Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Safari Za Emanuel Kwa Moshi.

Before coming to Tanzania I read several articles calling into question the true value of short-term volunteering, often referred to as "volunteer vacations" or "voluntourism." In short, the argument is that a few weeks or even a few months are simply not enough time to affect change in a developing country. Between unfinished projects and short relationships that end abruptly, some critics posit that short-term volunteering may even do more harm than good.

This may very well be the case, but while I cannot say for sure what the actual value of short-term volunteering is, I feel I can speak confidently on its potential. Given some initiative, drive, creativity and communication/collaboration with other volunteers (and possibly a willingness to spend a little money), there are opportunities to make a small but significant impact.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have found medical "projects" to have the greatest cost-to-benefit ratio. Though none of the children I work with have severely crippling or immediately life-threatening illnesses, there are several who possess treatable maladies that, if corrected, could improve their quality of life. The answer to why they go untreated is always cost, and usually the dollar amount imposing this barrier is shockingly low.

Case in point: My housemate and fellow volunteer, Andreas, from Germany, and his eight year-old student Emanuel. Andreas exemplifies the kind of initiative I'm talking about, and for me has served as a vital source of inspiration. After administering an impromptu vision test to some of the students in his class (which he did by tracing an eye chart off his laptop -- amazing), Andreas decided to further investigate Emanuel's "lazy eye" condition, i.e. seeing with only one eye at a time while the unseeing eye turns inward. After three trips to three different doctors in Arusha (each nearly a full-day affair), paying all the costs every step of the way, Andreas was directed to Moshi (about 80 km away) to see a pediatric opthamologist, one of only two in the country capable of performing a surgery that could correct the problem.

The doctor determined that he could see perfectly well, but emphasized the psychological benefits of corrective surgery -- those with lazy eyes as extreme as his are less likely to be married, less likely to get a job, less likely to be happy, etc.

The surgery involves anesthetizing him, then detaching and reattaching the muscles around his eyes. all of which costs a whopping twenty-seven dollars, U.S.

The catch was that the earliest surgery date available was after Andreas returned home to Germany. While this was very unfortunate for Andreas, since he would not be able to witness the culmination of his noble efforts, it turned out to be a gift for me, who had the distinct pleasure of taking Emanuel for surgery myself.

Some day I intend to write a more detailed and reflective account of our three-day journey, but for now allow me to share some pictures with captions.

Outside the eye clinic at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center in Moshi.

Emanuel getting one last look from the doctor the day before surgery.  Dr. Leigh Woodward, referred to as "Dr. Leigh" by everyone at the hospital, hails from Texas and has been working in Tanzania for just over a year.

 Here's a good before shot.  If he was looking with the right eye, it would be the left that was turned inward.

Emanuel's corner bed in the eye ward, where we spent most of our time.  The ward was huge -- six or seven rooms with a dozen beds each.  This is Eye Central in Tanzania.  Oh, and that little piece of tape on his head indicated what surgery he was supposed to get.  I kept hoping he wouldn't unwittingly trade head labels with another patient.


Emanuel and his ward buddy, Kasimu, playing a memory game with UNO cards. I am so grateful they were able to entertain each other. Certainly took some of the pressure off me.

Curled up in his overlarge patient's smock, outside the surgical "theater."  This is not fear, by the way (he never once the whole trip seemed anxious or scared); this is him hamming it up for the camera, which he does quite often.

 Andreas, this one's for you.  Remember the zombie nurse from our first visit?  SHE LIIIIVES!!!

Getting wheeled out of surgery -- out like a light.

After some failed attempts to wake his sleeping friend, Kasimu sits diligently by his bedside.  Take a moment to grab a tissue if you need to.

First look in the mirror, post-op.  He did not appear delighted or surprised.  Just curious.  Perhaps he is too young to have been all that self-conscious about his eyes.

My favorite picture:  Chocolate cream cookies... the first meal (that he was able to keep down) in nearly a day.  An hour earlier he had polished off a bowl of warm porridge in small little sips.  When I refilled his mug and asked if he wanted more, he vomited on my shoes.

"'C' is for cook-ie, dat's good e-nough for me..."

 Team CBM implored us not to leave until they got some photos of our grand exit.

Back home at last, with his primary caregiver (a nearby neighbor).  Abandoned by his mother and father, Emanuel now lives with his elderly grandparents.

Meet the grandparents.  They may be old, but they're also traditional Masai, which means they're tough as nails.

And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't end with a close-up of the final result.  Prepare to get a little misty-eyed.










Just kidding.  Here he is:

Ready for Hollywood.

I offer my deepest thanks to Andreas for making me a part of this endeavor.