Monday, September 22, 2014

From Ferrum College to Zambia, Africa

by Brittany Gale, Alumna and Former Panther Blogger

Changing the world may be as simple as passing by someone on the sidewalk and saying "hello" just to make them feel appreciated, or it could be cracking a joke and making them smile or laugh.  We do not always understand how much those things can change someone's day, but coming from such a small campus, many cannot imagine changing the world one person at a time half a world away in an area where nothing is like the "norm" that we are used to in the United States.  It is that once-in-a-lifetime experience that pushes someone to recognize the amount of objects and opportunities that we have placed in front of us.  So, what can we say from experiences like this?  Yes, it is life-changing and makes us appreciate what we have, but most of all, it pushes us to come back and give everyone we have in our lives a much-deserved thank you for everything they have done for us.

OMNI, Orphan Medical Network International offered such a wonderful trip to two lucky students for the second time this past summer, and not only did myself and Blake Sproles have a wonderful time, but we have taken advantage of the opportunities that we came across while on a medical mission in Zambia, Africa.

From October 2013, Blake and I were in close competition with several other students to be selected by a panel of professors who have been pushing us and making us grow as students to earn the two spots for the trip.  For the second time, Ferrum College had made their selection between the students and narrowed it down to just a few students who would then go on to have a phone interview with Karen ReMine.  After the phone interview, all of those who had talked to Karen were nervous and we all exchanged our thoughts about what we would do if we got to go.  Once Blake and I got the phone call back from Karen, we could not help but celebrate and express our joy to everyone.  It even became a joke that some of our close friends would call us Miss and Mr. Africa.  Needless to say, we were not the only ones who could not wait to enjoy the experience and come back with so many heartfelt memories.
Well, what happened after we got our spots with OMNI?  There were monthly phone conferences where we would discuss several different aspects about the upcoming trip.  Karen and several others would inform those of us who were new on the trip about the culture, including food, water, rituals, clothing, politics, and religion.  After the conferences, Blake and I were getting really close to the time of last-minute packing and flying for over 24 hours.  On the flight there, I had the great pleasure of celebrating my birthday with the OMNI team.  Before that day were just people on the team, but from the time we walked into the airport and boarded the plane, we became family.  Several hours later, we finally reached Ndola Airport and saw that this airport was not much like those in the states.  Instead, there were only one or two guys actually pulling our luggage from the plane to the building and hand-throwing the luggage to us.  Woo!  The beginning of a new experience.

As we left the airport, we got to meet our wonderful body guards who were very helpful, and we began our journey for the next two weeks filled with eight clinics in several different communities and tribal areas.  During those clinics, we triaged almost 4,000 patients ranging from newborns to some that were over 100 years old.  We each had the chance to triage patients, work in wound care, pharmacy, lab, fit some patients for glasses, and shadow doctors with several ranges of specialties.  Some of the stories that I walked away with are hard to tell others, but they leave a meaningful spot in my heart no matter what is going on in my life.

The most memorable story I can share is this beautiful girl named Miracle, who was only 8 years old.  She was the first patient that I had worked with in the lab where she was tested for malaria.  She was so strong with no mother by her side, but her loving little sister was by her side the entire time. I had to prick her finger and let the test run for 10 minutes, and in that time, I could not help but play with the little girls who broke my heart because I found out their mother had died from AIDS and they were living with some family friends.  Not only was she strong enough to help care for her sister, but she was also something I would consider one of my Miracles from the trip.

Over the two weeks, there were thousands of smiles, thousands of broken hearts, thousands of tears, but more importantly, thousands of people who love one another and work together to get through one day at a time.  No matter the hurt on someone's face, they always found a way to thank us for our work and service that we had provided for them, which is more than anyone on the trip could ask for.  Although some cases broke us down, there was always one way to brighten our day and make us laugh, and that included the children of the villages.  They loved interacting with us from something as simple as taking their picture, playing ball with them, showing them hand tricks, or even the children teaching us their hand games.  The best smiles I can remember were from the OMNI school children singing songs as we pulled into the school on that very first day.  At that moment, everything became so surreal and moving to know that these children are here because they want to learn and thank us for helping them.

From beginning to end, we each changed as individuals to become better people who understand that we have so much to appreciate. It is easy for us to wake up in the morning to take a hot shower, have hot food on the table, electricity, and easily accessible medical attention even if we have a simple cold.  It is hard to put into words the ways I have changed since the trip, but that is also something that almost anyone would feel if they had such a wonderful opportunity and experience.  I left Africa in tears because the area had really shown me something new and provided some light into what I want to do with my life.  The trip has helped me realize that I will always want to help people, and even though I may be taking the long road currently, I want to go to medical school and become a doctor like those who have inspired me from the trip.

What was once a group of 21 individuals became a 21-person family who can all call upon each other if we need anything or just want to talk.  No matter what the experiences may be like, they are always life-changing and present us with wonderful memories that we can tell others.  Within the many stories that I can tell, there is one piece of advice I can offer, and that is that if you are asked if you would like to participate in something that may benefit your future, try it at least once.  There will always be lessons to learn and events that help you grow as a person.

Thanks to Karen ReMine and the wonderful OMNI team for allowing us the opportunity to join you on the trip to Zambia this past summer.  It means the world to both Blake and me, and we look forward to traveling with you all again!  2-4-1!

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