Dear friends and family
I hope you are all doing well and you can enjoy the approaching spring (at least in Switzerland) without a mask and without further restrictions. As it is so often the case when the world is turbulent, you hardly notice it here in Kibanga. People are interested and want to know whether the war in Ukraine is over. And whether all people in Europe are now vaccinated against Covid. We are thankful for the peace in Tanzania. And yet, the people here struggle every day with problems and hardships that we can hardly imagine.
What has been keeping me busy lately are the many preventable diseases. Patients with hepatitis B infection keep coming to us. Often, unfortunately, only at a stage where medication no longer helps. Young people are dying, mostly within a short period of time, and there is nothing we can do about it. Even if they wanted to get vaccinated, where to start? A vaccination costs a good 12 dollars, which many people here can hardly afford. As well a typhoid outbreak has been raging here for about a year. While we can get vaccinated against typhoid in Switzerland if we travel to Africa, typhoid vaccination is throughout Tanzania nowhere available. Or I still haven't found out where it could be purchased... Every day, patients with a diagnosis of typhoid come to our dispensary, some in such bad condition that they can only be saved with intravenous antibiotic therapy. Maisha Mema has been working with the village elders to find out what can be done about this deadly plague. A major toilet construction campaign is planned with the aim of ensuring that every household has its own toilet. At the moment, mostly bushes are used as a toilet, which contributes to the fact that the infection rate is extremely high. Clean water would also go a long way towards containing it. But that is a bigger undertaking and the we are postponing this goal to later years.
Speaking of water: Work on a new water borehole began at Maisha Mema in April. We have received a generous donation and can now drill a new borehole. At the same time, another borehole will be drilled at a nearby school, paid for by the same donors. The whole drilling process is long and complicated. Water is not so easy to find here. We continue to hope that everything goes well and can't wait to finally have clean water.
In February we received a visitor from Switzerland. Elena (nurse) from Grabs spent a little over a month with us. She was often present on our weekly home visits, which lead us over hill and dale. Sometimes by motorbike, sometimes by wooden boat, sometimes by car along narrow paths and through the bush. With her calm and loving nature, she assisted us where it was needed. Thanks to her great willingness to help the people here, she has bought some patients various auxiliary materials and other important things. At this point, many thanks to Elena for her commitment.
Almost at the same time, our board member Kathrin and her partner Hansjörg came to visit. Shortly after his arrival, Hansjörg was only out and about on Maisha Mema's premises with a hammer, screwdriver and paintbrush. While Kathrin devoted herself to the team and the patients in the dispensary, he repaired, overhauled and improvised as much as was possible in the short time. Over and over again you could hear him snarling, "Oh that stuff from China..." Yes, that stuff from China is very cheap, but it gives us quite a headache... So often we have repairs on stuff that's only been a few weeks old. Water taps break, the brakes on the motorbike no longer work, new windows can no longer be closed after a short time and locks on the doors get stuck after just a few weeks. As soon as the plumber is out of the house, you need the carpenter. As soon as he's gone, the electrician has to come... So we never get bored and I wish for a real caretaker who can mend everything. That's why we want to send our all-rounder Jonas to a number of courses this year so that he can become familiar with the most important repair work in the house and garden. I have to keep reminding myself that people here only recently came into contact with electricity. Also that a water pipe is something new for them. I had to laugh when at the beginning of Maisha Mema the electrician was called when a lightbulb was broken. From that point of view we are doing quite well, we can change the wheels on the car ourselves and we no longer need an electrician because of changing a lightbulb.
Our medical team has been working almost around the clock for a few weeks. It took a while for our dispensary to establish itself in Kibanga. But meanwhile it is well known: At Maisha Mema, you get well treated and the team works professionally.
