity to witness heated discussions about the Jola words for 'green' and 'dress' between Fatou and Abulai which nearly brought me to tears of laughter.
Today, Mengdi and I also fixed 3 blood pressure cuffs and a stethoscope that Saikou and I picked up at the clinic in Kaiaf. To fix them, we glued and taped the bladders of the cuffs, something that American doctors or technicions would not do as it is not worth the time and resources. In the United States, we would rather spend money to buy a new bladder or an entire new cuff, whereas the clinic in Kaiaf compiled all of the broken blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes for months and gave them to Saikou and I to fix as they did not have the resources. Life in The Gambia is very different.
As a whole, Gambians are very kind and generous. Everyone has been going out of their way to make Mengdi and I feel more comfortable. A five minute walk to a friend's home easily becomes twenty as we stop and talk to all of our new friends. Everyone has been helping us to learn the local languages and inviting us to do things. I have even had the chance to attend a community wrestling match and a two-day wedding celebration at the invitation of hospital staff members. When strolling around Bwiam and the hospital, we always hear someone shouting, "Mariama! Ami!", our Gambian names, inviting us to join them for a cup of attaya. I am certain that we are really going to enjoy our four months here!
New Postings from Sulayman Junkung General Hospital
The summer internships at Sulayman Junkung General Hospital are wrapping up for the Univ. of Pennsylvania interns who have been working with Mr. Kebba Badgie and his staff. Tina sent this note about how fast the time is going by and some of the things they will miss once they leave Bwiam to travel back home ......
Salaam aleikum! After a few adventures in Brikama and nine days into Ramadan, I find myself wrapping up Week 5 and almost able to visibly count my remaining supply of anti-malarial pills. Unlike shorter international summer programs, the eight-week IIP experience through Penn and PUG has allowed me to become more than a visitor in The Gambia. Every night I join my neighbors Saikou, Saidou and Ismaila for mangoes and attaya (bitter tea with a not-so-healthy dose of sugar), and sometimes I generously practice my Jola on them. Two women at the dental clinic have become my Jola language teachers, and they have taught me how to hold my own end during a string of greetings.
Kasumai? Kasumai kep.
Butakanne? Kasumai kep.
As I attempt to greet Saikou, Saidou and Ismaila in Jola, they in turn decide to teach me in Mandinka, Sino ko fulo. I hope you sleep like a donkey. Not everything I learn translates well in the professional setting, but surprisingly, many phrases have proven useful!
From churning ice cream in Ziploc bags to visiting the local tailor for custom-made clothing, there is an endless amount of things to do in Bwiam. A twenty minute walk north leads us to a beautiful, salty river. A couple weekends ago, the three of us, along with three friends, made the journey towards it. At our destination, we plunged in from the dock and were instantly cooled. We swam against the current, sometimes clinging onto the clams that cling onto the wooden dock. This weekend, we may return to this lush river with Peace Corps volunteers. Two of them are organizing a yoga retreat in Bwiam for twenty of their cohorts, and we’ve been invited to partake in the poses, meditation and deep breathing exercises. And so our adventures continue
Learning about the Dental Clinic at Sulayman Junkung General Hospital
Salaam aleikum! I'm Tina Chou, currently in Bwiam, The Gambia serving as an intern at the hospital here through a three-pronged collaboration among PUG, The University of Pennsylvania, and Sulayman Junkung General Hospital (SJGH). I am a second-year student at Penn Dental, and my dental education experience has now expanded across the ocean.
For the past two weeks that I have been in The Gambia, I've fallen in step with the pattern of a typical day in the dental department. There is currently one dental worker at SJGH named Fatumata, and she is one of the most skilled dental providers whom I have observed. On Mondays, which is the department's busiest day, Fatumata can see around twenty-five patients. The majority of procedures are tooth extractions, and most require Fatumata less than thirty seconds to complete. Elevate, clamp, apply gauze. Done. Fatumata hopes that the scenery will change, however, so that patients seek more preventive care as opposed to emergency care. Ideally, cleanings and checkups will become the norm, as opposed to extractions.
