Hope and Healing

Today, I learned the true value of volunteers.

March 30, 2012From the Field

Brian Hatchell, cbm Canada
Guest Blogger

I learned the true value of volunteers today. Not that I ever thought it wasn’t valuable before, but today it took on a much deeper meaning for me.

We headed to the bush to see an eye-screening clinic. And when I say we drove into the bush, I mean we drove into the bush. We quite literally just turned off the paved road onto a dirt path that wasn’t much wider than a bike path. The brush on either side of us was higher than the car and the road was so twisting and turning that if the car ahead got more than 10 feet ahead, it was gone and we couldn’t see it anymore.

After 40 minutes of driving 25 kms off-the-beaten-path we suddenly drove into an opening where there were about 20 mud-walled/thatched roofed huts. When we drove to the centre of this village, there was a group of about 30 people sitting on woven mats under a shade tree. They had all gathered for the eye-screening clinic.

We were introduced to Crispin, and young medical assistant, and his colleague Gilbert, a community rehab worker. These young men are two of the 14 Community Care Workers (CCWs) employed by MACOHA to travel throughout Salima District and conduct field assessments of people either living with a disability or in need of medical attention.

Crispin and Gilbert may be the trained professionals, but they are quick to point out it is actually the community volunteers who work with them that do the grueling ground work.

Salima District is home to 350,000 residents. 150 volunteers have been trained by MACOHA and cbm to go out into the community on foot and look for people needing help.

When they find them, they do an initial assessment, and then contact the CCWs like Crispin or Gilbert who come out and do a more in-depth assessment and referral. It may involve being referred to Dr. Banza at the Salima District Community Hospital or to another facility such as Nkhoma Eye Hospital – another cbm funded hospital – in Lilongwe.

These people are volunteers in the true sense of the word. They don’t receive any financial reimbursement for their services, they aren’t given bicycles, or any funds to pay for a bus or taxi ride. They are responsible for covering an area roughly 150 square-kilometres and they may visit between 40-60 patients a day.

And if it wasn’t for their volunteer services many people living with a disability or in need of medical attention would probably never get the assistance they desperately need.

Thanks to the initial assessment by the volunteers Crispin and Gilbert knew they needed to examine seven people in this village today. After a few tests and consultation they determine that three people need to have cataract surgery. They are given a form to take to Nkhoma Hospital in Lilongwe and are told their surgery will be scheduled for May.

Before we leave Crispin and Gilbert explain a volunteer will be back to tell them when their surgery has been scheduled and to make sure they have a way of getting to the hospital.

It sounds easy enough, but you have to remember that the volunteer has to walk – or ride if they own a bike – more than 24 kms into the bush, on a path no wider than them, surrounded on either side by thick bush containing disease carrying ticks, cat-sized rodents and the infamous Black Mamba snake, not to mention the intense African sun. And they get to do all this for free.

Volunteers are the back-bone of the Community Care program at MACOHA. Thousands of people a year owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women who put the well-being of others ahead of their own prosperity or safety.

Doctors, surgeons and other healthcare professionals may get all the appreciation and admiration, but it is these volunteers that make the Community Care out-reach program possible.

They are truly invaluable.