Wednesday, September 17, 2014

once you go you can't forget

children at Endonyolasho clinic holding up their Alabaster bracelets

In Kenya, we saw a lot of things that had been forgotten. On our drive back to Nairobi, an abandoned tour bus sat crookedly in dried up tire tracks, evidence of a struggle to get it out what had once been mud. In Shompole, the dispensary showed signs of one-time investments that had been neglected: a broken refrigerator, an empty pharmacy shelf, a falling-in ceiling which bats flew out of at night.

It wasn't surprising to us, the things we saw, because Alabaster Mobile Clinic's mission takes its teams to those places where there has been forgetting. Shannon's vision for starting the nonprofit started nearly ten years ago with a conviction to not forget. She had lived in one of Kenya's slum communities for six weeks -- a short stint by some standards, but a lifetime when you're plunged so totally in a completely different way of life. She lived in a flimsy box no smaller than most American walk-in closets, walked the mud paths filled with garbage to get her water to bathe in, taught the women she lived around how to make spaghetti. Her "work" involved gathering stories and photos of women who made bracelets that would be sold in America. The story would be told on a tag attached to the bracelet to connect rich Americans to their Kenyan neighbors and, hopefully, cultivate not forgetting.

That kind of experience has a way of changing you. It gets into your bones. Shannon could not forget, and she didn't -- through nursing school, first her second bachelor's degree, then a master's program to become a nurse practitioner. Seven years later, she still remembered and started Alabaster Mobile Clinic. Its first site would be Kenya.

Shannon planned, raised money, found connections in Kenya, and went. Her first team included herself, two nurses and a doctor, along with two friends who took photos and video. That first trip and the next one a year later were so much about learning. She had never been to the rural Maasai communities that Girl Child Network (GCN), one of her nonprofit partners in Kenya, took her to. That first year, they slept under a mosquito net in the simple classroom of the school. Their only light in the deep darkness of night in Kenya's expanse of savannah were their headlamps -- to change at night, to see if bugs had gotten into their things, to find a place to pee. In its three trips, Alabaster teams stay in this area, in two different locations, for five days to run clinics and learn about people's needs. Few other medical groups have gone to this area to provide medical care for the Maasai. To GCN's knowledge, no others have stayed a night.

The thing that Shannon and her teams of medical professionals will tell you is that not forgetting is actually filled with much joy. Hearing about the conditions in some places in Kenya might make some people think the trip is just gritting your teeth and bearing it. But that's not the full picture because there are all those people there, and the things they are doing that you really can't forget. Like the school in Kangemi slum that started a nutrition program. At the side of the courtyard, beside the classroom buildings of blue corrugated metal painted with lessons (a map of Kenya, the digestive system, the alphabet) is a small garden of big black containers growing kale and spinach. And we met Celline, the young woman living in Shompole who is studying to be a nurse. She helped during our clinic and told us that she learned about how to assess patients better that day. And I really can't forget Michelle, the 10-year-old daughter of the health worker in Shompole who giggled a lot, wore my headlamp until the moment we left, and told us that she wants to be an neurologist.

That's the thing, once you go you just can't forget.

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