In response, I plan to weave in what I have learned at Penn to develop a community dental education program that is both culturally relevant and sustainable. Three days a week, a team of hospital staff makes clinical treks to nearby villages, and these would be the perfect venue to demonstrate proper dental hygiene, refer patients to the dental department, and address any rumors or questions regarding dental care.
The dental department at SJGH is built upon a strong foundation, and the staff are well-trained. Inevitably, there are still challenges to overcome, including difficult access to dental supplies and the need for an on-site dentist (Fatumata is a "community oral health worker"). SJGH understands the importance of quality dental care, however, and so there is no doubt that great strides are underway to provide comprehensive care that ranks high in The Gambia!
A busy week for our interns at Sulayman Junkung Hospital!
Dear Power Up Gambia Friends,
As one of the three fortunate interns chosen to work at the Sulayman Junkung General Hospital conjointly with Power Up Gambia to, I feel that the doors to learning, creating and enacting positive change have opened for me here, and I am sure my colleagues feel the same. Every morning is an inspiration—I walk past the beautiful solar panels which help power the day-to-day operations of a hospital community cohesively working towards a healthier Gambia, and we have you to thank for all your hard work in making this renewable energy source possible.
The living situation is wonderful here. The food is delicious and flavorful—for lunch, we often eat a tasty short-grain Gambian rice topped with vegetables such as peppers, onions, cassava, and an okra and sorrel blend, accompanied by fish, chicken or beef. Little light pollution and distraction from TV, internet and phones makes it easy to focus on connection with nature and getting to know the faces around me. Just recently, I learned how to brew a strong, sweet green tea called attaya, poured repeatedly in glasses to create froth, as a group of friends chat. Outside of work, there are endless possibilities for activities: I ate countless mangos, haggled with a stubborn taxi driver, swam in the salt water river, cooked a rice dish called Bennachin, attended a Jola circumcision festival as well as a naming ceremony, chatted with a radio station manager in French, made a makeshift broom using dried brush from the field behind the hospital, and met many, many friends.
I am pleased to write that the staff and families are incredibly genuine and amicable. Each individual person, like the Gambian weather, exudes a constant warmth, making my work and travel experience at the hospital all the more enjoyable. In my first week, like a curious, babbling baby waving at every new person in sight, I tried to greet everyone I passed with the common Arabic greeting “Salaam alaikum” and a handshake or hand-clasped gesture. These words of peace always prompted the traditional response and would even evolve into conversations about the day or the weather, while older, non-English-speaking Gambians would simply clasp both my hands, smiling with amusement as I attempted to repeat the Mandinka or Jola phrases they taught me. Sometimes a simple roadside greeting developed into friendly discourse as we spoke about our hobbies, families, and what we love about our jobs.
And what is there not to love about my job? As I walk past calm cream-colored walls and cool, shaded walkways lined with patients and their families, I am filled with pride to work in a hospital that has grown since its humble beginnings to become a medical and teaching facility serving more than 100,000 local residents and held up as a model of hospital development and management. Surrounded by positive people who are enthusiastic to work with me and exchange ideas, truly in the spirit of CEO Mr. Kebba Badgie’s emphasis on the Jola word “battiyab” or fellowship, I look forward to interacting with my coworkers every day.
Last week, I worked with Edrissa and other staff at the Medical Records department in order to familiarize myself with the system and look for ways it could be improved. The staff members are knowledgeable and efficient, but the fact that most out-patient and other data are stored in paper logs makes it more difficult for the different departments to work as a single cohesive unit. Hospital administrators are looking into implementing a computerized medical data entry and retrieval network that will allow for better compilation of patient information and inter-departmental interfacing. Moreover, I worked with patient numbers to generate graphs and charts displaying trends over time, outcomes, and annual occurrences of various diseases. This raw data contains so much potential for forays into a better understanding of at-risk populations for certain diseases—for instance, the occurrence of Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI) might be particularly high for certain groups of females because of the time spent exposed to smoke while cooking with charcoal burners, so it might be useful to process these numbers and formulate a plan of action and education to lower the disease prevalence in these communities. I hope to work more with the Records staff to teach them about computer charting and statistical methods so that they might begin further systematic research. I would also like to develop a website for the hospital so that a certain public record can be available online for those who would like information about the hospital’s history and vision, its directory and contact information, as well as updates on its ongoing projects.
