The first week at KBC (Kilimanjaro Bush Camp) has been nothing short of incredible. The site visits, classroom activities and free time adventures have exceeded my expectations of the trip, let alone the first week. We visited the Kimana Health Center on our first afternoon and were given a tour by a public health specialist. She answered all of our questions and showed us how a federal level-two health center is addressing immense problems like HIV/AIDS, maternal mortality rates, lack of sanitation, etc. without sufficient funding and resources (let alone a functioning ambulance). The limited resources include a lack of medical personnel, a limited drug supply, limited technology, and so on. However, the care at this level is free and has vastly increased the number of patients coming for HIV/AIDS tests or treatment, maternal care, immunizations, etc.
In class, we have jumped right in to the most current and pressing public health issues. We have had courses ranging from Intro to Public Health to Health Systems Behavior and Water, Sanitation and Public Health Issues. The faculty and staff are extremely knowledgeable about Kenyan and Maasai traditions, as several staff and faculty members are Maasai and all are Kenyan. As my interests reside in the social and cultural determinants of public health, having insight into the cultural misunderstandings and differences is absolutely fascinating. Through this, we can see that oftentimes, while public health research and science is available, cultural misunderstandings inherently limit the success of public health initiatives.
On Friday, we went on a relatively long hike to a striking waterfall. The hike was a lot of fun and involved a decent amount of climbing, crawling and jumping over various rocks and trees. The waterfall was beautiful and we ended up saving a drowning mongoose! After the waterfall, we had one of the most incredible site visits. We visited a VTC (Voluntary Testing and Counselling) Boma, a community level HIV/AIDS center. This center provides free and anonymous HIV tests, support groups that are incredibly well attended, micro-finance loan support (bead and soap making), and free corn for those who attend support groups. We spoke with the directors of the Boma, a former SFS student who is doing research there, and two HIV positive Maasai Mama’s who are living with HIV despite the incredible adversity they face. These Mama’s were some of the most inspirational people I have met in my life. They faced immense cultural stigma and the physical limitations of an incredibly complex disease, all in the midst of poverty. Yet they spoke to us passionately and strongly, asking us to share their stories and remember them; I certainly know that I will.
On the car ride back from the VCT Boma, we had a passionate talk about how to break the cycle of poverty and disease. With such a culturally and academically diverse group, bouncing ideas off each other was truly inspiring. I cannot wait to see what the rest of the semester brings with this wonderful group in this beautiful place.