People travel from far away, sometimes several hours by motorbike or bus to get to us. However, patients are often in very poor condition, whether due to untreated chronic illnesses or an emergency. Actually, we are "only" a dispensary and would have to refer such patients to a hospital. But they often don't have the money to do so. In addition, trust in the local hospitals is not very high. This is how we recently treated a little boy who had been hit by a motorbike. It took several
Hours until all his wounds were tended and stitched. He was injured so badly that he was still unconscious the next day. Despite his severe concussion, we should have referred the boy to the hospital in Mwanza, 300 kilometers away. But the parents had neither the money for the journey, nor would the boy have survived the transfer. So we kept him with us and hoped for improvement every day. When he still hadn't regained consciousness on the third day, we had to insert a feeding tube. Unfortunately, on the fifth day, his mother tried to feed him honey. She didn't know that this is very dangerous with an unconscious child. The boy aspirated the honey and stopped breathing. By the time our doctors got there, his heart already stopped beating. After a good 10 minutes of heart massage and ventilation, the heart started working again and the boy was stabilized. We are thankful that he survived this incident! Miraculously (one would think the heart massage would have helped his recovery) the next day he began to open his eyes and move actively. After 10 days at our dispensary he started talking and greeting people. A few days ago he was released to go home. For us it was a highlight and proof that a lot can be achieved with few resources but a motivated team.
In February we carried out our eye outreach once again, where we measured the patients' eyes for two days and then hand in suitable old glasses donated from Switzerland. The rush this time wasn't as big as last year. But we were able to make ourselves better known. Almost every day people come and want to use our “optician service”. In March we did another outreach to a secondary school, where we gave sex education to the girls and informed them about women's rights. At the end we were able to give all girls in the 3rd grade a set of reusable pads. The joy about it was huge! Because here it is very difficult for the girls and women when they have their periods. Pads are hardly affordable and so the girls have to help themselves with old towels. It's a burden and an insecurity. So the girls don't go to school and miss a lot.
During the monthly baby clinic, I noticed a baby who was born at 4 kg and a year later still weighed only 4 kg. The mother told me that she became very ill shortly after the birth and as a result the newborn did not receive the care and attention it needed. Little Joseline didn't recover and just didn't gain weight. She was weak and often cried. She had wounds all over her body, her skin was strikingly fair and she had hardly any hair, clear signs of severe malnutrition. We decided to take mother and child to the Amani house to feed up the child there. When the two moved in, the girl couldn't sit up herself, she was much too weak. She cried often and her thin voice caused the whole team great concern and pity.
That was, so to speak, the start of our teaching program on nutrition for mothers. I began teaching Joseline's mother and other women about good nutrition. We cooked together and every day there was a small test. Why are we giving the child milk? What are beans good for? How many times a day should the child eat? Why do we mix spinach into the food? In this way, the women learned what a healthy diet means. We all saw from Joseline how important this is and how quickly a healthy diet works. After two weeks she could already sit! The crying stopped and she was soon awake and alive. The wounds dried and the hair started to grow. Her skin also got a healthy coloring. When the father came to visit after two weeks, he couldn't believe his own eyes! That his child recovered so well in such a short time! And all that only with healthy food... With tears in his eyes, he explained to me that he no longer believed that his daughter would survive. The example of Joseline has also spread. Since then, three more children with severe malnutrition have come to us. All three are well on their way to recovery.
I am very happy with our Maisha Mema garden, precisely because healthy eating would be the main medicine for a lot of villagers. Egidius, our gardener, puts his heart and soul into it and provides our patients and the residents of the Amani house with fresh, healthy vegetables. Meanwhile, he has helped about 10 patients at home to plant a vegetable garden. And he teaches them how to garden efficiently and professionally. A number of patients with chronic anemia already have spinach and other green vegetables in their own garden. In this way, they can actively do something for their health.
In the Christmas newsletter I collected money for various people. It was with great joy that I was once again able to see how many people are willing to give something and help others in need! I was able to fulfill most of the Christmas wishes. The twins now always have enough to eat and recently even have a milk goat in the garden. Jovinus and Leonce are very relieved because their education is secured. And thanks to you, little Allen also gets food regularly. Which is very good for him, because he too is slowly beginning to learn to walk. Damian and his family should be able to move into their own house next week and we were able to give some bedridden people a soft mattress. I have received so many "thanks" in the last few months, which of course are primarily meant for you, dear donors.
A heartfelt thank you to everyone who has supported us so faithfully over the years and to everyone who took part in the Christmas campaign.
Happy faces after successful Christmas surprises
Bettina with family and the entire Maisha Mema team