On Monday, June 10th, I began working with Ibrima, a nurse specializing in midwifery, at the Reproductive and Children’s Health department, where I helped record information about pregnant mothers, as well as performed basic medical assessment in antenatal care such as taking their blood pressure (I am glad my EMT certification came in handy) and estimating their gestation period by measuring the height of their fundus. I also traveled with a team of about 8 other hospital staff in a day-long trekking expedition to Besse, approximately 20 minutes from the hospital. Once we arrived at the satellite health facility, we proceeded to give women the same antenatal check-ups and care that we provided at the hospital. This whole experience has been amazing not only because of the opportunity to have patient contact, but also because we provide much-needed accessible care and education to the furthest reaches of the local rural community through these monthly clinics. I also sat in on a health education program with Arielle at the Bwiam radio station, hosted by staff from SJGH, and we hope to be more vocal in our participation during next week’s radio program.
Sulayman Junkung General Hospital has made leaps and bounds of progress through the efforts of its staff, sponsors and friends, yet there is still so much potential for growth and improvement. Medical wards are in need of renovation, many professionals would be able to give more targeted treatments if they had better technological toolkits, and the infrastructure for quick inter-departmental communication is lacking. This realization struck me full force when Ibrima and I were seeing a pregnant patient for her antenatal check-up and another one staggered in, clutching her knees, clearly beginning labor. One look at the baby’s progress showed that his head was already visible, so Ibrima called a nurse in the Labor Ward on his cell phone for assistance, but could not reach her. We immediately flanked the patient from either side and steadily made our way to the Labor Ward, several meters away. The patient arrived on time so that appropriate tools and staff were available to help with the rest of the labor process, but this experience showed me that limitations in hospital communication—such as being restricted to cell phones or even less—can be life-threatening in case of emergencies. Keeping records, monitoring solar panels, transferring patients, trekking to other sites, and giving radio health talks also rely on the central tenet of communication. How to improve it and therefore build on the hospital’s goals for battiyab is tantamount to strengthening the delivery of healthcare and the spirit of community here in The Gambia overall.
Three cheers for Bansang Hospital and for Bansang Hospital Appeal!
The rebuilding of the Children’s Ward at Bansang Hospital is almost done! When Leland and I visited the hospital in March the Children’s Ward was in the middle of a massive reconstruction. Heavy rains the summer before along with blocked drainage from a major storm drain pipe had resulted in settling and cracking of some of the support walls to the ward. In making plans for rebuilding those walls, the decision was made to upgrade the ward with new windows and tile, improved electrical wiring and improvement of the sinks and toilets. Leland and I worked with Dembo (Chief of Maintenance at the hospital), Dennis (the construction manager for Bansang Hospital Appeal) and Mr. Morrow (the contractor) to decide how to extend the lighting and critical care electrical sockets on the ward to better utilize the solar power system that powers the Children’s ward.
What a mess a major reconstruction project can make! The children had to be moved to the surgical recovery ward during the project, and the contractor was in a rush to finish all the work before the rainy season began again in June. Sounds like they made it just in time – some preliminary rainstorms have started in Bansang, and they are getting ready to move the children back into the ward this week. Hats off to the hard workers at Bansang Hospital and to the tireless efforts of Anita Smith and her group The Bansang Hospital Appeal!
Univ. of Penn International Interns are on their way!
Three University of Pennsylvania students will be winging their way to The Gambia later this week to do a summer internship at Sulayman Junkung General Hospital with Mr. Kebba Badgie. When Mr. Badgie last visited the United States, we met with Cara Bonnington of the Penn Global International Internship Program to see if there would be a good fit between the IIP program and the Sulayman Junkung General Hospital. We worked together to develop a Hospital Adminstrative Staff internship and we were thrilled when 3 Penn students were accepted into the program and placed at Sulayman Junkung Hospital! Arielle, Janice and Tina will be working on various aspects of hospital administration and management. They will be working at the hospital for 8 weeks and we wish them well on their internships!
(oh - and this photo is just a background shot of "Life in The Gambia" - this is the Gambian and Senegalese fishing fleet out of Bakau, The Gambia)
Power Up Gambia Art!
