Cristina Sansalvador from Spain immersed herself in a week-long volunteering project at health centres in rural Kenya. Here she shares her story.
From the cold of a European winter, I arrived to the heat of Kenya. I joined up with three HARTMANN colleagues: Anna, a continence advisor from the UK; Jan, a German chemist and researcher in our Disinfection business; and Niki, sales and marketing manager from South Africa. We really were a multinational team!
Our task was to support the work of the aid agency CARE International at health centres in two small communities near Lake Victoria. This is one of the poorest areas in Kenya. Malaria is widespread and the maternal and infant mortality rates are high. Many of the healthcare workers are volunteers with pretty basic medical training, and medicines and other resources are scarce.
Keeping a promise
I was in Kenya to keep a promise I’d made to myself: to carry out humanitarian work in Africa.
I first visited Kenya a few years ago. It was a holiday but during the trip, I had the chance to visit a school for orphaned children. What stuck with me was how hard it was for them to get medication or even enough to eat.
That’s why, when I left, I promised myself I’d return one day to make some kind of contribution. I didn’t know what that would look like, but I knew I wanted to do something.
Then, when I found out that HARTMANN was looking for employees to volunteer for a project in Kenya, I applied right away and I was thrilled to be chosen.
Coming back to Kenya felt like the right thing to do. My job was to train volunteers and staff at the two health centres in how to manage medicines and other medical products – from receiving and storing them through to dispensing to patients.
From my work as a pharmacist, I know how important it is for hospitals and clinics to manage stocks well. These health centres have very few resources and, if products get damaged, perhaps by high temperatures, or if they go out of date, this can affect the quality of healthcare.
Because people remember things way better when they’re having fun, I decided not to do the usual presentation with slides. Instead, I set up some role-play exercises. In one, we got a healthcare volunteer to act out a visit to treat a pregnant woman. There was a lot of laughter and discussion, and I think this helped everyone take in the important points.
One of the highlights of my time in Kenya was getting involved in a Mother to Mother support group.
The idea with these groups is that women meet up to learn from a facilitator and from each other about pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. After six months, they can ‘graduate’ and run their own Mother to Mother group for their friends and neighbours.
Agnes, one of the mothers, explained that many mothers have avoided or given up breastfeeding because of a lack of proper information and education. This has led to babies being malnourished and means families have to pay for formula milk they can’t really afford. Agnes told me how the groups help mothers return to breastfeeding.
I also got to visit some local families. They were so welcoming and open to talking about their experiences. We got to learn a little about a way of life that’s very different from our own. And yet people’s hopes and concerns were very familiar: taking care of their children, being healthy, trying to build a better world.
The week was over all too soon. I learned so much from everyone I met. The last thing Agnes said to me was: “Please, don’t forget us.” And I know I never will.
2018 marks HARTMANN’s 200-year anniversary.
To commemorate this milestone, we have put together this series of articles. In it we show how our employees and partners contribute to advancing healthcare, as well as discussing trends and issues that affect the healthcare systems we serve.