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A Day in the Life of a Volunteer at the Ngong Hospital

Voluntouring at the hospital in Ngong 

Ever wonder what a voluntouring holiday is like? Corinne Taylor of Bucket List Travel Adventures shares her experiences weighing babies and shucking corn at a hospital in  Ngong, Kenya.

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What will the day have in store for us? 

Our group was up early and, in typical African style, we headed off for our 20 minute walk to the hospital to meet Mama Grace and be assigned our duties for the day. Mama Grace had just earned her Master's degree in HIV and Nutrition and is in charge of the infant feeding program at the hospital.  We met up with another group of paramedics from Ontario who were also there helping treat patients for the day, what a small world.

I was quite excited when Rachel mentioned prior to the group leaving for Kenya that we would have a day to help out at the local hospital with Mama Grace in Ngong.  I only hoped the group would be as excited, luckily they were.

Task #1 ~ time to weigh some babies

the waiting room is getting busythe waiting room is getting busyOur first task was to load some large bags of supplies into an empty office that was being used as a storage room. We then headed down the outdoor hallway, past the line ups to Mama Grace's office to measure and weigh some babies. Grace, as I mentioned, is in charge of the infant feeding program at the hospital and had several ladies and infants waiting for her when we arrived. Our small group of 10 muzungas (white people) crammed into her tiny office , which must have been a scary sight for the moms and children alike - especially being used to only Grace and her assistant at their regular visits .

The infants needed to be undressed and then weighed on a large cold metal scale. If they weren't unhappy about being undressed, then the cold scale started their cries. After being weighed, the children were then placed on a long board on the floor and their legs had to be stretched out straight so their length could be measured. String was used to measure the circumference of their arms and this was all recorded on a sheet to be kept n Grace's file.

measuring babies in Ngongmeasuring babies in NgongSeveral of the babies were returning patients and some were doing well and gaining weight. We were surprised to learn how old the babies were as they were so much smaller than their Canadian counterparts at the same age.

If these babies were slightly underweight, their mothers were given corn flour and vegetable oil to make a paste to feed the babies. We noticed one baby was very fussy and lethargic while being weighed. He was admitted to the ward for treatment as he was slightly malnourished - some porridge and vitamins in the hospital would fix this.

Task #2 ~ will he take the vitamin?

vitamin negotiationsvitamin negotiationsI had the unexpected task of convincing one young patient, visiting with his mom and baby brother that it was okay to take the vitamin being offered to him. I tried my best with several smiles and fake swallows. While I didn't want to waste the vitamin, he would not be convinced until he saw it placed on my tongue and then saw it disappear.

When he saw I was perfectly fine and much stronger afterwards, the next vitamin I offered him was taken and swallowed with no protests. The rest of our group enjoyed a good laugh from watching the vitamin negotiations.  

Task #3 ~ touring the hospital

volunteers working hardvolunteers working hardOur group of volunteers took a tour of the small hospital, walking past the ever growing line of patients waiting to be seen. We wondered just how far these people had travelled on foot to get here and we noticed entire families waiting in line. While it was not a large or well-equipped hospital, we were amazed at the number of services they offered; everything from emergency services, to a delivery room and maternity ward, to HIV care and awareness, and the dispersion of medications.

At this hospital, there is only a women's ward with approximately 30 beds. Men with any serious injuries or illness, that need to be admitted to a hospital, have to travel 45 minutes by car to Nairobi for care. The women's hospital relies heavily on donated drugs and material, and even the oil and flour for the feeding program were donated items.  

We didn't realize we were approaching the delivery room until we had pretty much entered, much to the shock of many of our group members. There was a women standing beside a bed having just given birth. The braver members of our group watched the baby being cleaned.

One of the ladies in our group mentioned it was on her bucket list to see a baby being born. We were told she'd get her chance as several ladies were in labor waiting that afternoon. Sadly the babies waited and she wasn't able to see any of them being born. This item will have to remain on Jenny's bucket list. We then moved into the maternity ward, which was full of newborns and their mothers and offered up our congratulations.

Task #4 ~ time for some hard work

learning from local experiencelearning from local experienceIt was time to get down to some work, so we headed past the laundry room towards the back of the hospital and around to the kitchen. We were shown three large bags with corn inside them and a large tarp. It was our job to shuck the kernels off the cob by hand.

Let the fun begin...

As we settled into the work under the hot Kenyan sun, it was clear this was no easy task and we were not going to get it done easily or quickly. Many different shucking methods were experimented with and we got some rather curious looks from the people passing by on their way to the hospital. Several students decided to see what we were doing and they showed us a new method. Put the corn cobs in the sack and beat them with a stick turning the bag over and repeating. It was a much more strenuous method, but it worked and we wondered where they had been an hour ago.

Returning to the orphanage later in the day, we had a good laugh as some of the children had been at the hospital for treatment and saw us shucking corn. They asked us why we were being punished. We quickly explained we had volunteered to help and this is what our job had been. They were completely amazed that we had volunteered to do this.

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About Corinne Taylor

Corinne Taylor ~ Bucket List Travel AdventuresCorinne Taylor ~ Bucket List Travel AdventuresI started in the travel industry over 17 years ago. I took my first journey to Peru in 2007, with my Mom, to hike the Inca Trail and venture into the rainforest, and that is how my love of adventure travel all began. The following year, I began arranging small group tours to South America. Requests from my clients to do other adventure destinations soon followed. Starting an adventure touring company was on my personal bucket list, and in February of 2011 Bucket List Travel Adventures was born.

Reach out to me on Twitter or Facebook and let me know what's on your bucket list. It might just be one of our next adventures and something we can cross off your list together.

What's on your list?


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What a memorable experience that must have been! But, that sure looks like a lot of corn to shuck :)

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