Our Executive Director Lynn McConville was visiting in her home town of Yellow Springs, Ohio last weekend and gave a talk about Power Up Gambia at the Yellow Springs Senior Citizens Center. Her talented friend from childhood, Dan Schiff, surprised her with a great sketch he made during her talk. Thanks Danny!
Nice Article in the Philadelphia Tribune
A friend of one of our board members came to the Power Up Gambia Benefit last week and was inspired to write a great article for the Philadelphia Tribune about Power Up Gambia! Mr. Linn Washington Jr., Executive Editor at the Philadelphia Tribune came to our event on the invitation of board member Richelle Todd-Yamoah. He had a chance to learn about what Power Up Gambia is working to achieve in The Gambia and also spoke with board member Dr. Shannon Marquez about her extensive experience working in the health care sector in The Gambia. He was also able to talk with Mr. Baboucarr Jallow, Deputy Chief of Mission for the Gambian Embassy in Washington DC, who travelled up from Washington just to show the Embassy's support for the work we do.
Check out Mr. Washington's article online, and like and share it on Facebook to help spread the word! http://www.phillytrib.com/newsarticles/item/9172-power-up-gambia-promotes-water,-electricity-projects.html
If you missed our Spring Benefit and want to be sure to get an ivitation for the next event, make sure you are on our mailing list! We had such a good time, we are thinking about hosting a similar one in Wilmington this fall for all of our friends and supporters there.
Lifting Hearts, Powering Hopes Debriefing
We hope you had a nice Mother's Day--if you know anything about us, it's how Mother's Day is our favorite day of the year.
Last Wednesday, we had an awesome night at the Friends Center, with our first annual spring benefit at the Friends Center. Our guests raised over $5,000, beating our goal, to support our work at hospitals and clinics in The Gambia.
If you're like us and want to re-live the glory, check out pictures of the event on our Facebook page.
After enjoying a Meet 'n' Greet Happy Hour with PUG Board and Team members at Tir Na Nog, PUG guests were greeted at the Friends Center by a large spread of Gambian delicacies and desserts, as well as the beautiful sounds of Arielle Clynes' violin. Arielle is the new President of our Undergraduate Chapter at Penn, succeeding Sarah Evans. Sarah left some pretty big shoes to fill, but we know Arielle's up to the task.
Our board and team members floated around the room, engaging with guests to answer their questions and tell them our story. Catherine Griffin of PUG's Board was our M.C. for the evening, and she kicked off a mobile fundraising drive with a $50 donation of her own. Within minutes, PUG's supporters donated more than $1,000! Dr. Shannon Marquez, a longtime PUG friend and public health scholar at Drexel University, then took the podium to give our guests a snapshot of the challenges and opportunities in Gambian healthcare. Then it was time for our story, ably told by a presentation created by Catherine Griffin. By the end of the video, we were more than halfway to our goal of $5,000.
A surprise guest really ramped things up then. Baboucarr Jallow of the Gambian Embassy flew up from Washington to give us his perspective on Gambian health care. He thanked PUG for its work and announced his own donation to our hospital projects.
As our fundraising thermometer ticked towards $5,000, we announced the winners of our raffle prizes, which included some pretty sweet gift cards and a lot of beer (c'mon, we are mostly students anyway). Finally, a quick check of our mobile fundraising challenge and...we did it! A great end to a great evening!
We want to thank the Friends Center for hosting, as well as the various local businesses that sponsored the event. Most of all, we want to thank our amazing guests for all their support. As a friendly reminder, if you attended and used the mobile option to make your pledge, you must click the link in the text message you receieved in order to fulfill that contribution. If you have had any issues so far, please shoot us an e-mail at email@example.com.
We did it!
We want to thank all of you for coming to our benefit last night, which was an incredible success! Thanks to your support, more than $5,000 was pledged to help support our projects in The Gambia, particularly Bansang Hospital.
An important reminder: If you were unable to do so last night, remember to click the link in the text message to fulfill your contribution. And, if you did not use the mobile texting tool last night, remember that you are always free to visit our website to make your donation.
Thanks so much for showing your support! Full report with pictures and deets to follow...
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