Thursday, September 4, 2014

My New Perspective from Zambia, Africa

by Blake Sproles, Alumnus and Panther Blogger

What fun would life be if we never did anything new?  If we were simply to stay in the same location and do the same exact things day upon day and never push ourselves to do something extreme, then life would very quickly become nothing but a tedious chore.  Sometimes, life can seem to become a bit boring due to the repetitive work days, overbearing workloads, and stressful situations that we as individuals experience on a daily basis.  However, it does not have to be this way. By allowing ourselves to experience new things and step out of our comfort zones, we are capable of breaking free from the same old average daily routine and really grasp life by the horns!  I did exactly this when I traveled to Zambia, Africa this past summer as part of the Orphan Medical Network International medical mission team.

I am grateful that I was selected by one of my Ferrum professors to apply for a position on the trip. I was first interviewed by a group of professors, then had an interview with the OMNI president, Karen ReMine, after which Karen selected me to be a part of her medical mission trip.

A view of Zambia from the airplane.
This was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that really impacted me as an individual and allowed me to reevaluate the manner in which I live my life.  While in Africa, I saw things that I had never seen before, did things that I had never done before, and had my eyes opened to a completely different world.  The experiences that I had while on this trip changed my life and have encouraged me to explore new opportunities each and every chance that I get.

Enjoying a ride through Zambia on the back of a truck!
Cleaning a patient's wound.
During our time in Africa, we held a total of eight different medical clinics, typically seeing about 500 patients in a day.  These clinics were held in various tribes and villages, in which we were able to observe a very different type of lifestyle than what we know and are used to here in the United States.  There is truly one thing that I can say from my observations of the individuals living in these tribes and villages, and this is that family is the most important thing anyone could have.  In the country of Zambia, people are not rushing to work in vehicles, continuously holding a phone in their hand, or always on the computer participating in social media.  Instead, they are helping out one another by weeding the gardens, caring for the livestock, watching over the children, and doing absolutely everything and anything possible to ensure that they can make it through another day.  In Zambia, it is not a common feeling to have the promise of a tomorrow, and the only way to obtain this is to work extremely hard each and every day, and to keep your family close to you at all times.  The feeling of security is something that we oftentimes take for granted and commonly forget about here in the United States.  However, I now know just how blessed I am to have a wonderful family that loves me and that I can wake up every day knowing that everything is going to be just fine.

Performing tests in the medical clinic
Throughout these clinics, I was allowed to participate in the various clinical departments of triage (questioning patients to obtain information regarding their medical needs), pharmacy, diagnosis, wound care, eyeglasses, and the lab.  By working in these various departments, I was able to see many different individuals and medical needs that I could never have even imagined would exist.  Perhaps the one individual who sticks out in my mind the most is a beautiful seventeen-year old girl who had become paralyzed from the waist down at the age of eight or nine due to a severed spinal cord.  This young girl has been reduced to living in a small wooden cart, about half the size of her body, that is equipped with handle bars that she can rotate with her hands to transport herself from one place to another.  Because she is paralyzed and cannot be easily removed from her cart, she obtains frequent pressure sores on her sides due to lying on the cart's hard wooden surface.  These could be easily treated, however the closest medical clinic is more than thirty miles away from where she lives, and this same medical clinic is limited in the supplies and medical instruments that they have.  Thus, she waits to visit the Orphan Medical Network International clinic every year to receive the supplies and care that she needs.

A student of the OMNI school.
Another amazing aspect of this trip was getting to see the impact that OMNI is having in the lives of so many individuals over in Zambia, Africa.  Since the founding of this organization, OMNI has not only been taking annual medical mission trips over to Zambia to help those with medical needs, but they have also started a teaching facility for children who are orphaned or have troubled homes.  These children do not yet have any mode of transportation, so they will walk miles to go to school.  Throughout the school day, these children are not only taught the typical classes such as English, math, and science, but they also learn life skills that directly apply to their lifestyle in Zambia, such as how to properly grow and take care of a garden and livestock.  Not only do these children come to school because they love learning and singing, but it is also perhaps the only way that they can receive a meal during the day.  After getting to visit the school, meet the children, and see the great services that OMNI has provided for these people who are living in a troubled country, it really encourages me to know that we are making a great impact on the lives of these individuals and that what we are doing really does matter.

All in all, there are so many stories to tell about what all I saw during my trip to Zambia, and there really is no way to sum up everything that I have seen into a few words.  However, I can say that this was, without a doubt, one of the greatest experiences that I will ever have.  The time that I spent in Zambia will be with me forever, and I will always be able to look back and reflect on my experiences.  The experience that I gained during this trip in the medical field was priceless and has encouraged me to explore the medical sciences to a greater depth.  I also made some great friends and many new connections during the short period of time that we were in Zambia.  It is a huge honor and blessing to say that I have been offered the chance to return again for another medical mission trip, and I've got to say that I cannot wait for the next trip that I get to take back to Africa.

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