When I was in my second year of university, the trajectory of my life was radically changed when I recognized that if I believed God was real and good, then I should actually follow Him. But before that, I had a plan. I was going to be a primatologist. Yes. I wanted to study apes. (I find behavior fascinating – human and animal.)
I wasn’t initially interested in chimpanzees or in Jane Goodall‘s work. However, the more I have learned about her, the more I have admired her. She is an incredible communicator, and her messages are ones that we need to be considering. (I don’t often give blanket book recommendations, but if you haven’t read any of her books, even if you aren’t remotely interested in chimpanzees, I highly recommend you read at least one of her books.)
She established a research base in what is now Tanzania in 1960. It has continued for over 50 years, and expanded in that time. Part of the reason the work has been able to endure is that she has had a great relationship with the local people who live near the research station.
When she first came to Africa, the idea of a single woman working alone was horrifying, so it was decided she needed a companion. Her mother, Vanne, agreed to go with her. During her time there, Vanne administered various band-aids and aspirin tablets to people who came to them for help. This, more than anything else, secured the goodwill of the people living around them.
Now, obviously, our goals are a little different than hers. But some of the ideas are the same – we would like to establish a long-term work that will have great effect, and one of the key factors is having the support and goodwill of the people we are working with. I thought immediately of Jane Goodall one day when Pacifique, who delivers our water every day on his bike, showed up with a small gouge on his foot wondering if we could help?
(I also thought of my Dad – after we had taken first aid training, we used to gleefully fight over who got to take care of any mishaps that took place around our house.)
There have been other opportunities like that. Our 8-months-pregnant neighbor had been having some issues, and the doctor had prescribed some medicine. My roommate came and asked if she should actually take it? My answer was immediately, “I have no idea.” (I’m very comfortable dealing with minor scrapes or ibuprofen, but beyond that? I think its a bad idea to give advice on things I know nothing about.) But it turns out that sometimes, medicines are prescribed less carefully than I am used to. So we asked Google, and it told us that this particular medicine was very unlikely to help her and was not necessarily safe for pregnant women to take.
Another neighbor’s (adult) daughter was ill, and she (the mother) had some antibiotics she hadn’t finished taking from the last time she was sick, could she just give her daughter those pills?
And of course, the never-ending skin infections. Most people keep their kids hair very short, and the razors used to keep it that way are not always the cleanest. Its common to see kids with many small, infected sores on their heads (and of course, flies crawling all over the wounds). Our neighbor had a particularly bad case a few weeks ago, so I put some antibiotic ointment on all the sores for a few days. It seemed to be getting better, so I left it for a few days, and didn’t see him much. Then one afternoon we heard a giant ruckus from next door, he was screaming and screaming. Now, there are many kids in our neighborhood, and they make a lot of noise, particularly since discipline generally means getting hit with sticks. But this made us go see.
The small infections had gotten really bad again, so his mom was scrubbing at his head with a rough plant to try to get it clean. Ouch.
So I started again, at least once a day, putting ointment on all the small spots. I consulted our team’s medical expert (Anne, a nurse), and she suggested soaking a cloth with water and Dettol, and letting it sit for a few minutes to disinfect before putting the ointment on.
I’m sure it must have been at least uncomfortable and possibly painful, but he ran over excitedly and sat so still, every time, while I treated the sores.
It took a few weeks, much longer than I thought it should, but the last of the sores finally disappeared.
These are a few of the first-aid stories so far, and I am sure there will be many more. We are believing that this is one small thing that will help people believe that we can be trusted, accepted, and are here because we want to work with them for good.